Yashodhara Lal and Shreya Sen: Interviewed by Vaani Arora

Yashodhara Lal is a celebrated writer of novels for slightly older readers—Peanut Has a Plan (November 2016) is her first foray into writing for children. However, as the mother of three, she has ample raw material available at home!

Shreya Sen has illustrated many books for children.

They are interviewed by Vaani Arora, film maker, book writer and proud mother.

VA: Yashodhara, Shreya—is either of you like Peanut?

YL: Well, I am Peanut’s mother. I am exactly like her. I remember my own mother telling me the stories about my own failed enterprises as a child—her favorite was one called ‘Banko.’ It was an attempt to gather the loose change from the adults in my house. I was President, and Banko had a evocative tagline ‘ Make a Child’s Life Worth Living.’ I even had a caricature of a young boy whistling in a carefree manner. However, I had no donors apart from my grandfather Papa, so that went downhill pretty quickly.

SS: When I was a kid I was not like Peanut. I used to rather enjoy watching saas-bahu serials. I was non-enterprising, but I did have some fun ideas. For example, I always wanted to hold puppet shows in my colony. I didn’t get much support from my playmates, and the plan never materialised. But I used to diligently make puppets out of wooden spoons, following the instructions in some British puppet-making book though half the things that they used were unknown and unavailable.

VA: Do you know anyone as enterprising as Peanut in real life?

YL: Peanut isn’t really fictional. Peanut is the nickname of my nine-year-old daughter Anoushka, and therefore, yes, I know her. Her father, my husband, Vijay is pretty enterprising too—he decided one fine day that he wanted to be a farmer, and has actually rented land and bought seven cows over the last year. That’s good fodder for another upcoming book.

SS: I am lucky to have got support from my parents to study in a design school. Almost everyone that I met in college was enterprising. Each person had amazing skills and I used to look at everyone around me with a lot of awe. Furniture designers, textiles designers, product designers—their skills and minds were different worlds in themselves. I am happy to have been with the best creative minds of the country. Those four years of my life have been the most precious for me.

VA: Were you business-minded when you were in school?

YL: I had to be, I hardly got any pocket money. Like Peanut, I too used to try and sell cards. In fact, I remember the time I sold a card to my little sister—it was a ‘Happy Birthday’ card that she bought for my mother. There wasn’t a very happy moment when Mom turned over the card and read on the back ‘Made by Yashodhara Lal’.

SS: I was never business-minded in school. I was the class clown and my name would be always written on the blackboard as the person disturbing class discipline when the teacher was not in the room. I used to really get irritated with class monitors. Invariably, I was sent out of class on many occasions. I would complete school craft projects for friends without even charging a chocolate. Sigh I wish I was like Peanut! 😀

VA: What would the savings in your piggybank be spent on?

YL: I’d buy basketballs and random toys and Hardy Boys. Also whichever new prank-material was available including plastic spiders and rubber snakes etc. I was  joy to grow up with.

SS: My piggy bank once had around Rs 400! I was so thrilled, but during the summer vacations, when we were not at home, the maid flew away, taking all the money from the piggy bank .

I am still like this. I save money but I never get to spend it on anything fun. For example, I recently realised that I have not returned some library books for almost two years. The fine incurred was around Rs 8000.

VA: Shreya, one of my favourite things in the book are the twins Pickle and Papad. Their personalities quite distinct from each other. How did you go about illustrating them? Are there any twins that you know who made their way into the art?

SS: Pickle and Papad were inspired by two pairs of twins I remember from my childhood. A school friend, Chitralekha, had twin brothers, who both had very curly hair. And in my Sunday art class, there were these twins and I distinctly remember what they used to wear—chequered dungarees with pinned colour-coordinated hankies.

Pickle and Papad are inspired by both these sets of twins.

VA: Shreya, what’s the mystery behind Peanut’s little bird? Was there a logic to when she would appear in the scenes?

SS: I just drew the little birdie as a fun element. But it could be Peanut’s alter ego, who appears whenever she would be in doubt and they could secretly talk to each other.

If you look closely, Peanut has a bird stitched on her dress. Do you think the birdie comes to life from there?

YL: The real-life Peanut, a.k.a. my nine-year-old daughter, raised loud objections to the little birdie at every stage. ‘Why is there a bird on my head?’ she’d wail. It took a lot of convincing on my part to tell her that this Peanut is a different Peanut, and we must give due credit to the imagination of the artist who is bringing her to life in the illustrations. There was a lot of grumbling about this at home—I’m glad to know it was an alter-ego thingy, that’ll make it easier to explain to her now (not). Thanks, Shreya!

SS: Hahaha Yashodhara! Please tell Peanut that she is as adorable as her name! I just added the bird to make Peanut’s character all the more whimsical and quirky! 🙂

I love your stories, Yashodhara! There were such fun elements and a visual delight for me when I thought of all the scenes in my head! 🙂

YL: I had never really ‘seen’ the story I wrote until I saw Shreya’s first-cut illustrations. My other novels have never been brought to life like this and this is an entirely new, lovely feeling!

VA: If you could run a business of your own, what would it be?

YL: I am very offended now that Shreya got two questions of her own and so I refuse to answer this one.

SS: It’s my dream to have a studio-cum-café, where I can sell illustrated cards, knickknacks, trinkets, pots, ceramics and printed fabrics. And also serve nice muffins, coffee and tea!

Sigh! 😀



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