• Friday, June 09, 2023

Interview with Stuti Agarwal, Author of The Adventures of Tootsie Lama

This being my first book, it was also my first time collaborating with an illustrator. It turned out to be a fascinating experience because I didn't realize how much of a collaborative effort it would be to work on illustrations.
on May 18, 2023
Interview with Stuti Agarwal, Atuthor of The Adventures of Tootsie Lama

Stuti Agarwal is a writer (duh!), a self-proclaimed home chef and fantasy-head. When she is not dreaming of magical adventures in her hometown of Darjeeling and one day being called Roald Dahl’s prodigy, she is participating in pasta cook-offs with herself while listening to audiobooks. Stuti is the author of several children’s books including The Very Glum Life of Tootoolu Toop.

Frontlist: How did you come up with the idea for the character "Tootsie Lama"? What inspired the creation of this unique and adventurous character?

Stuti:  I've been asked this question a lot, and I don't have a definitive answer. However, this character reflects many aspects of my life, including my personal experiences and things I observed while growing up in Darjling. The idea for Tootsie Lama came to me during a period of creative stagnation at work. I wasn't producing great writing, and I wasn't receiving exciting assignments. So, I took a break and returned home to Darjling.

Near my house, there is a small momo restaurant that we often visit. One day, I noticed a young girl there who was full of playfulness, joy, and mischievousness. She has since grown up, but her character left an impression on me. During my break, I started writing in my diary, documenting everything that caught my interest, including her. She became the inspiration for Tootsie Lama, along with other mischievous characters from my own childhood. This girl was incredibly cute. She would go to school in the morning for about four or five hours. When she returned, she would help her mother roll out momos. She would sneak a few bites when her mother wasn't looking, displaying her mischievous nature. She would also serve customers, taking bites from their plates or convincing them to buy her sweets. She was always running around, playing, and full of naughtiness and happiness. This is how Tootsie Lama came to life. Her character also reminded me of my own childhood in Darjling. It evoked memories of running through the forests, being selective about food, and going on silly adventures that we called "Adventures in Darjling." All these elements came together to create the story and characters surrounding Tootsie Lama.

Frontlist: The illustrations in "The Adventure of Tootsie Lama" truly capture the essence of the story. Could you share your experience of working with illustrations that complement the narrative and bring Tootsie Lama to life?

Stuti: This being my first book, it was also my first time collaborating with an illustrator. It turned out to be a fascinating experience because I didn't realize how much of a collaborative effort it would be to work on illustrations. From envisioning the appearance of the characters to depicting a bowl of topa with insects, witnessing the written words come to life was absolutely exhilarating. Going through the story with the illustrator was a lot of fun as well because it allowed me to relive it after having written it. Discovering small details in the illustrations that I felt could be further incorporated into the book added to the joy. Working with an illustrator and witnessing the story come alive is one of the most delightful aspects of writing a children's book.

Frontlist: Given your personal connection with Darjeeling, how do you find the story of Tootsie Lama relatable? In what ways does the setting and your experiences contribute to the authenticity of the story?

Stuti: It's amusing because every time I read the story, apart from the numerous things I would change, everyone who reads it tells me, "Oh my god, this is you, right?" There are indeed many personal experiences reflected in the book. For instance, the story of Thupa and the small shacks that serve delicious, heartwarming bowls is something one must experience in town. Tensing, as a character who is afraid of his mother yet yearns for adventure and friendship, resonates with me. My disdain for food and the various ways I would try to avoid eating it is also reflected in the story. Moreover, I was surrounded by people who, despite the misfortunes in their lives, exuded the same confidence as Tootsie. While with other characters, I explored those that were not as closely connected to me, with Tootsie, almost every character carries the essence of someone I have known or met in Darjeeling. The setting is undeniably honest, deeply personal, and true to my hometown. I often return to Darjeeling for inspiration, as it helps me immerse myself in the atmosphere and descriptions. I wrote Tootsie entirely in Darjeeling, and it has played a significant role in contributing to the authenticity of the story.

Frontlist: In the valiant tale of Tootsie Lama, what values do you hope young kids can derive? How does the character's journey and experiences impart important life lessons or inspire young readers?

Stuti:  Inherently, Tootsie is a brave character who has overcome misfortune and difficult times to find happiness. I hope kids take away the value of resilience and the ability to find joy despite challenges. Secondly, I believe in the importance of friendship. Even if it's just one friend, having someone who supports you and with whom you can explore the world is crucial. This friend could be yourself, a pet, or someone around you. I hope kids are inspired by the sense of adventure in Tootsie's journey. When I wrote the book, it wasn't meant to be a typical "lesson-teaching" book. I wanted it to be enjoyable, so kids would be eager to pick up another book. I hope young readers are inspired to embark on their own interesting adventures, be brave in the face of obstacles, and find joy in life through Tootsie's experiences.

Frontlist: Why do you believe it is important to introduce children to the world of storytelling as a means to foster their creativity?

Stuti: I believe it's important for both children and adults to be introduced to books and storytelling because it expands their world beyond their everyday lives. It exposes them to diverse people, cultures, characters, and imaginative wonders that wouldn't be possible if they confined themselves to their daily routines. It also helps build character. For example, reading a book like "Wonder Today," which tells the story of a boy with birth defects, can teach empathy and provide insights into the lives of those who face such challenges. Books teach important qualities like bravery, resilience, friendship, love, and curiosity. By stepping into the world of stories, one's mind opens up, and they learn and absorb more than they would through their everyday experiences. That's why I believe reading books and watching films are both crucial. They allow us to step out of our routines and expand our minds.

Frontlist: Can young readers anticipate the release of future sequels exploring the adventures of Tootsie Lama?

Stuti: I'm not certain. Honestly, I would have to hope for the book's success to inspire a sequel. The idea of a sequel is already in my mind and notes. There's a story waiting to be told when the time is right, I suppose.

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