One of the brightest stars of our Pratham Books constellation, Swagata Sen Pillai was a storyteller par extraordinaire, a fluent linguist, an accomplished dancer, and one of the first people to offer a helping hand when needed. Swagata left our world on 26 April 2021.
Be it One Day, One Story sessions; tricky translations from one language to another, amplifying our stories to children far and near, Swagata was always by our side, with her laughter and her verve for adventure.
When our team needed the best translators to translate Jerry Pinto’s Ming-Ming, Fat Little Bear, our then-Hindi Editor, Rajesh Khar knew who to turn to, one of his closest friends, and ours. Swagata stepped in with her customary flair, sense of rhythm and innate mischief —
Illustrated by Vishnu M Nair
Our team shares some memories:
‘Such an energetic person, a dear friend of PB. She would always be remembered as a great contributor to Pratham Books repository of books as a translator, performer, actor.’
Himanshu Giri, CEO
‘Swagata was such a lively person that it is impossible to forget her even if you have met her once. I met her for the first time at the Pratham Education Foundation office in Delhi. I still remember the way she enthusiastically rushed into the room… clad in a beautiful saree with a laptop in her hands. Soon the room was filled with lively chat and laughter. That is the way Swagata was!
Swagata’s energy was amazing. Few years back, she staged a play based on a PB story by Subhadra Sen Gupta (Monkey Business on stage). Children in her group performed that play in Bookaroo, Delhi. I was watching Swagata. The way she was enjoying with children, the way she directed the performance and the way she was involved in that… it is impossible to forget all that. That is the way Swagata was!
She was our go to person for all types of translations. From English to Hindi. From Hindi to English. And from Hindi-English to Bangla or from Tamil to Hindi. That is the way Swagata was! She was almost a PB family member. We had a very long association. Losing Swagata, it is really a great loss on many levels.’
Sandhya Taksale, Senior Editor and Head of Anuvada
‘A lot of memories associated with the first digital meeting through a WhatsApp video call to the last call just before she was admitted to the hospital. She was a fantastic dancer, performer, story teller, translator and linguist. She had a magic in her voice that anyone could recognise behind the stage.
One memory I would like to share is from Bookaroo 2019 She was doing a storytelling session on Jadav Ka Jungle. Suddenly she called me and asked to show the illustrations to children. I was blank at that time and couldn’t understand what to do but she managed the situation and used my expressions as a part of the session. This shows how patience and creative she was.’
Sandhya Tiwari, Assistant Editor, Anuvada
‘I still remember our train journey to Bali for Bookaroo. I was alone, away from the group in another compartment, and she called me and came to pick me to join the group. She was someone you just became friends with instantly. She was always vibrant, fun, full of energy, and there was never a dull moment with her. And I remember her deep and lovely alto voice, belting out classic jazz songs.’
Canato Jimo, Art Director
‘The first time I met Swagata, she swept me to her side and took a selfie with all the people who had just arrived for Bookaroo Jaipur. She laughed and we called it a groupfie. The rest of the festival rang with her songs, her stories as she held captive an audience — young and old — to Angry Akku and Jadav and the Tree-Place, and her laughter that hugged the whole room. I still remember when she reached out to me with her characteristic mindfulness. Every time we bumped into each other at a lit fest, Swagata made it a point to attend everyone’s session and cheer us all, reminding us that we’re all together.’
Bijal Vachharajani, Senior Editor
‘The first time I met Swagata we started gushing in Bangla. She was wearing her signature big bindi and a beautiful, crisp, tangail. I imagined her as a dancer with her expressive eye and hand movements but was introduced to her as a linguist and Storyteller. It wasn’t long before I got to know Swagata was also a fabulous dancer. I’ve seen Swagata perform at numerous places, in Bookaroo at JLF and she brought in a kind of wondrous liveliness that few performers can replicate. My last meeting with her was on a train journey back from JLF where she sang and took selfies and wrote evocative posts on social media.
Swagata, am sure is lighting up whichever happy room she has entered now.’
Shinibali Mitra Saigal, Senior Editor
Swagata, our stories, our books, and Pratham Books are bereft without you.
Rest in peace.
A note from Sandhya Tiwari to Swagata
A groupie at Bookaroo Jaipur – Swagata, Proiti, Asha, Vaishali, Venky, Bijal, Swati