(By Arefa Tehsin. Nominated in the category of Children’s/ Young Adult Writing for the REC-VoW Book Awards, 2019)
Excerpts from the interview with Arefa Tehsin:
By Shweta Kapoor
Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? At what point did you pick up the (figurative) pen and start writing your first work?
I had this dastardly gene of a story spinner since childhood. I grew up telling tales to my friends and cousins about aliens living in our garden and the worlds inside my pencil box. My father encouraged me to write when I was in school. I remember my exam essay, Kachra Patra ki Atmakatha – the autobiography of a dustbin – being read and applauded at the parents-teacher meeting. Once I got hitched, Aditya pestered me to take my writing more seriously. I remember writing my first novel for young adults on rough pages in three months, all livid at his insistence. That was when I got the taste of blood…or ink, equally compulsive habit forming.
Amra and the Witch,’ as well as most of your other books have been targeted towards a younger audience. How did you gravitate towards children’s literature? And what does writing for children mean to you?
Some of the people I am close to will declare that I never grew up! Writing for children was a natural consequence. Writing, whether it is for children or adults, is essential for my well-being.
You write that ‘Amra and the Witch’ has been inspired by an incident in the life of your father, Raza H Tehsin, a well known conservationist. Can you tell us more about his impact on your life and writing?
My father has been a wildlife conservation crusader. He is known as the Vasco de Gama of Mewar forests as he has tread that part of the Aravallis in Southern Rajasthan on foot and helped to form most of the wildlife sanctuaries there. He brought me close to nature since I was a child. He took me to the forests and inside the cages of leopards, crocodiles, pythons and bears so that I lose the fear of animals. And I did, to a great extent. I love snakes, and I love handling them. If I see a snake, I have to go and catch it or observe it more closely. One of my early memories is playing every day near Jogi Mahal in Ranthambore National Park under the same banyan tree where a tigress used to rest daily. My father taught me not to fear the dark, not to fear the wild and not to fear the unexplained. It was with his suggestions and help that I started writing features for Times of India when I was in school. I’ve seen him fight for wildlife conservation, even with the government and authorities (like I wouldn’t do for my own family) without looking for reward or recognition. He has been my inspiration and my hero.
The culture of the Bhils comes out beautifully in your narration. How do you do it? How do you make a children’s book simple yet incredibly informative?
Thank you for your kind words. Writing on wildlife or nature or the Bhils I grew up with is effortless as it all stems from love. When it comes to nature writing, my father always said that the way to connect children (or adults) with nature is not through preaching or teaching, but through stories. That is what I try to do.
AREFA TEHSIN spent her childhood visiting the jungles of the Aravalis with her naturalist father. As a child, she was often found trying to catch a snake or spin a yarn. She grew up to be a story-spinner and was appointed the honorary wildlife warden of Udaipur for a term. She is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books and writes columns and articles for various dailies and magazines.
For the complete interview, log onto www.valleyofwords.org