Children’s literature in English in India is beginning to respond to a shifting political consciousness in the western world and in certain sections of the Indian society.
“It is important that books which tackle issues, whether sexuality or class, have to work as stories at the level of the book, as opposed to having characters be the vehicle to deliver your issue,” said Roy. “The challenge when you are looking for and writing alternative books is, to now allow the alternativeness to overwhelm the story.”
Among the new crop of books for children are titles that have leading and peripheral characters exploring their sexuality (Himanjali Sankar’sTalking of Muskaan, Payal Dhar’s Slightly Burnt), children with disabilities going about everyday life (Sujatha Padmanabhan’s Chuskit Goes to School
, Leela Gour Broome’s Flute in the Forest) and families with single parents (Shals Mahajan’s Timmi in Tangles).
These might seem like heavy tags, but these books do not always make these issues central to their plots or characters. Authors say they simply want to expand the scope of what children read.
“Forget alternate sexualities, sexuality itself finds very little representation in [young adult fiction] in India, and it’s only beginning to change now,” wrote Payal Dhar in an email to Scroll.in.
“The idea that children might have questions about sexuality, their own or of others, is a terrifying thought for us, adults, and the way we deal with it is to pretend it does not exist or shut them up when they bring up the issue,” she wrote. “This is how I got the idea for Slightly Burnt – when it struck me that LGBT kids are virtually invisible in India.”
“Especially in India, we tend to take class for granted,” said Sankar. “My children’s exercise books all assume that they come from certain class positions and are familiar with things like phones or access to technology. My main concern while writing the book was to ensure my tone was not condescending.”