Author Ranjit Lal on his inspirations, writing for kids and living next to a cemetery
Lal’s writing career is an inspiration for many but equally overwhelming is his humble residence next to the Nicholson Cemetery in New Delhi – an intriguing mix of greenery, bliss and aesthetic beauty.books Updated: Jun 21, 2017 15:21 IST
Undisturbed by his silent neighbours in the capital’s Nicholson Cemetery, Ranjit Lal has penned numerous works of fiction and nonfiction for both adults and children in a career spanning several decades.
Ranjit Lal is one of India’s foremost nature writers who also writes books for children. His works include, the much-acclaimed and widely read The Bossman Adventures, Enjoying Birds, Faces in the Water, and The Crow Chronicles. In 2010, Faces in the Water won the Crossword-Vodafone Award for Children’s Fiction and the Ladli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity in 2011-2012.
Lal’s writing career is an inspiration for many but equally overwhelming is his humble residence next to the Nicholson Cemetery in New Delhi – an intriguing mix of greenery, bliss and aesthetic beauty.
“I got about writing for children because I enjoy it more than writing for adults,” he says. “It is a lot more fun. Like all writing, it is a discipline: I write from 8.30 am to 1.00 pm. mostly every day, but really it’s a 24X7 stint, because the rest of the time you are thinking about what you’re going to write about, or how your story is going to progress or how the characters are going to get out of the mess you’ve put them in,” Lal said.
Kolkata-born Lal was born in 1955, and studied economics and sociology in Mumbai. As a freelance writer and columnist, he has over a thousand articles, short stories, features and photo-features published in over 50 newspapers and magazines in India and abroad.
Painted red, his sitting room evokes a sense of nostalgia as the 61-year-old writer has carefully curated every aspect of his room to transport him to yesteryears. There is a comfortable bed, on which he usually relaxes after penning a couple of pages. Two desks, one with an old desktop and the other laden with reference books, sticky notes and diaries, are his constant companions.
There is a CD player and a guitar, fancy table lamps, coffee mugs and toys of racing cars to keep him entertained in solitary hours. And then there is the balcony-size window that brings in fresh breeze and sunlight into the room.
But it also opens directly into the sombre refuge of the cemetery, with neem, date and tamarind trees dotting hundreds of the graves, most dating back to the British colonial period. It might be disturbing to most, but Lal is not among those. He points out matter-of-factly that his neighbours are “quiet” and that he remains “undisturbed”.
But there are mornings when a posse of birds (jungle babblers in case you were wondering) hammer on the French windows demanding to be let in to see if he has been writing anything seditious, but Lal sits tight and does not yield, he says.
Although Lal is best known for his columns on nature, it is in his books for children where his creative genius best finds expression. From bringing alive the refined details of the animal kingdom (The Parakeet That Squawked) to complex issues like female infanticide (Faces in the Water), Lal succeeds in conveying the central message of his books to young readers with an ease which is commendable.
“Writing for children is important because it makes kids use their imagination, which these days, especially, they are forgetting how to do because of TV, Internet and the social media. And without imagination, nothing can be achieved in any field from accountancy to zoology”, Lal believes.
His language, tone, situations and people are all straight out of childhood memories. There is, thus, little surprise that Lal’s house is home to numerous toys and gadgets for children. A little childhood touch to his surroundings, perhaps, has a lasting impression on his writing too.
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