Janaki Lenin and ‘The King Cobra’s Summer’
Janaki Lenin’s first book ‘A King Cobra’s Summer’ for children was published by Pratham Books in 2011. It ranked among the top 12 publications for children for that year.
NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?
There was no definite moment or age when I discovered I wanted to write. My mother says I went through a childhood phase when I said I wanted to be a writer. But I also wanted to be a painter, a pilot, and many other things. I wrote various stories and essays right through school as part of class work and for my own pleasure. But when I graduated from school, I didn’t think of writing as a career option. I chose to become a film editor instead. A few years later, at age 34, I quit filmmaking. But I was at a loss – I didn’t have any other skills. I enjoyed writing scripts and I had written articles about our filmmaking experiences, so I thought I’d explore writing as a career. I’m still in the business of story-telling, I merely changed my medium of expression.
NAW- Was it difficult to write A King Cobra’s Summer which is meant for children? Not many authors tend to write for children in India.
To be honest, it wasn’t my initiative. Pratham Books wanted a story about king cobras and I wanted to support their mission to put a book in every kid’s hands. They have great publishing values and still manage to keep the price of their books low. So it was a satisfying collaboration.
One of my childhood fears was of getting lost and never seeing my family again. That was the starting point and the rest flowed. I didn’t write the book with the thought – this is a children’s book – in mind. I didn’t want to be condescending or keep the story simple.
Since I didn’t have any experience writing for children, I sent it to three children of friends. I tweaked it based on their feedback. I didn’t know how to deal with reptile sex. I was circumspect in the draft, and one of my three critiquers challenged me to write about it openly.
The other worry was the timeline – I switch from the present to the immediate past to the distant past and back again. I wanted it to be simple to understand and yet not have to narrate the story linearly. And children didn’t have any problem in understanding.
To answer your question, the book wasn’t difficult to write but it seemed difficult because of my worries. The lesson I learnt was not to underestimate children.