Variety

The many versions of growing up

SHILPA PAI MIZAR | Updated on February 03, 2011 Published on February 03, 2011

Sangita P. Menon Malhan, author of Rastapherian Tales. - SHILPA PAI MIZAR

At 43, in the midst of a life that has included flying planes, writing editorials and teaching, Sangita P. Menon Malhan has written a book for 10 to 15-year-olds. Sangita says she wrote Rastapherian's Tales with no objective other than to “explore childhood in all its glory”, but consciously or unconsciously her book never slips into preaching, deftly avoiding the trap that children's authors often fall into.

One of three children born to a Keralite father and a Sikh mother, Sangita's childhood was spent in locations as diverse as Madurai, Mumbai and Jaipur. She remembers those days as “clean and simple” — and observes that children today find the growing-up years far more challenging.

Although many parents today enjoy greater financial security to meet their children's needs, Sangita feels that the rapidly changing tech-savvy world has also made parenting far more confusing than before, and this confusion is often passed on to the children. This is an idea she touches upon in tales such as ‘An Embarrassment of Riches' where youngsters debate over digital gizmos such as Xboxes and PSPs; and ‘Ritwik's 5th Birthday', where the eponymous lad plans and plots his party to the last detail, including how the invitees should behave.

The moment of inspiration

For some of these stories, Sangita can recall the exact moment that inspired her to write them — the first story in the book, ‘A Bout of Joy', is drawn from an instance where her son asked an older female playmate to fly. For the rest she describes her creative process as unconscious, wherein the stories simply “unravelled themselves” to her.

So, how did she manage to avoid sermonising? It could be, Sangita says, because her parents never did. Her pleasant childhood gave her an unabated enthusiasm for life and kept the child in her alive... “it is this child who talks to the children I'm writing for”.

Looking at the world through their eyes, she observes youngsters trying to make sense of the contradiction that adults around them display in speech and behaviour — a fact humorously showcased in ‘The Gift Trap', where a teenager accidentally stumbles upon the hypocrisy behind the “big-hearted” exchange of gifts during the festive season.

A long-time Bob Marley fan, Sangita's choice of the title ‘Rastapherian' reveals her quirky side: “This is a bit of a pickle. To me, the Jamaican Rastafari were those who were exploring themselves through means that were not the norm. And, when I began discovering this world, I felt like one. But I re-interpreted the word for its novelty and for some of its Indianness: rasta is life itself and pher is the journey. Creative liberties have been taken here.”

From skies to writing

Sangita once aimed to become a pilot, but could not complete her training for various reasons. To work her way out of this disappointment, she started writing and found that “it was in my blood”. Living in Jaipur, her writings found their way into local publications and soon she moved to Delhi.

After a decade with leading publications, parenthood took over… but Sangita merely saw this as an opportunity to take on more. She started studying French, and also got involved in the Teach India project for children. In the midst of her interactions with young people, her Rastapherian's Tales began to take shape gradually.

Looking ahead

Besides working on a non-fiction book, she looks forward to writing fiction for adults, stories in French, as well as a film script. “… The zest for life is rich in me... I might take on as many challenges as possible.” From someone who recently took a test ride on a Harley Davidson, one perhaps couldn't expect any less.

Rastapherian's Tales has been published by Writers Workshop (www.writersworkshopindia.com). It is priced Rs 200 (hardback) and Rs 100 (flexi-back). It is currently available on Amazon Kindle.

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Published on February 03, 2011
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