Meet the Author : Radhika Bapat

Sandhya Taksale chats with Radhika Bapat – the author of ‘Takloo, the Little Salt Seller’. As we gear up for the One Day One Story initiative, we learn more about Radhika and how the book Takloo came about.

Radhika Bapat has an M.Phil, in Clinical Psychology and is the Head of Department, Child Guidance Centre, Pune. This centre offers services in the areas of clinical psychology and rehabilitation to children with developmental disabilities. She uses storytelling as a tool to work with children.

Radhika, you are psychologist and work with children. How do you look at the ‘story ‘as a tool? How powerful it is?

I am a psychologist who is also very interested in education, for both adults and children- creating tool’s to facilitate pleasurable learning. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t enjoy an outstanding orator, puppeteer or weaver of tales. As a child the stories that I enjoyed the most were the one’s with the least written matter. As an adult I enjoy even fewer pages, larger print and better illustrations. Narratives help me help others cope with their reality – learn to not take themselves too seriously or to laugh at themselves. It is very important to be able to humor yourself. I am still learning. Some of my earliest memories of stories told to me were – “The Last Leaf” by O’Henry, “Androceles and the Lion” or stories of Akbar and Birbal. I was told these stories in three languages and so it also helped me acquire the knowledge of language without actually having to try or study hard. Some of my best professors at college, have been excellent storytellers and some of the worst have been passionless, uninspiring and dreadful. In the end, you are your own teacher – and it helps to be able to create stories and liven up your own learning. 
What made you write this story? Any special purpose?

I like writing. There have been many ideas and stories that have been inspired by very real people and incidences in my life or in somebody else’s life, that I jot down. I fall in love with my family all the time, their lives inspire me and this is enough. We do not try to impress the world. We love loving ourselves, and each other. This is a thing of beauty and incredible good fortune. The story of Takloo is loosely based on an event in my father’s life as a child. I thought he was one of the most beautiful people in the world and as a child I loved playing the “tabla” on his very shiny head, hence the name Takloo. Anjarle is a real village on the Konkan coast. 
I see these things visually, and Poonam’s illustrations blend in perfectly with my imagination. Switching between scientific writing which is unsentimental and succinct, and stories, which allow me to exaggerate is fun for me.

In what way can a parent / teacher use the instructions on ‘How to use this book’ which are there at the beginning of the story.

I leave the parent / teacher to use their own imagination – the “how to use the book” section is only meant to bring their attention to the flexibility they have in their storytelling technique. I would be mortified if this was used in a “question and answer” or rote format. It is not necessary to follow the words or language used in a particular book, it can be narrated in a multilingual format too. The central idea in the book is to use it as a tool to communicate variety and range. There is no transgressor or evil-doer in the book.

On one level it has to be an engaging ‘story’ which kids will love to read for fun and enjoyment. On another level, you are introducing some specific concepts to the children through the story. Was it difficult to keep the balance between the two?
There is a story in even the most boring legal or medical texts – one only needs to weave it, with relevant examples, to one’s tastes. This is the best way to learn, in my opinion. I can find concepts that can be learnt through most pieces of children’s prose that I come across. So, I did not have to consciously balance between the two.
Generally, authors tend to portray the characters in the story that are beautiful and handsome. Here Takloo is bald, his mother’s teeth are like Dracula. What made you do so?

Children like to have fun. For the most part, they are not judgmental, although they are highly impressionable. Stereotypical ideas of beauty, gender roles, good and bad are learnt through adult imitation, exposure to such information and peer influence. I believe that healthy, natural, humble and peaceful are things to strive for. I find Takloo and his mother very beautiful. Have you read the story “My mother is the most beautiful woman in the world” by Becky Reyher, Ruth Stiles Gannett? We do not judge people we love on their physical appearance. In fact, how they appear only remains a descriptive with no negative valence. An interesting article in the New York times by David Brooks talks about how a century back pink being a stronger color was associated with boys clothing and blue which was more delicate and dainty was associated with girls toys and clothing. These are all man-made associations. Pink and blue are just colors. Our associations are a result of learning. Let’s unlearn these. It is very important to communicate to children that size, shape and color have no bearing on how beautiful we find them. Also, the word “ugly” comes from “ugga” which means “to dread” or “fear” – The only characters that evoke such emotions would be one’s that are violent, conniving or manipulative in an unfair way – these are the one’s that wage wars and lack empathy or remorse.
Have you yourself read out this story to children and what was their response?
I read a short version of the story to my 2 year old toddler who enjoyed the animals and colors through the book. I had to quickly turn the pages so as to sustain his attention. I have not read the book out to anyone else. 

This book is licensed under a Creative Commons license. It means that it could be downloaded and remixed for free. What do you think about this license and in what way it will be helpful for children?

Writing is a hobby for me and not my singular profession. For people like me, it seems only fair to support the Creative Commons licenses. I have greatly benefitted from other authors and scientists who’s works I was able to access due to the permissions they granted. There are courses that one can now take online, from the worlds top universities, for free – only because of this license. For parents who are only able to afford a limited number of books, it is a great advantage to have free access to beautifully illustrated books. Hopefully, such instances reinforce ones faith in human values. For more information visit: http://creativecommons.org

How do you feel about this book being chosen for the ‘One Day One Story’ campaign to celebrate International Literacy Day? The book will be shared in more than 1000 locations.

I feel delighted and a bit embarrassed, that this book is chosen and I think Poonam’s illustrations really bring the character to life. This might encourage us to work together and put out more stories. I would also encourage all those writers/ poets and illustrators with similar ideas and support for the Creative Commons to contact us, so that we can work together to create a corpus of children’s stories and material that can be freely used as teaching aids at radhikabapat(at)hotmail(dot)com or poonamathalye(at)gmail(dot)com.

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