• Monday, April 22, 2024

Frontlist | This new children's book celebrates India's female rule-breakers and their untold stories

Frontlist | This new children's book celebrates India's female rule-breakers and their untold stories
on Mar 08, 2021
Frontlist | This new children's book celebrates India's female rule-breakers and their untold stories

My 7 year old daughter, Zoya, loved Rebel Girls,” says writer Neha Hiranandani, about what prompted her to write Girl Power! “But she was confused on whether India only had two rebels, Mary Kom and Rani Laxmibai.” Using her daughter’s query as impetus, Hiranandani set out on a year-long project to research the Indian rule breakers and mavericks. We spoke to Hiranandani to get some more details about her new tome, here are some excerpts.

There are quite a few books out there that tackle incredible Indian superwomen. How is your take different?

There's been a global trend that challenges the 'girl = princess' myth and Girl Power! is the definitive rebuff to the ‘damsel in distress princess' story. I was also very lucky to work with an incredible artist—Niloufer Wadia—whose illustrations have brought these stories to life. Unlike other books which follow a standard 'one page text + one page illustration' format, Niloufer and I wanted the text and the illustrations to work together. And so, every page of Girl Power! has the story and the artwork talking to one another, which makes for an incredible reading experience.

How did you go about choosing these women?

This was easily my favourite part of the project! I was clear that this wasn't going to be just a list of accomplished Indian women—the women in this book had to be mavericks, ceiling smashers! I set about finding the stories and really, what stories they are! You will meet a spy princess who parachuted into France, a warrior queen who defended India from the Portuguese six times. There's Subhasini Mistry who worked as a maid before winning a Padma Bhushan for healthcare, and Chandro Tomar, the octogenarian sharpshooter, popularly known as Revolver Dadi. Of course, there are some household names as well including PV Sindhu and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. But personally, I am very proud of the untold stories.

I think the most challenging part of this project was making the stories 'bite-sized' to keep the reader interested. As you can imagine, all of these women profiled in this book have led very layered, complex lives so I needed to distill all that complexity into one 'Kodak moment', that moment when she smashed the rules.

Take us through your writing process?

It took over a year from start to finish. I am a mother of two and my challenge was to find discrete, quiet chunks of time. Those times tend to occur in the morning and then again late at night. Now, this often means that I'm burning my candle at both ends but I think that's a challenge that every working mother—across the world—can understand. Many writers have their own rituals which help them enter their creative zones. For me, it's this lovely little cashmere blanket; I only use it when I'm writing and that's the signal to my brain that it's time to get to work.

What’s on your reading list?

Researching Girl Power! meant that I have read non-fiction, non-stop! To unwind, I love reading fiction. I try to alternate international authors with Indian authors Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There Would Be Cake is a collection of hilarious, award-winning essays about contemporary urban life. And my friend Avni Doshi's debut novel Girl in White Cotton is about a poignant and complex mother-daughter relationship set in Pune.

What’s next?

A book on parenting in the digital world and how we can navigate these unchartered waters of sexting, gaming, cyberbullying to be released by Penguin Random House in 2020. It's specific to what's happening right now with our kids in India.

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