India is an ocean of stories: Sudha Murty

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 19 January 2018

Sudha Murty first taught her grandmother to write. And, then she wrote a book about it, which inspired several young Indian kids to pick it up and read. A few more novels like The Magic Drum and Other Favourite Stories, The Bird with Golden Wings, Grandma’s Bag of Stories and The Magic of the Lost Temple, followed

Author Sudha Murty, who has written some ‘unusual stories’ from Indian mythology, will be in the city on Saturday, to talk about her new book for children

Sudha Murty first taught her grandmother to write. And, then she wrote a book about it, which inspired several young Indian kids to pick it up and read. A few more novels like The Magic Drum and Other Favourite Stories, The Bird with Golden Wings, Grandma’s Bag of Stories and The Magic of the Lost Temple, followed.

Currently, she is working on a five-book series on Indian mythology for Puffin, out of which two have been published. The chairperson of Infosys Foundation will be in the city on Saturday evening to launch her second book in the series, The Man from the Egg: Unusual Stories about the Trinity, at Crossword, Aundh.

She talks about her association with gods, digging out unusual stories and being a part of the storytelling tradition, with her characteristic humility and candour. Excerpts:

In The Man from the Egg: Unusual Stories about the Trinity, you have portrayed gods as fallible. Can you tell us about your relationship with the divine?
As a child, I was brought up like anybody else, as a god-fearing individual. I believed that ‘he’ might get upset, if I didn’t do puja. As a teenager, I wondered if a god can become angry, then he is just like us, isn’t he? It’s we who make all these assumptions. After rationalising, I came to believe in the concept of ‘Pure God’.

What is ‘Pure God’?
For me, ‘Pure God’ means absolute compassion. He is omnipresent. He is aadi, ananta.

Would children be interested in reading about mythology, especially when there are so many other genres like horror, magic and fantasy to contend with?
Frankly speaking, these books are not for children. The series are meant for their mothers. India is an ocean of stories, and once a mother reads out these stories to her children, they will form a bond with her and the books as well. A mother should have knowledge that she can pass on to her child.

But aren’t there too many mythology writers?
I told my publisher, ‘There are too many players in the mythology genre. Who will read my book?’ But I have been told that the first book in this series — The Serpent’s Revenge: Unusual Tales from the Mahabharata — has sold exceedingly well.

As a writer for children, I don’t use complex words; I tell my stories very simply. I don’t use words like ‘sati’ in my stories — since I don’t believe in it myself. I have cut down on the shringar aspect.

I have tried to build associations like explaining concepts of Suryavansha, Chandravansha, Yadavvansha; This will help children relate to the various vanshas and their members. For instance, Krishna is from Yadavvansha. My stories are not a departure from tradition.

How involved were you with the illustrations for the book, considering that the biggest draw for children’s books are the pictures?
The publishers would send me the illustrations and if I felt unhappy with them, I would convey it. For instance, I suggested changes in the illustration for Brahma. I told them that Brahma should have one hand on kamandalu, one holding japmani and another holding scriptures and so on.

I always tell them about lakshanas (or symbols associated with gods and goddesses). You cannot have a Laxmi on swan; that is Saraswati. Laxmi should be accompanied by a lotus. Parvati should be with Shiva or a bull on top of a mountain. Each of our gods and goddesses has a distinctive feature.

Can you tell us about the forthcoming books in the series?
There are five books in the series. I wrote all of them in one go, because I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to interrupt the flow. The first one was on the Mahabharata; the second one is on the Trinity; the third one is ‘unusual stories from the Ramayana and Krishna’. Everyone knows about Krishna-Kansa, Krishna-Devaki relation. So I dug in some different stories from the Krishna avatara. I have heard so many stories from different parts of India.

The fourth one is a book on ‘women in mythology’. Again these are lesser-heard-of women. I don’t like to tell regular, run-of-the-mill stories. People know about them, so what’s the point in me telling these stories again? The fifth book is miscellaneous.

 

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