Friday, June 27, 2014
Monday, June 16, 2014
The question I get asked most often by fans of Red Turban White Horse is what happened to Mini & Vir. So, to celebrate the one year anniversary of the book I wrote a short glimpse into their life beyond RTWH. Read it here:
Mini in Manhattan
Part 1 < Click this link to "Like" and leave feedback!
Taxi-hailing in New York City is an art—one I’m no good at.
I had to meet Vir in half an hour—my spirits lifted at the thought of him despite my sore feet—and I was running late. It was a sunny spring day in Manhattan, perfect for walking, but I had all these shopping bags. Was I desperate enough to trek fifteen crosstown blocks loaded down like a sherpa? There was no way! And I was so not getting on the subway with all my packages either. I had been power shopping, just as planned, from the time I arrived at Penn Station that morning—at least my first solo trip as a fashion buyer for Amy’s had been a success.
Another cab turned down the street and I raised a tentative hand. No luck. The cab didn’t even slow down. Was it what I was wearing? No. I looked normal, at least, if not super cute.
I took a sip of the homemade juice Dad packed for me this morning before I left for NYC. Ugh! It tasted vile but I was sure it was packed with nutrients. I needed them—my only option, it seemed, was to walk.
Right then, onwards.
A cab screeched to a halt beside me and an elderly uncle-ji type stuck his head out the window.
“Taxi chaiye aapko?” he asked, in Hindi.
“Haanji,” I said, trying not to get my hopes up.
“Kahan jana hai?” he asked. “Where do you want to go?”
“Saks Fifth Avenue,” I said and then he was handing me into the cab while explaining the proper style of NY taxi-hailing.
What a nice man, I thought. What a nice, helpful, polite…
A string of the foulest abuses in Hindi, Punjabi, and English assaulted my ears as the cabbie leaned out of the windows and yelled at someone who just cut him off in traffic.
Some of them I didn’t even understand—probably a good thing!
I looked out at the high rise buildings flashing by and tried not to laugh at his colorful vocabulary. The cab came to a stop. Were we there already?
“Samhal ke jaana, bittia,” he said in chaste Hindi as I climbed out of the cab. “And welcome to New York!”
I guess it was pretty obvious that I was from out of town.
I tipped the cabbie generously, and headed for Saks Fifth Avenue’s signature store with a new spring in my step.
Stay on the page tomorrow for part 2...
Part 2: < Click this link to "Like" and leave feedback!
There was actually an express elevator to the shoe department at Saks. I was not surprised—it’s the only shoe store in the world with its own zip code, 10022-SHOE.
I stepped into the polished wood-paneled interior—felt like I was inside a vintage music box—and it rose noiselessly to the 8th floor. The whole day had passed by in a blink. Trunk shows and sample sales, navigating New York, trying to stay within Amy’s budget—but the hard part was over, and all I had to do now was shop for a pair of shoes for me. And also meet up with Vir, and maybe have early dinner before heading to my cousin’s .
Shoes. Vir. Dinner in NYC. Topped off with a long drive on a perfect spring evening. So. Much. Awesomeness.
The doors opened noiselessly and I stepped into the shoe store.
I look around, excited.
Great selection! But what would work with my prom dress? More importantly, what could I afford?
I tried on some Jimmy Choos, and a pair of laser cut Fendis.
And then I saw them. They were blue Manolo Blahniks. A dark Ferozi blue, my favorite color. The style was a Mary Jane, with an elegantly pointed toe, and a dramatic 3.5 inch heel. The inside edge was scalloped and edged with a minuscule amount of contrasting green.
The display shoe was my size so I put it on.
“That looks great on you!” the sales assistant gushed. I knew it was sort of her job to compliment the customers, but I had to agree. She brought out the matching pair and I tried on both and walked around. Despite the heel it felt like walking on clouds.
“That’s the only pair I have left in that size and color,” she said.
I pulled up a picture on my phone—my dress was a simple empire waist white silk with Ferozi blue flowers appliquéd on it. The shoes would look awesome with it, but OMG the price! They were current season so it would be months before they came on sale and by then my size in the blue would be long gone.
I sighed. At least I got to try them on. I lifted a foot to click a picture for Vir before taking them off.
I handed them back to the sales assistant. “I’ll have to think about it,” I said—she knew it was code for No.
“Do you want me to hold them for you?” she asked anyway.
“No,” I said. I was proud of how firm I sounded.
See you all right here tomorrow for part 3...
Part 3: < Click this link to "Like" and leave feedback!
It was deflating to ride down in the express shoe elevator completely shoeless—that pair of perfection kind of spoiled me for any of the other shoes. But I knew how to fix that. My mom always said that when you’re sad about something that’s way over your budget, immediately go out and buy something very cheap that cheers you up anyway—a single rose, a silly pair of earrings, or a chocolate truffle to share with a friend. It works—seriously.
I had been holding off on getting a proper New York cupcake for just such an emergency and the Magnolia Bakery was, providentially, just across the street.
My phone buzzed. Running late said the text from Vir. Dang, I’d forgotten he was in a business meeting with his Dad. And I had texted him a picture of my foot!
Now I really needed that cupcake.
K I texted back Will be at Magnolia.
I opened the door to the bakery and let the warm smell of just baked goodies wash over me. Miraculously, there wasn’t even a line to get served.
The red velvet cupcake was a deep luscious red topped with a creamy buttermilk frosting. Even though it was extremely expensive for cupcake I could buy approximately 323.5 cupcakes for the price of that one pair of shoes!
I had almost demolished the cupcake and also my ginger peach tea when Vir walked through the door—the whole place looked brighter, warmer, and more delicious just because he was in it.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “We ran over time!”
I dashed over and wrapped my arms around him.
“You want the last bite?” I asked, offering up the cupcake. He was always hungry, but there wasn’t an ounce of spare fat on his frame.
“About dinner,” he said, “—want to eat at the Café at the Rockefeller? We can go ice skating later.”
I hesitated. “I went to this place once. It’s kind of special…”
Of course he wanted to know where.
“It was my first trip to New York. I was three or four, I think. “We went to the Natural History Museum, and the Met, and the lake in Central Park—Mom and Dad rowed and we just laughed because they couldn’t keep the boat straight—and we had dinner at this sweet restaurant. It had lanterns hanging from the trees and horse carriages waiting outside.”
Vir is genius and knew right away that the place I was thinking of was Tavern on the Green.
“Let me see,” he said tapping on his phone. “Hmmm. Oh, that’s not good!”
“What?” I asked.
“They closed it down in 2010,” he said. “No, wait. They’ve shut it for renovations. It won’t be open for a year or two. That sucks!”
I insisted it was fine, but I was sad. I had such happy memories of the place.
“Did you go anywhere else?” Vir asked.
“Mom packed puri-aloo for lunch and we had a picnic in the park, “ I said, remembering.
“So let’s have a picnic too,” he said. “Can’t promise puri-aloo—we might have to settle for pretzels or hotdogs.”
“Sounds perfect,” I said. “Yogi’s favorite treat!”
“And how’s the hound of Westbury?” he asked.
Yogi is my dog and my best friend in the world. It was killing me that I would have to leave him behind when I went to India this summer, and then left for college in fall. At least Dad understood that I have to go, but how do you explain college to a dog?
I said. “I’m really worried about how he’ll deal with me leaving Vir. I’ve always been there for him!”
“He’ll be fine,” Vir said, squeezing my hand. “Here’s something that will cheer you up,” he handed me a Saks Fifth Avenue bag.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“See for yourself,” he said, smiling.
Come back tomorrow for the final piece...
Part 4: < Click this link to "Like" and leave feedback!
I dug through the tissues and box and unearthed the Monolo Blahnik shoes!
“I kind of guessed that you’d look at them and then put them back,” Vir explained.
“But I can’t take these—not from you.” I said. “I know how much they cost!”
“They aren’t from me,” he said. “They from my step-mother. She was at the meeting and saw the picture. Mini has great taste, she said, and ordered me to get them for you from her as a graduation gift.”
I just held on to the box, speechless and torn.
“She’ll be really offended if you don’t take them,” he said, reading my face. “She might feel rejected and hate you forever. She might think you think she’s tacky…”
“Stop,” I said. “You’re making me nervous! But they’re really too much, Vir.” I took a deep breath. “I’m not keeping them. I just can’t. But can we stop and get her a thank you card? You can give it to her along with the shoes.”
The first pair of current season, retail price designer shoes I owned were going to be ones I bought myself—however long it took me.
“I warned her,” Vir said. “Let’s put all your bags in my car and take a taxi to Central Park.”
We headed to the parking garage and put away my bags. It was nice to get my hands free—I laced my fingers into Vir’s as we walked back together.
Vir stepped to the curb and three cabs screeched to a stop at his one casual wave. Really? I glared at him resentfully.
“What did I do?” Vir asked, mystified.
“Never mind,” I said as he opened the door for me.
Inside, he leaned close. “When the Tavern on the Green reopens we’ll go have dinner there,” he said.
As we merged into the traffic on Fifth Avenue I felt a glow of anticipation. I may not have the perfect shoes, but I did have the perfect date! There were only two weeks left for prom, four weeks for graduation, and six weeks before I left for India.
I couldn’t wait!
Part 5: A final note:
Dear Guncha Aunty,
Thank you so much for the beautiful shoes. They are perfect but I’m returning them with my thanks, as it wouldn’t be right to keep them. I've decided to skip graduation gifts and have asked friends and family to donate to one of my favorite charities instead—Vir isn’t great at reading his email, or he would have known!
So, could you please give to either the American Cancer Society or the animal rescue group Save a Sato in place of a gift? Hope to meet you in India this summer. I will be visiting my Masi and she says that she sees you often.
Uff, your girlfriend, Vir! What am I supposed to do with these shoes, I’ve never returned anything in my life. I guess I should follow her nek example and donate them to a NGO. Please give a couple of grand each to her pet charities so she won’t think I’m heartless. See you back in Mumbai.
And that's all for now! Thanks for reading MINI IN MANHATTAN!! :)
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Interview with Nandini Bajpai
Nandini Bajpai is the author of Red Turban White Horse and Starcursed. Her book Red Turban White Horse was on our longlist for The Parents & Kids Choice Awards 2014 - Best Books (by an Indian Author) for Ages 10-15 yrs.
Tell us a little about your book. Your inspiration behind the story.
Red Turban White Horse was inspired by a real life incident. A wedding in our family was scheduled the day that Hurricane Irene hit Boston, but somehow everyone pulled together and salvaged it. It ended up being a lot of fun! While we were running around trying to manage the situation it occurred to me that it seemed like something out of a book. A couple of months later I signed up for National Novel Writing Month and started RTWH.
What is your favorite character in the book and why?
Mini, the main character is my favorite. I spent a lot of time in her head trying to figure out what made her tick. It was like having another daughter or niece, one I made up! And also Yogi, since he IS my dog in real life.
Describe your journey as an author. Did you always know you wanted to write?
Yes, I’ve always known that I wanted to write. Here’s proof:
This picture is of a book I hand-stitched, wrote, and illustrated when I was in class 3 or 4. I did take a detour into computers, finance, and motherhood but I found my way back. Better late than never!
Do you have a specific writing style?
I think I have a specific worldview and whatever I write ends up having a similar foundational value system. But I really enjoy trying new genres, settings, and premises. My other published work (also for young adults) is about an astronomer’s daughter and is set in 12th century India. Apart from contemporary and historical fiction, I also write fantasy.
How did you come up with the title?
I wanted a title that would bring a traditional Punjabi wedding to mind in a fun way. When Mini thinks of the kind of wedding her mom would have planned had she been alive she imagined a typical desi baraat with a groom on a horse.
Is there a message in your novel that you want kids to grasp?
I don’t like getting on a soapbox and delivering preachy messages to kids, but I hope Mini’s growth as a character and her emotional journey in the book is something that will stay with them.
Please give us some Tips for parents to encourage reading and writing in their kids.
Everyone has to read assigned books for school but kids should also be encouraged to read for fun. The books they choose on their own for their entertainment are the ones they will finish and remember. Almost any reading expands horizons, and increases vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. As far as writing, journaling is still a good way to encourage writing for kids, though its modern avatar, blogging, may need privacy controls to keep your child’s information safe.
Which were your favorite books and authors growing up.
I read a lot of British and American authors when I was a child—Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Georgette Heyer and many more. I also liked the AKC comics, Chandamama, and K.M. Munshi’s Krishnavatar series.
What are your current projects?
My next book is RISHI AND THE KARMIC CAT. It is a fantasy adventure for younger children set in Boston, Washington DC, India, and Tibet. There’s lots of action, magic, and history packed into it. It will be released this winter by Red Turtle an imprint of Rupa Publications.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing RTWH was writing under contract to a firm deadline. My other books were written on spec so I could take all the time I wanted. But it turned out to be a good thing because I got it done way faster than the other books.
Were you good at writing at school?
I think so. It’s pretty hard to remember!
What’s the worst thing about being an author?
Actually, it’s a really satisfying job in the sense that the ideas and stories you work on reach many more people via writing than an individual could ever manage in person. One of the hard parts is wondering how people react to your books. Kids do not tend to write book reviews even if they enjoy a book, so you’re left guessing!
What do you do when you get stuck for ideas?
If I’m really at a dead end I take a break from a story idea and work on something else. I usually have too many ideas instead of too few, and I need to have the discipline and focus to get them out of my head and written into my manuscript.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
The South Asian Women Writers Challenge is giving away a copy of Starcursed. To enter simply leave a comment on their blog. If they get more than one comment they'll pick a name out of a hat. Good odds of winning a copy so do enter!
They also have a list of books by South Asian women writers. Sign up to read a few of them in 2014!
Thursday, May 1, 2014
It's a legacy of colonization that children's books the world over are still predominantly white and western. This will change as Asia, Africa, and Latin America--which together make up 80% of people on Earth--develop and start writing their own children's books. I know firsthand that publishing is already booming in India. And the books they publish are being imported and sold in the US right now to fill the market for diverse books. I know this because it's happening with my own books, both published in India (one by the Indian division of Scholastic) which have somehow popped up on Amazon via third party importers. So if US publishers refuse to diversify their lists this might happen more in the future.
What then, publishers? Books published in the US and UK make up the bulk of children's titles overseas right now. But if you ignore the market for diverse titles (the minority kids in the US will be the majority kids in as little as five years) a reversal of this trend is not impossible...
There are many GREAT conversations around this topic on social media right now including discussions of the lack of inclusion of LGBT, disabled, minority religions, and other groups. Please do look up the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag on twitter and the tumblr here: http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
In my novel Starcursed the main character's name is Leelavati. I have a really strong emotional connection to that name because my grandmother’s name was also Leelavati and I've always loved it.
The incident that inspired me to write the book also has to do with this name. It started with a trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. I live in the Boston area and we take our kids to the Museum of Science quite often because it’s a nice Museum (in spite of what I’m about to say next, it IS a nice museum!)
So they have a really massive Mathematica display which shows the history of mathematics. It takes up a whole wall and one of the entries they have is about an Indian mathematician called Bhaskaracharya. This is what it says:
A page from Bhaskara’s Lilavati
Bhaskara is remembered for transmitting the rudimentary algebra of his predecessors Aryabhatta (the first) and Brahmagupta. His book Lilavati, the beautiful, looks askance at negative numbers but does say the square of a negative is positive. Bhaskara’s one word proof of the Pythagoras theorem was known to the ancient Chinese though his clever way of generating solutions to the Pell Equation – rediscovered by Euler - seems to have been his own.
This is a pretty dismissive write up about a mathematician who deserves much more credit, but this display was probably made in the 1960s, when people were still in denial that the number system was even Indian, so I was like okaaay.
What really caught my attention though was the name of the book!
As I said earlier, this was my grandmother’s name, despite the different spelling, so just think how it read to me. It might help to imagine reading the same text with her name replaced by a name we can all immediately recognize as a woman’s name.
For example, Caroline. It would then read (please imagine a professorial tone here!) thusly:
A page from Bhaskara’s Caroline.
Bhaskara is remembered for transmitting the rudimentary blah
blah of his predecessors blah. His book Caroline, the beautiful,
looks askance at negative numbers but does say that the square of a negative number is…etc.
Doesn’t that immediately make you stop and wonder who Caroline was and why on Earth he’d call his book on math Caroline?
Or try Susan. (Again, the professorial tone.)
A page from Bhaskara’s Susan.
Bhaskara is remembered for transmitting the rudimentary blah. His book Susan, the beautiful, looks askance at negative numbers…etc.
I mean, you have to be completely without curiosity or imagination not to wonder who this woman was, right? But apparently no one who made the Mathematica display wondered about it. And by the way I should mention that this entire Mathematica display did not have one single woman in it. Not even Ada Lovelace and definitely not Hypatia.
Since I am neither without curiosity nor imagination, whatever my other faults, I did wonder about it. I looked it up and here’s what I found.
The book Bhaskara wrote was very popular. It was the standard math book in India for ages, and it has math questions in it that are directly addressed to a girl, sometimes called Leelavati. There’s also a story, in a Persian translation, about Leelavati being Bhaskara’s daughter. It tells an amazing tale (not to give too much away...) about a wedding, and a bad horoscope, and a water clock that gets blocked by a jewel dropped by Leela herself. In other words, lots of material for a brilliant story.
Someone should write about that, I thought. Someone should really, really write about that! And I kept on thinking that for years until one day (just like the quote from Lily Tomlin!) I realized that I am someone.
|A still from a documentary about Lilavati. Click to see the episode, though it's in Hindi only. Also, she's much younger in this version than in Starcursed.|
It's taken some time and effort (gross understatement alert!) to find a publisher for this book since the usual reaction, I imagine, is something like: You've written a story about WHAT? Girls, Math, and History?! But for every good story there's a great editor who believes in it, and I was lucky enough to (eventually) find Sudeshna at Rupa Publications. So, happy ending!
One final word to readers who may have read my YA novel Red Turban White Horse. I know that Leela’s voice is very different from Mini’s voice in RTWH. That’s because Mini lives in the 21st century in Massachusetts and is into fashion, and Leela lived in the 12th century in Ujjain and was into math!! But they are both smart, confident, capable girls on the threshold of their lives and I really enjoyed being in both their heads—I hope you do too.
And also—this is important—there's Rahul! :)
And also—this is important—there's Rahul! :)