Writer Rohini Nilekani is a doting grandma. And over the last five years, her grandson, Tanush, who has been the joy of her life has also been the inspiration for many of her books, including the latest one, The Great Rifasa (Rs 60).
Released on Sunday, young readers, accompanied by their parents, seated themselves on floor cushions at the quaint Champaca Bookstore to listen to adventurous stories on a jungle safari. “Tanush is obsessed with animals. Every time he says or does something interesting, I suddenly think that I need to write about it. I wrote Hungry Little Sky Monster (2020) and The Great Rifasa inspired by him,” says the wife of Nandan Nilekani, co-founder, Infosys.
In her book, Nilekani narrates the story of animals in the Kabini forest who were ‘heartbroken’ by the absence of tourists and jeeps. “How many of you have been to a jungle safari?,” asked Nilekani. To which only a few children raised their hands. Considering the pandemic, not surprisingly, most children had only seen animals on their screens. “Children always ask the darndest questions and have astonishing ideas. They say things you have never thought of,” Nilekani says.
Most of Nilekani’s books are under 1,500 words. “Kids take you to another space where you can drop off all the wrong things you’ve learnt as an adult and become a child again. Spending time with them is like meditation. They make sure you are in the moment,” says Nilekani.
The co-founder of Pratham Books, Nilekani hopes to create more spaces for children to gather, read, and explore. “Books help one understand the diversities of life and enhance curiosity. Childhood is incomplete without holding a book and reading it. Once a little one becomes a reader, there is no way the skill can be undone,” says Nilekani, who is looking to her grandson for the idea of her next book.
Sangeetha Kadur, illustrator of The Great Rifasa, has always been a nature lover. “When it comes to children’s books, there is liberty to bring in changes. Animals don’t have to look perfect and I get to play around with the backgrounds,” says Kadur, who has been illustrating realistic wildlife artwork for years. “The work for The Great Rifasa took two months. I had to bring in the elements from the Kabini forest to make it realistic. Incorporating details as little as the stripes on the tigers made the work interesting. Reading takes children onto a different journey and helps them imagine and explore places they haven’t
been to,” she says.