It was a lovely surprise when my chapter book, Book Uncle and Me, published by Scholastic India, recently won a Crossword Book Award in the Children’s Category, sharing this hono(u)r with Payal Kapadia’s whimsical Wisha Wozzariter. The books make a perfect pair, both about kids who are mad about books.
The Australian edition of Book Uncle and Me has also made its way onto the Books in Homes selection.
All of which got me thinking about how story can travel and where all this came from in the first place for me.
What fragments of reality managed to link together in my messy mind to form this book?
Here are the (real) ingredients of this story:
- the broken pavement in the real St. Mary’s Road in Chennai, India where my parents lived at the time I first began writing this story
- a pile of books on a street corner
- a kid sitting cross-legged next to it, engrossed in a book and oblivious to the feet of passersby
- a fancy hotel on that same road, keeping random company with blocks of flats
- a woman with an iron who plied a busy trade up and down the street
- election banners strung between trees
- kids’ voices, chattering on full volume as they got off the bus and made their way home
- a sign on an apartment building that read “Horizon.”
I will confess it. I am in love with settings. When you start to pay attention to the quirkiness of a place, it will begin to show itself to you as if it’s auditioning for a part in your story. That street where my parents had lived for over thirty years suddenly began to take on all kinds of possibilities, once young Yasmin came to inhabit it in my mind. The woman with the iron became the “istri lady.” The silent man beating time in the air as if he were playing an invisible drum walked into the story. Even the pigeons seemed to start cooing purposefully. Tee shirts really did get folded on TV. Bus drivers sang–all right, that lament the bus driver sings came right out of my father’s old cassette tape collection that I was converting into digital music files. And slowly, line by line, Book Uncle and Me came to be written.
For expat Indian me, the ex-kid who read obsessively, this has been quite a journey.
– by Uma Krishnaswami