Q and A with Lavanya Karthik
A Walk with Thambi is our latest book which will be released on Sunday 19 November (11 am to 12.30 pm) at the Anna Centenary Library (Gandhi Mandapam Road, Kottur Gardens, Kotturpuram, Chennai) in partnership with Chetana Charitable Trust, which is celebrating the first anniversary of the Chetana Accessible Reading Material Library. Do come if you are in town!
Here is what Lavanya Karthik has to say about the book, and writing and illustrating.
Tell us the story behind A Walk with Thambi. What inspired you to write it?
I had been thinking for a while about a story with a boy and a dog in a small Indian town, with that little twist in the end. But, despite several rewrites, it never quite fell into place; I always felt something was missing. When Duckbill and the Vidyasagar Trust announced the Children First contest for books featuring positive representations of children with disabilities, the missing piece in the puzzle clicked into place. I decided to make the boy visually challenged, which at once changed the dynamic between him and his dog, the way he experienced his environment, and added a lot of layers to the story. It eventually lost out – to my other entry in the picture book category, Neel on Wheels.
Thambi has very minimal text but conveys so much. How did this come about?
From the outset, I intended it to be a story conveyed largely through the illustrations. In fact, I submitted a manuscript with spare text and detailed descriptions of each spread which explained how the plot was moving forward. You experience the day the dog and the boy are having, by actually seeing them enjoy themselves, see how they negotiate their way through the town, and deal with the problem that pops up towards the end. I pared the text down; my editors at Tulika pared it down even more!
Thambi is an everyday story about a boy and a dog and also a sensitive comment on disability. The fact that the boy is blind comes through subtly. The reader has to infer it from the pictures and sensory descriptions. Do you ever think that this subtlety might not be picked up by every reader? Especially when the story also works well without it.
Not at all. I think young readers will see that he is blind, and also that that is just one aspect of his life. It’s also a book about friendship, and friends helping each other in sticky times. The boy is visually challenged, but this is something he takes in his stride. He is an integral part of the larger fabric of the town, his group of friends – just a regular kid.
You are an author and illustrator. When a story idea is waiting to make itself known, what comes first – the text or image?
Usually an image, around which I start developing a story. But sometimes a single word or phrase can pop into my head, and trigger off all kinds of ideas and images too.
Which do you enjoy more – writing or illustrating?
I enjoy both for the same reasons – the challenge, the constant revision required, the enormous sense of satisfaction you feel when you know you’re done – and the mountains of chocolate I eat as deadlines draw nearer.
You have written Ninja Nani for older children and you have written several picture books. Which genre do you find more challenging?
Both genres present their own unique challenges. Picture books need to be very precise in their text and to be experienced in terms of both words and pictures.Novels give you lots more pages to develop plot and characters, but that in turn means the writer has to work that much harder to keep their young viewers interested.
What is the most challenging book you have worked on so far as a writer?
Ninja Nani and the Zapped Zombie Kids, published by Duckbill Books.
Which book do you consider to be your best?
I’m just getting started…ask me after another two decades or so ☺.
Which Indian children’s author and illustrator do you admire? (They need not be the same person.)
There are so many! But right at the very top of my list would be Pulak Biswas, Mario Miranda and Atanu Roy for illustration, and R. K. Narayan for writing.
Is there a book/story you wish you had told but someone else got to it first?
Pretty much anything by Terry Pratchett.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am writing the third book in the Ninja Nani series, and another middle grade fantasy novel.
When Lavanya Karthik was a little kid, all she wanted to do was make up stories and draw pictures. Now she’s a slightly bigger kid, and that is pretty much all she does. She lives in Mumbai. Apart from ‘A Walk with Thambi’, she has written ‘A Book is a Bee’ for Tulika.
November 17, 2017