Sisters Prarthana And Shaguna Gahilote were brought up in the valley of Dehradun. Hailing from a royal lineage in Rajasthan, they credit their parents for making sure they led an ordinary life growing up and as women of the world who knew well what being financially independent and strong meant. They happily spent their growing up years in the company of books and loved ones and regular travel to unknown unseen lands. It also included lots of reading, writing and talking about things that delighted and ignited their imaginations. They grew up considering books to be their best mates – “And then there were animals we had for pets and a happy valley where friends were found as easily as stars in the sky.”
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Shaguna Gahilote is a performance storyteller and a math wizard with a double Masters’ degree, from India and the UK as a Commonwealth scholar. She came back to India to work on conserving rare and dying folk art forms. She has worked as an education, peace and culture specialist and helms Ghummakkad Narain – the Travelling Literature festival and Kathakar – International Storytellers Festival, now in its 8th edition. While Prarthana Gahilote has been a journalist with the national media spanning print, TV, and digital for two decades with a stint in the UK as a Chevening scholar. The two sisters recently collaborated on the children’s book Curious Tales From the Himalayas which feature, “unusual heroes, wily animals and steaming bowls of Thenthuk.”
“We, however, longed to hear tales with the local flavour and this quest got us to collect these folktales and put it together for our readers.”
Shaguna says, “We grew up on stories about the Himalayas. However, once we started to travel across the region, we realized on our various treks, that folktales were being lost by the new generation. While grandparents still remembered quite a few, their grandchildren could only recount western tales of Cinderella and Snow White. We, however, longed to hear tales with the local flavour and this quest got us to collect these folktales and put it together for our readers. You’d, therefore, find that most of the tales not just come from the region but they also give you a glimpse into the life of the mountain regions.
We focused on the Himalayas not just because we loved the area and the stories but because we also realized that much like us there were many other people who were equally intrigued by them. Those who belong there and also those who have either been there or have been wanting to. So we saw a universal appeal of the Himalayas among children and people and thought it would be perfect to share stories from the region.”
We saw a universal appeal of the Himalayas among children and people and thought it would be perfect to share stories from the region.
The sisters had a lot of fun working on this book together because they know each other well and understand and share each other’s sensibilities. The tough part was keeping up with the deadlines because as they were writing the book, “we were both working and with that kind of busy schedule waiting for one for another’s free hours sometimes led to a few arguments! However, the great advantage was we were both responsible for researching and writing and two heads together were better than one! We could run through a copy individually and go back to it with additions and subtraction. We believe it helped us in making the book more readable. More friendly,” adds Prarthana.
This ode to the Himalayas features a foreword by none other than the Dalai Lama, the sisters think they “just got lucky” and they feel “whoever shall read this book and his foreword that person may also be blessed by His Holiness.”
Children in today’s age are quite attached to computers and smartphones, how do the authors think that books can help them tap into their imagination when reading may not be their first choice of recreation?
“Children imitate their elders so if they see their parents attached to computers and smartphones, they pretty much do the same.”
Shaguna explains, “Reading is not necessarily the first choice for any child, it’s something you inculcate over a period of time. You have to start with telling stories when your kids are young so that they are pulled into this world of fantasies and mysteries. So once they come into the age of reading by themselves then half your work is done. Children imitate their elders so if they see their parents attached to computers and smartphones, they pretty much do the same. Add to this that a lot of times parents themselves use smartphones as nannies.
Reading though a lonely activity actually opens a whole world of imagination. A person who is well read has seen a lot more life and world than the best traveller would have. Books not only provide imagination to a kid, but can also inculcate empathy and compassion. It can teach you about various cultures, impart knowledge that a school and your own home cannot. And all these are the required life skills in today’s world to stand out from another high scoring kid.”
As avid readers, the sisters look up to their father Thakur Vishva Narain Singh for how simply he told a difficult tale, his dedication to the purity of languages, his vivid imagination and ability to touch myriad subjects. Above all his wonderful skill with words. Paul Brunton for his travel writings through the Himalayas. Ruskin Bond for his connects with the mountains and its life. Allan Sealy for the way he tells a tale. Shakespeare for his depth of plot and thought.
Shakespeare wove magic with the written word for us. Agatha Christie for the sheer joy of pealing of a plot layer by layer and many more.
So, what was their one word of advice for anyone who wants to write for children?