Author Interview: Chitra Sounder

Chitra SounderChitra Soundar and Frané Lessac have teamed up to produce the intriguing picture book, Pattan’s Pumpkin, an exciting, vibrant story from India.

Here Chitra gives us a great insight in to how the picture book came to be…

Pattan’s Pumpkin is proof that Googling is fun and I’m good at it. Long before social media became a thing – I even remember at this time, I didn’t have an account on Facebook and asked a colleague what it was, I spent many of my free hours searching for gold dust on the World Wide Web. The bits that stick to the silky strands like prey. And I found a two-line reference to a story previously untold in a research document compiled by Philipose Vaidyar.

I have a pile of word documents in my cloud (Yes, I have a cloud of my own, where I spend a lot of time making up yarns of stories), with links and cut and pasted text, images and stuff. They huddle there until the day when I browse them again sifting through the “What were you thinking?” ones to the “This would be an insanely big story to write” to the “this could be my next one.”

When Janetta Otter-Barry, publisher at Otter-Barry Books, with an amazing track record of publishing diverse stories and poetry, asked me if I would write a story for her, I first fell off my chair from the cloud. Then of course, when I managed to get up and dust myself off, I pulled out potential stories from my un-curated list of ideas. And one of them was the pumpkin story from the obscure corner of the internet.

Janetta saw the potential in this idea – even though I knew only two lines at that time – just the ending actually. She saw the pumpkin on the front-cover in her mind’s eye and she knew I had to write that story.

Pattan's Pumpkin - Chitra Soundar Frane Lessac

I’ve a huge weakness for untold folktales and legends, especially from India like the ones that hide in old archives, in a grandparent’s memory and those that evoke pictures in my mind. Without going into details about the research itself, this story was a journey into Western Ghats, one of India’s amazing mountain ranges, older than the Himalayas. It reinforced my belief that ancient people knew how to cherish this environment. It brought to the forefront, the suffering of the Irular people as forests are destroyed today and how such ancient tribes are displaced.

Stories are told in normal conversations in India. My grandmother will say something like “You need to put in the work, like the man who prayed for a windfall.” Or she’d say, “Once bitten twice shy, like the cat that Tenali Rama had.”

And because we knew those stories she was referring to, we’d understand. Similarly the story that an elderly tribal villager told the researcher was encapsulated in a few sentences – “Long long ago there lived a man named Pattan… the pumpkin was so huge to accommodate Pattan and his family.”

As a storyteller, my inspiration came from these few lines. The rest came from the research of the mountain ranges, the history of the tribe and ethos of all ancient people who live in harmony with nature.

The illustrations by Frané Lessac bring to life the mountains, the bountiful valley and Pattan’s Pumpkin that grows and grows and grows.

My hope is that Pattan’s Pumpkin inspires a young reader to grow a plant, feed a bird and look after the nature around them.

You can find out more on Chitra’s website here 

Read My Book Corner’s interview with Frané Lessac.

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