Actress, author and child-rights activist Nandana Sen, who is among the speakers at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2107, talks to Guardian 20 about her life and work.
Q. Could you tell us about your upcoming books?
A. I have three books coming out this year. Not Yet, a mother-daughter story in rhyme about a little girl who doesn’t want to go to sleep, has just released in India in eight bilingual editions – English and Hindi/ Bengali (which I translated)/ Marathi/ Gujarati/ Tamil/ Telugu/ Malayalam/ Kannada. And though it is beautifully illustrated in full color, we’ve managed to keep the book very affordable. I feel happy and proud that it will reach children all over India, and from every background. 2017 will also see the publication of the second book in the Mambi the Marvel series; the first book, Mambi and the Forest Fire, which launched last year in JLF, has become a bestseller. The third book of 2017, Talky Tumble of Jumble Farm, is about a boisterous but kindhearted little girl who can’t stop talking (and loves animals). Told through rhyme, these stories are inspired by nonsense verse (like Jabberwocky) and are built around playful word puzzles that any child who has started to read would love to solve.
Q. You’re also an established writer of children’s books. What were the books you were reading in your childhood?
A. So many. Alice in Wonderland is my all-time favourite and I love the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear as well. I adored, as a child and an adult, the works of Sukumar Ray, E.B. White, Roald Dahl, Satyajit Ray and Ashapurna Debi. And Tagore has always been a prominent part of my reading world, right from when I learnt to read Bengali from “Shahaj Paath”.
Q. Both your parents are prolific writers. Can you tell us about your tryst with literature?
A. Not just parents, my grandparents are writers too, both of whom wrote extensively for children! I started reading when I was really young, probably four, and I read everything I could lay my hands on, that was age-appropriate! My mother is a beloved and versatile writer who writes in practically every genre, so I grew up in a house full of books, in an environment where books were an essential part of our daily life. In fact, I can’t imagine my childhood without books. It worries me that these days children have so many distractions that they don’t read books as eagerly as we did.
A. It’s got to be the love that I have for all my work that keeps me going. I have always been passionate about cinema and books, as well as the causes I fight for. I have been writing from my childhood days, and been working with children for over 25 years. My work as an actor complemented the work I was doing already as a writer and as a child right activist. There is a lovely synergy between all three because as an actor, most often I choose scripts that are connected to the causes I care for. So, in a way there are strong and powerful intersections between all three vocations. For example, the screenplay I wrote most recently delves into the trauma of child abuse and it’s also about social justice.