First-time author Leela Gour Broome's Flute in the Forest is everything that Leela stands for. We at Young Buzz, are fortunate to have had a brief introduction with Leela the musician, the dancer, a farmer and nature and wild life enthusiast and also a writer-contributor-artist.
All these facets are present in Leela's first book, Flute in the Forest.
Is Atiya Sardare, the 14-year-old girl, based on her?
No....no...Atiya is not based on me or anyone else. I have just picked bits and traits from adults and children I have met and interacted with during the Nature Trails programme. Atiya was always there at the back of my mind....the other characters were written to shape Atiya's personality.
The book is set in a forest reserve in South India, where Atiya's father Ram Deva Sardare is a Range forest officer. Thirteen-year-old Atiya is like any other girl or student of her age, except that she has polio and walks with a limp. She finds school boring and monotonous. Since she has no friend, and her father is always busy, Atiya decides to make the forest her friend.
Did you find it easy writing about the forest and wild life?
The forest and tea estate and the country life is what I have led for so many years that I didn't have to take any special efforts. I could always draw upon the experiences of camp life and 'interacting' with tuskers on the other side of the window when we were living at a tea estate. The cave incident in the book is real. Of course, when the incident occurred there were no children with us.
The second incident, which is again based on a real-life experience, is that of the German photographer Kronhaage.
Just before I joined my husband to live on the tea estate, a wildlife photographer was flung to his death by a tusker. The photographer had got too close to the animal and disturbed him.
In the book, Kronhage is killed by Rangappa, a elephant notorious for its temper.
Music being an integral part of Leela's a life – she is a trained pianist – has also been integrated in Atiya's character. However, as an antithesis, the girl's father doesn't want Atiya to learn or play any music. He fears that his daughter would leave him in search of adulation like his wife did. The musical side of Atiya comes from her mother Sarojini, who is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and played the sitar. However, she leaves Atiya and her father after she realises that her daughter wouldn't be able to become a dancer because of the polio.
The book begins with a lonely Atiya, living with a single parent and a limp. But it ends on a positive note. Was it deliberate?
“Yes. I would like to tell the children that there would be highs and lows and that nothing is insurmountable. There will be ways to overcome the lows, so just look around. So, all my stories will always end on a positive note. There is so much negativity around us. I didn't want my book to add to the negativity. The story is written, in such a way, that Atiya discovers fellow kindred spirit, she learns to reach out to people and finds out what she wants in life. There is a transition in the story which justifies the positive end. You have to work at an unbearable situation to make it positive. There will be no magic wand to set things right.”
Did you seek a feedback from children/teenagers?
The book is meant for 12+ children. My granddaughter, Aranya, is 11. Close enough to the age group. She did read the book, but couldn't get past the sad bits. She got very emotional. And, hence to seek an objective opinion, I gave the book to my Nature Trails camper, Mridula Vijairaghvan. She was studying in Std X then and she absolutely loved the book.
While you were writing, did you think that a book on forests as one of its theme would be accepted and appreciated?
Oh yes! I was very sure that the book would be accepted. I was a first-time author and yet I was sure that the book on nature and wild-life would be liked. Only when the manuscript came with rejected notes, did I realise that there was something wrong. I had written the manuscript and just sent it off to the publishers. After the rejection notes, I realised that it needed more editing.
Were you asked to write on 'magic' and 'wizards' considering these books are popular amongst kids?
No, I wasn't asked to write on magic by the publishers. And, even if I was asked, I wouldn't have agreed, because I am not comfortable with the genre. I think Indian kids should be reading something written for them. There should be more Indian writers on the issues with which our children are familiar.
Are you exploring a different genre in your new novels?
I am working on two books now. One will have history as its backdrop and will be based in Pune. The second one is on children from different communities.
Your comments on the writing process.
I am a very disciplined writer. I finished writing the book in three months. But, as I said, earlier, I sent off the manuscript to the publishers without editing it. With this experience behind me, I can say that writing is an easy process, the most difficult part is getting it published. Unless and until you are 100 per cent sure that it has been carefully looked at twice, thrice and several times, don't send the manuscript to the publishers.
Did you visualise the book in terms of illustrations since you also sketch and paint?
Yes, I did. I offered to the publisher to illustrate. In fact I had already sketched the jungle lodge and the owls. But, the publisher said the book was very evocative, hence it wouldn't need too many illustrations. We just decided upon illustrations for the chapter break and the cover, which is extremely nice.
Does the book have any message for children?
There are subtle hints. But I am not going to say it loud and clear in this interview. The children are often spoon-fed, and I am of the opinion that they should be learning few things on their own. If you look at it from the message point of view, the book has lot to say. But, it's not in bold or screaming for attention. If the children read the book and remember the few things said there, I will say my work is accomplished.