Many of my books are set in India and the books I am working on now are also set in India. But why? Is it because ethnic writers should write only about their cultures? Or is it because of the maxim - Write What you Know?
I think it is a bit of both and a wee bit more.
I think there is a genuine dearth of books about other cultures in western literature. As I was growing up, I read tons of British and American books. Those days, Indian publishing hardly had any writers just writing for children.
There were a few fantastic Indian writers and I devoured their books too - Ruskin Bond, R K Narayan, Arup Kumar Dutta and of course an absolute warehouse full of comics from India, US and Europe - Tintin and Asterisk being on the top.
Today there is a flourishing children’s book industry in India. There are many Indian writers writing for Indian kids, including me. But still kids do read books from all other countries. But that openness is not big in the western world. I don’t see a hunger for reading foreign writing or stories set in other cultures. These type of books are not readily available and only some libraries with specific demographics stock them.
So I want to write British books set in India. I want to write books for children here - both Indian and local to be able to read stories about another country, culture and background.
Secondly it goes without saying that I’m more familiar with India and Indian settings. I left home fifteen years ago - but as a little girl I grew up in India.
My holidays, my friends, recipes, myths feed my imagination. My culture filled with different religions, history of Islamic rule and British colonialism, rich mythology and epic stories is the fabric of my stories - my ideas stem from these predominantly. Even when I write contemporary British stories, I’m sure my lens is still coloured in India.
Thirdly, writing what you know is a great maxim. It doesn’t mean don't write about new things. But it means start with things you know very well or get to know the things you want to write about. When I am writing about India, I still have to look up history and geography and perhaps even specific language references - but the essence and the meaning of my themes are already native to me. I wouldn’t make careless mistakes about spices or relationships or gods or angels or demons - because I know these. I was fed stories from Hindu epics and myths all my life and I think there is a huge treasure trove of ideas I could tap into.
Even if I have not visited many parts of India, I know I would be able to understand the rituals and customs by doing the research and I stand a better chance of getting it right than setting it elsewhere.
And finally, I love India. I want to bring the magic of India - the mangoes, the tigers, the bullock-carts, pot-holes, the beliefs, the gods, the superstitions and the crowded markets to children here. Britain is a multi-cultural society today and knowing more about neighbours and friends could only bring children together.
The world too is a small place today. Every child deserves to understand the people in all parts of the world to grow up as a world citizen with little bias and no misconceptions about unfamiliar things.
Chitra Soundar is a storyteller and author of over 20 books for children published in India, UK, Singapore and USA. Her latest book is Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market published by Karadi Tales, India. You can find out more about Chitra at www.chitrasoundar.com.