One of the occupational hazards of writing for children is the period need to visit schools for interactive sessions. While these can often be inspiring and fulfilling, there are also occasions when they are not. This is the third in our series Back to School.
We bring you stories from Sharanya Deepak and Balaji Venkaramanan.
In Which I Pretend to be a Cricketer: Sharanya Deepak
It is 8 a.m, and I am barely awake. And I am always late for book readings, much to the disdain of a few hundred eight-year-olds.
“Say good morning!” a teacher commands.
“Who are you!?” “Go away!” “What is an author?” comes a chorus of voices.
Apparently, mornings are unpopular with everyone.
I am taken to an assembly, where someone calls me a “chief guest”. I gasp, leading to more disdain.
I am truly baffled. When did I become a chief guest!? Weren’t chief guests successful, the sort of people who looked like they drank lots of tea, and … old?
But there I was. A habitual tea drinker, pretending at success by doing five jobs half-heartedly, and let’s face it, sort of old.
I am asked to address the angry eight-year-olds.
“What is an author?” says a voice again, before I can begin.
I decide to ignore it.
“Keep reading,” I murmur awkwardly. “Don’t instagram too much!”
“Is instagram a book?” someone asks.
“You could say that,” I say. “But it’s a bad book. A book of other people drinking wine and going on holidays while you just lay in bed but you never know, they may be in bed too.”
By now, teachers are annoyed too. I have said wine. And talked about the social media to eight-year-olds.
We walk into the classroom, I am more at ease, well, I can see, which is more than I could an hour ago. I read the first chapter of my book.
“Not all vampires are scary,” I say. “Sometimes they’re just like everyone else.”
“No, they’re not,” someone says in what can only be called an ‘international’ accent.
Oh no, I think. I have one of those worldly, intelligent kids here. The kind that parents have been parading around the world explaining socialism to. This kid probably reads The Guardian. He also probably read John Grisham and managed to hate him at age seven.
“Sometimes they are,” I plead.
“They’re half-dead,” he says. “They’re hardly like everyone else”
“Well, TEMPERAMENTALLY, they can be. I just mean they don’t have to be scary and moody and you know, downright awful, they’re cool too. Kristofer is, you’ll see,” I say.
“Fine,” he says, almost smiling. “Maybe.”
I whoop in my head! International eight-year-old and I just became friends.
I read chapter two.
“Vampires love to count! Who likes maths!?” I ask.
“Me me me,” someone says.
“One time, I counted all the scales on a snake,” someone else says.
“Liar!” a third someone disagrees.
“What is an author?” comes the voice of interrogation, once again, this time insistent.
I have no choice. I must comply.
“An author is someone who writes books. This is a book,” I say, holding it up.
Ninety percent of the class has gone again from engagement to disdain.
“Well, it’s something you do to … get famous,” I say, regretting the words the second I utter them.
“Like Sachin Tendulkar?” someone asks.
“Well, yes,” I say.
“Are you a batsman or a bowler?” says another voice, with more curiosity than I have been able to gather in the past two hours.
“A batsman,” I reply. “But sometimes I field too.”
Sharanya Deepak is the author of The Vampire Boy, a hOle book.
“Who Published Your Book?”–Balaji Venkataramanan
I get invited to this school in Chennai that’s known to send students to IIT in trucks.
I sign the register and know what the Vice-principal comes to receive me.
“Are you the author?” she enquires
“Yes, ma’am, though I don’t look like one,”
“The standard 6th and 7th students are eagerly waiting but before that have some refreshments.”
I make an effort to be at my best. There’s only one cookie left on the plate and I resist the temptation to grab it.
If I recommend some student to the school they will definitely give a seat, surely!
I walk into the hall filled with some 250 noisy 7th standard kids. How I am going to hold their attention for 45 mins, I wonder.
“STUDENTS!” someone shouts in a booming voice and the whole place goes silent. Umm, the Principal …
“Now the author is going to have a very informative session with you. Take notes. You need to submit a report on the same tomorrow.”
I start by asking the students to keep their notebooks aside coz I aint going to teach them much. The Principal stares and I smile back apologetically.
I start talking about how to write a funny book and I tell the group – Pay attention to details. The Principal’s happy. But the next moment–when I ask the group, Is that dog near the church next to the school a girl or boy?–she is aghast. The group’s elated.
APPLES, MANGOES and JACKFRUITS follow. The Principal’s now frantically checking the clock.
The students want more APPLES and MANGOES. However, I steal a glance at her and get the cue.
“Children, silence! Lets discuss about the story tomorrow.” She leaves the hall and I follow.
Am taken to her room where I expect a long sermon. Instead I get something far worse. Five stone-like idlies and three concrete vadas. “Please have them,” and she doesn’t leave her place. Given a choice I would have preferred the paper weight to that vada.
I worry as to how I am gonna finish the entire plate.
“You could have chosen a better example,” she comments and I swallow one full idly.
“Who published your book? I-I mean who is your publisher?” she asks after a pause.
“Duckbill” I gulp down another full idly.
Will the school give a seat if I recommend someone? I doubt.
Balaji is the author of Flat-track Bullies, where the protagonist runs away from IIT coaching classes. The book was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award in 2014.