This girl 🙂 What can I say?! Just fabulous.
Harshikaa is breaking the mould of perceptions. I could not think of another person to profile on this International Women’s Day. The hero in her book, released on July 2017 is a differently-abled child and has a spirit of a kite that just s—ooo—aaa—rrr—-sss 🙂 With her book about Kittu, she is bringing to the fore the spirit of childhood that is unbiased, un-labelled and not a particular prototype. And then apart from Kittu, there is Madhav the ice-cream wallah, Punni, Potu, Itee Fui… a typical Indian family packed with the colourful relations that we are all proud to have 🙂
Childhood is a level playing field and she has diluted the barriers of who can do what by bringing to the fore ‘Kittu’. I have great respect for Harshikaa. She has managed to go above the pitifying and the head tilting, awwww-cooing audience and shattered the labels in one masterstroke of a child hero. All that matters is the child and his childhood.
Kittu is a reader text book for a School in Singapore. It was also the only children’s book to be shortlisted for Mami Word to Screen 2018.
Harshikaa Udasi is a journalist with almost two decades of experience with publications such as The Hindu, The Week, Business Standard, The Times Of India and Deccan Herald. For the last few years, she has also been running a book club in Mumbai for children – Book Trotters Club. Here is her story 🙂
- Wow… So Kittu. 🙂 It’s such a beautiful read, such a beautiful book and so warm. How did you think of the character? Who was your inspiration?
My book, Kittu’s Very Mad Day, was part of the Children First writing contest organised by Duckbill. The idea behind this contest was to portray children with disabilities as children first.
When I started writing my story I pulled out an idea that had been sitting in my brain for a very long time — about a girl who has a disability but is full of spunk and very mischievous. This girl is the daughter of a family friend. She was the inspiration behind Kittu.
2) Kittu never for once makes you want to pitify him or feel sorry for him or anything like that? So was it an intentional effort to make differently abled kids more inclusive?
When I was fleshing out the story, I thought this kid is pretty independent. The more I thought of him, I felt like him. Barring one major physical difference. He had just one leg and I have both of mine. I realised that not having a leg doesn’t hamper his thinking, the way he responds to a situation or his wit. He had his vulnerable moments, but each of us has those. So why make him a pitiable character at all. How about have another kid interact with him and treat him as her equal? That would give a different perspective to Kittu’s character.
Adults are set to think in a particular way – pity and sympathy are emotions that might come to them naturally. But kids think differently. They would understand Mad’s response to Kittu much better. So, yes, to answer your question, it was intentional.
- So how has been the response? I have been following you closely, so I do know and feel so proud. But why don’t you tell us?
The response has been great, and I am not talking just sales. The kind of reviews I get first hand from kids are overwhelming. People running up to tell you how they enjoyed the book, reading it aloud to their children, laughing at every joke, thinking about Kittu and Mad, it affects you so deeply that you can’t really express yourself. It even won the FICCI Award for Best Children’s Book of 2017 in English! Kittu is also a reader text in a multi-ethnicity school in Singapore.
- When did you first start thinking of writing for a career? Was it like one Eureka moment or was it a gradual intent and joy in writing for kids?
I had been writing since the age of 8, maybe even earlier but memory fails me here. However, it was finally in grade 9 that I realised that I would be a writer. I suppose it had a lot to do with the encouragement I received from my English teachers. So I became a journalist. No book ever came out of that pen. Then about 8 years ago when I started reading books to my son, came that eureka moment. I felt I could write for children!
- What does your typical day look like?
Crazy from top to bottom. I am some sort of a scream machine in the mornings, getting breakfast and lunch ready, besides self and the offspring. Then we head to school. Thrice in a week, I work as the reading facilitator at a school named Akshara. Those days, I am with children from the age of 4 right up to 15, it’s joyful. The other days, I spend the same time at my desk — writing columns for The Hindu or trend stories for Deccan Herald, or meeting deadlines for my publishers. In the evenings, children come over to Book Trotters Club which is my reading club for children.
- How would you encourage more people to write or become authors? What is the most common problems facing aspiring authors?
Anyone who wishes to write should begin by, well, writing! You cannot keep saying I want to write and not get anything out. Sending out first drafts can be very intimidating but you must. Send out manuscripts to publishers in exactly the format they want. Most publishers have it all written down in detail on their websites. Also, if writing for adults, you need to get yourself a nice literary agent.
I have realised that rejections are a big turn off for writers. But I have a solution. For every time you are rejected, write yourself a letter saying you can make it. Now, even if you have a pile of rejection letters, you wilĺ have an equality strong pile of positive mails.
- How do you think language and literary works like yours help in moulding the minds in a world striving towards diversity and inclusivity?
Oh it is amazingly helpful. I say that not only on the basis of my experience as the author of a book with a disabled protagonist but also because of my work at Book Trotters Club. When children are introduced to any lifestyle that’s different from theirs, they accept it much more easily that we adults do. They can easily peel away prejudices and books work amazingly well in helping them do so. A book we read in the club sticks out in my mind. It’s called Brown Like Dosas Samosas and Sticky Chikki. You won’t believe the kind of stuff I heard that day about skin colour from a bunch of 7 toddlers. It was what they had heard from the adults at home. By the end of the book though, we were singing a different tune.
- What was your favourite book as a child?
I grew up on Enid Blyton. Then I moved to Nancy Drew. Then I fell in love with Jane Austen and PG Wodehouse. Wodehouse is my inspiration so I’d like to mention his book – Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen – as my favourite.
- 9) Tell us what concerns you as a parent, as an author in this day today with regards to reading and bring up kids?
We want our kids to read as though it’s yet another race. As parents even if we aren’t reading enough, our children must. I’d like reading to remain a happy activity that is enjoyed by the child.
- How does your family support you? What with lit fests and book signings and tours, how do you manage?
My husband is my pillar of support. Both of us are work-from-home parents so we double up for each other. When I have out of town assignments, my husband is completely in control. And I would like to add that when I come back home, I have nothing to complain about.
- Tell us, who inspires you the most today?
It is most definitely my mother. She is a powerhouse of energy. She was always there for us in our growing up years, and now she is a yoga instructor. She not only knows how to take care of her own health and of those around her but she also takes classes in workshops. In the middle of all of this she makes unusual but seriously yummy food for us. She still does not prefer takeoùts!
- Leave us a thought to ruminate upon Harshikaa 🙂
Dr Seuss said:
Today you are You
That is truer that true,
There is no one alive
Who is Youer that You.
Be you. It’s the key to happiness.