In December 2010, when Holi was around the corner, Bhakti Mathur was looking for a good book to explain the festival to her older son who was two-year-old then. She couldn’t find anything that she liked and ended up writing one herself. She decided to turn it into a self-published series called Amma Tell Me. Mathur’s new book series Amma Take Me attempts to introduce children to the plethora of Indian religions and faiths through their important places of worship. The books are styled as the travelogues of a mother and her two young boys, Shiv and Veer. They link history, tradition and mythology to bring alive the major temples, churches, mosques and mausoleums of India in an engaging, interactive and non-preachy way. Her book Amma, Take Me to the Golden Temple, which released this month is an interestingly written and illustrated account of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Born and brought up in Delhi, the author who had been a banker for 22 years, says that she inherited her love for mythology from her grandmother and her nanny – “They both used to tell me stories from the two major Indian epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata every day after I came back from school. That was the best part of my day. Those stories took me to far-off places. I remember, how much I loved listening to those fascinating tales about myriad Hindu Gods, of great kings and heroes and their triumphs over the most evil of adversaries.
“As a mother of two hyperactive young boys, who otherwise cannot sit still for a minute, I know that the only way I am going to hold their attention is with a good story.”
As a mother of two hyperactive young boys, who otherwise cannot sit still for a minute, I know that the only way I am going to hold their attention is with a good story. And stories from Indian mythology never fail me in this regard. How can they? Which modern tale can boast characters of the stature of mythological ones – the gods incarnate, the mighty kings, the learned sages, and the fearsome demons, placed among the most memorable and momentous of settings? Or match the substance of the plots that invariably involve a challenge faced, an obstacle overcome or a difficult question resolved? These are perfectly crafted stories as otherwise they would never have survived the ages, passed on by generation, many a time in warm beds similar to ours, for thousands of years.”
She says that she finds herself going back to Indian mythology because the stories serve as a wonderful parenting tool to highlight the values that most parents want their children to imbibe. These are the universal values of courage, determination, perseverance, generosity and morality, of what is right versus wrong. And these stories are equally applicable to adults who are so consumed by life’s routine that they fail to think about what really matters.
“I wanted my successes to be my own and my failures to be mine too. The motivation for writing the books was my children, it was and is a labour of love and I wanted to do it my way.”
Around the time that she started writing, Mathur read a lot about the self-publishing industry. She decided to publish her books because she wanted to have full control over the creative content – the writing, the design, the pricing and all the other aspects involved.
Mathur herself grew up reading Enid Blyton, the Nancy Drew series, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and JRR Tolkien among others. But she says her favourite stories are from Indian mythology. She doesn’t find writing for children very difficult because her two sons are quite the critics. A lot of her time was spent on research which was quite an important and fun process. She adds, “Once the research is done, I write an outline of the story. For the Amma Tell Me series, which is written in rhyme, the challenge was getting the rhythm and the meter correct. For the Amma Take Me Series it was important to write the story in a fun, interesting way so that both parents and children will be able to relate to it. I go through numerous drafts; it’s a lot of re-writing, re-writing and then re-writing some more. The final story looks very different from what I started out with.”
Bhakti Mathur is also a long distance runner. She finds it relaxing and therapeutic. It gives her time to be with herself and enjoy the moment. She says on a lighter note, “I don’t know how much it helps with the writing but it certainly makes me feel more at peace and sleep better!”
In the next five years, the author hopes to be still writing and running and probably going a bit crazy handling her children who will be teenagers then!
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