• Tulika Publishers

Q and A with Mini Shrinivasan, author of ‘I Didn’t Understand!’

I Didn’t Understand! by Mini Shrinivasan and illustrated by Shubham Lakhera is here now! Watch out for it on the Tulika website! We spoke to the author Mini Shrinivasan, who has two award-winning books with us The Boy with Two Grandfathers and Just a Train Ride Away, about how this story germinated, concerns about translation, her own creative writing process and more.

How did Manna’s story start? When did the seed for this story plant itself in your head?

Manna is now a grown woman, but she was a little girl when I knew her first — a child with Down's syndrome, full of life, full of humour. I never forgot her, and one day this story popped up from the 'Sea of Stories' as Salman Rushdie calls it.

I Didn’t Understand! is focused on a girl with Down’s Syndrome. It’s an unusual story told from the point of view of the child herself. Why was it important for Manna to tell her own story?

It is so hard to understand the mind of a child with an intellectual handicap — does she know? I had to guess, and that is where a writer goes, into the 'may be'.

The story of I Didn’t Understand! actually lies in the gaps — between the reader and the narrator, Manna. What made you choose this strategy?

This idea does the child know that she has a deficit in understanding? And how does she feel about it? Also, the innocence of such children along with having trouble understanding most things, they also often don't understand nastiness and meanness. I thought it would be interesting to challenge the reader do YOU understand this child?

In the past few years children's books on disability are increasingly visible. Especially where the children themselves are empowered and take decisions. What do you think has changed?

I think parents and teachers have been the moving force. They want visibility and inclusion for their children.

Disability terminology was a challenge that translators faced in the Indian languages during the translation of this book. Do you think we need a different approach towards terms associated with disability — in any language?

YES! More and more young parents and young professionals in the field, and older people with disabilities tell us to stop using insulting euphemisms like 'special' and 'divyang' and 'differently abled'. Face our disability, and support us where we need it. Be our friend, not our saviour!

We’d like to know about your creative process. How does a story develop for you? Does it take many rewrites or does it turn up complete and ready?

Almost fully ready, from the 'Sea of Stories on the moon Kahani'. In my longer books I have had to fill in some parts with some effort, but mostly it just comes to me. It comes, of course, from a life full of children at home and at work.

Why do you choose to write for children?

Because I love and admire children, and I think I understand them.

Which children’s books have made an impact on you?

My all time favourite is Alice in Wonderland, which I read again every 10 years or so. I loved the early Harry Potter books. I like Paro Anand's books very much too.

Do you have a special place where you write your books? A favourite corner?

My laptop on my lap, in my study, my feet on a modha. Nowhere else.

What quirks — connected to writing — do you have?

I am totally indisciplined, write rarely and then all in one go for hours, or nothing for years. The story has to come to me; it has to beg to be written.

Are you working on a book at the moment? Do tell us about it.

I am trying to write a boarding school story like the old Enid Blytons, but set in a tribal ashram school there will be ghosts and creepy crawlies, that's all I am saying.


Mini Shrinivasan is based in Pune but travels extensively to support projects working with children in the most backward parts of rural India. Both her earlier books with Tulika The Boy with Two Grandfathers and Just a Train Ride Away have won national awards.

November 26, 2018