Author Himanjali Sankar was interviewed by Sreya and Swapan Seth about The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog.
SS+SS: You have a dog by the same name. Was the story inspired by him? What is it about him that made you devote a book to him?
HS: Well, Rousseau is the most fabulous canine ever and deserves much more than a tangential work of fiction devoted to him! But seriously, my own real-life Rousseau does not know how to tell the time. All of us strongly believe that he is bipolar, and he is a supremely insane dog, for sure. Having him in my life is fun, wonderful, emotionally exhausting and nerve-racking. I have not consciously used my experiences with him in the book but, yes, am sure his paw prints are all over the place. For instance, the way this superdog welcomes guests is more or less similar to the manner in which guests to our house get welcomed by Rousseau.
SS+SS: A timetelling superdog. What were the options you discarded? Marzipan-loving vampires? Soccer-playing spaniels?
HS: I went for this Writing Workshop last year where we had to do a little exercise on time and I wrote this paragraph on a time-telling dog. I think the idea just stayed inside me and grew and expanded till it became a novel. So there were no other options as such. Though a marzipan-loving vampire sounds lovely!
SS+SS: You write “Human beings will learn not to take anything for granted. It is an important lesson, and the more intelligent among them will learn it. Soon.” What are the kind of things you wish that human beings would not take for granted?
HS: Ideally, we should not take anything for granted but it would be exhausting to constantly express gratitude at all we have. Amen! If I were to make a list on this though, it would include: class privileges, happiness, health, love and friendship. But everyone needs to work out their own lists. I would like to request tall people to include height in that list. I have always yearned to be tall!
SS+SS: The part of the book when you describe the chaos in the studio and the general frenzy around Rousseau is when the book really comes to life for me. You embrace the chaos and your writing takes on a comic tone that really flourishes. Do you feel “the funny gene” in your writing coming forth to claim a book in the future? Maybe for adults this time?
HS: I love people who make me laugh and am glad you enjoyed the comic elements in my book. I see the world and all of us who live in it as very entertaining, giving rise to much scope for humour and satire. We are in this business called “living” for the blink of an eyelid – especially when we view this in the perspective of eternity and time and mountains and oceans and all that have been here forever and will continue to be around for so much longer than the human race.Yet we take our petty selves and the materiality of our lives so seriously. Isn’t that sad, hilarious and pathetic? But moving to your other question, as a children’s writer i do feel a little offended every time I am asked if i plan to write for adults. It is almost like I am being asked when am I going to grow up as a writer! Or perhaps what children read is not as important as what adults read? Another instance of adults taking themselves too seriously!
SS+SS: Historically, animals have inspired many genres of writing. Specially children’s stories. From our very own Panchatantras to Hans Christian Andersen. Do you think kids today are as enamoured by animal friendly tales as before?
HS: I don’t really see this book as falling into the Panchatantra tradition which had to do with anthropomorphic animals, with wise rabbits and greedy lions and so on and so forth. My Rousseau is very much a dog, he does not speak or impart any nugget of wisdom and except for a bit of strange time-telling he is quite silly, even by normal dog standards. I have been influenced by many writers but i don’t think Vishnu Sharma or Hans Christian Andersen inspired me in any way. I don’t know what exactly kids like but as a reader what makes a book work for me is not so much the choice of subject as much as how the story is told. I did not consciously opt for an animal-friendly tale but I am an animal-friendly person and that perhaps comes across.
SS+SS: Animal stories usually come with a moral or a lesson tucked away at the end. Yours too seems to be a comment on our pace of life. What came first for you? The tale or the moral?
HS: The tale, the tail. Have I really tucked away a little moral science lesson in this book? I did not intend to – must be my pious convent upbringing which trips me up when I least expect it to. I would like my readers to just have fun and enjoy this book. But I guess by moral you just mean my personal politics and ideologies which I am sure does get reflected. I also did not intend it to be a comment on our pace of life – that was possibly a result of the plot with time disappearing from the world. I am personally very comfortable with the pace of my life and it is up to others to decide how busy or not busy they wish to be.
Swapan Seth (Chairman and CEO) and Sreya Seth (COO) of Equus Redcell a WPP company with a portfolio of advertising experience on brands such as Max New York Life, Taj Hotels, VLCC, Deutsche Bank, Hindustan Times, Matrix Cellular and Reliance to name a few.