Nani goes to the neighbourhood park once a week. She doesn’t take a direct route but travels in a wide circle, through lanes that she has named. Everything that is important to Nani lies within that circuit. On the day of the story, Nani’s grandson Venki decides to go with her and their walk shows him the world through his grandmother’s eyes.
Sometimes stories come unbidden. One bops you on the head and you know in an instant what the story is saying and where it is going. More importantly, you know that you are going to like it. Nani’s Walk to the Park is one such story. I wrote it in one go then put it aside, revisiting it to prune a word here, add a description there; honing it till every word was in the right place, for the right reason.
I knew what the images would look like too. At first, I had imagined a giant jigsaw with each frame being a piece of the puzzle. When the story is over, the pieces are placed to form a map of the neighbourhood.
Then I had second thoughts – what if a frame was wrongly placed? What if one got misplaced? What if the person reading the story didn’t bother to put the frames together? And so, the plan was changed. It would be a book with a poster.
If people see Mumbai in the story, it is because Mumbai is my city. A few buildings will seem familiar, others are reminiscent of places that I know and love, still others are fabricated from a jumble of nostalgia and fancy.
There’s City Bakery where my colleagues and I had maska with fresh-from-the-oven bun, on our way to take 7:30 am class at Mahalaxmi Municipal School; the tree-shaded lanes of Bandra and Khar where one could walk home from school without stepping into a patch of sunlight; the Mangalore-tiled cottages and chawls that were everywhere and now all but gone; the honey-brown stone buildings and joyous cornucopia of books that overflowed the sidewalks at Fort, and tiny cinemas that beckoned with lurid posters and art deco mouldings.
The Mumbai Nani lives in is a quieter Mumbai, there are no cell phones, no tower blocks, no upscale malls. This portrayal was not intentional but crept into the frames and caught even me by surprise. However, the atmosphere, the crowds, the market, the shaded bylanes and the people are all those I see around me every day.
Nani’s story is not about teaching values, though it does convey the values Nani holds dear. I am content if it makes children chuckle and exclaim; if it makes a child go back and forth noticing connections between frames; if a child can weave a story from the many that are poised to leap off every page and if a child can identify with Nani’s neighbourhood and call it her own. If a handful of children say to me ‘I love Nani’s Walk to the Park’, then this Nani’s contentment will be complete.
Deepa Balsavar writes and illustrates books for children. For many years she has also been involved in developing educational material and training programmes. She is deeply interested in how children react to words and illustrations and hopes to take children a little further than the written word and the illustrated image.