Vinitha Ramchandani is an editor, storyteller and published author of more than 18 books for children. Four of her stories are part of the English school curriculum in both the CBSE and ICSE Boards. Two of her stories are being made into films. She is associated with children's content and writes a fortnightly column, 'Mumbai for Kids with Vinitha Ramchandani' for Mid-Day. She loves telling stories and lives in Mumbai with her two kids.
Vinitha, welcome to a candid chat with me, Deeba
When you come from a middle class South Indian background that I do, there are no suggestions. There is real-time pressure about performance and you grow up being told that there are only four things that you should be if you are of a certain pedigree, otherwise death is better. Okay, so I am exaggerating. But you know it was about approval and disapproval and yes my options were to either be a doctor or an engineer and—if I was not intelligent enough—then I could choose to take up banking, teaching or the civil services. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I think I ended up following my heart, even if I tried to win the approval of my family by attempting all they had listed, even if half-heartedly. I think half my struggle in life is my internal resistance to doing what my heart tells me to, only because one has grown up being told to “be smart/use your head/be practical”.
I don’t think people need advice. All of today’s parents have hailed from my kind of generation and we are hell bent on ‘letting’ our kids do what bring joy to them or maneuvering their choices as gently as possible. Still if anyone did ask me I would tell them, “find what gives you happiness, a sense of purpose and do that.” There is immense joy to wake up and get paid to do something you love and would do anyways.
Your true calling finds you. I believe that whatever be your stream of consciousness then in its path are a set of experiences and people and knowledge and everything that comes with it. And it will meet you. Until you move to another zone of consciousness. Yes, what you call the abstract in life does capture my imagination.
I can write. That is my gift. So yes I have written and enjoy writing for children the most, but I have written corporate content, academic papers, to curriculum content and more. I’ve written all genres except science fiction and horror, I think. But—at the cost of sounding arrogant—if I had to I think I will be able to do that effortlessly, too.
Year 2015 and ‘16 have been rollercoaster years. I could not write anything substantial. So instead I did a lot of editing work. My kind of editing usually are manuscripts that need rewrite and when you rewrite someone’s manuscript you are, in some part, working as an author in someone else’s shoes. It is an exhausting task and it smothers your own writing. I’m doing two books right now. One of it will be my first novel and the other is a collection of stories. At least one of them I hope will be out in 2017. So yes I’m levitating in joy.
I have done no such thing. I devour books. I have more books in my room than I have all other things put together. So my kids have seen their parent reading all the time. For them reading is as natural as … eating. I think they think everyone is like this. So, no, I did not inculcate a reading habit in my kids. Children follow not necessarily what you say, but very necessarily what you do. If you end up screaming and tearing your hair under stress, then chances are, that is exactly how your kids will deal stress, even if you have told them every single day, that you need to be calm under stress. My point is if you do, they will do, too. That is why most people transform as soon as they become parents. Smoking, swearing, breaking traffic rules… all go out of the window, often after we become parents. We want our kids to emulate us and kids do emulate us.
As for tips to give to parents who have kids hooked on to gadgets, it would be: “put YOUR gadgets—your cell phones, your ipads, your lapstops, your whathaveyou—down and DO things with your kids. Unfortunately all of us parents are trying to pack our day with too many things and in this run for perfection, devices are our best bet. I know that if I have a deadline and want to work in peace, then if I hand the iPad to my kids, I have everlasting peace. And yes, kids do resist no-device time. It’s a high and its terribly addictive. But if you spend unadulterated time with your kids—and not all parents have the time our the courage or the energy to do that—your kids won’t need a device for a high.
I need a book to curl with. Totally, the touch-and-smell-of paper-walla reader.
I loved the mental stimulation that the work provided and that it steers me to revisit and be the me I used to be as a student—with an academic and analytical bent of mind.
Yes, I do all genre of editing. In fact, I hardly get to edit YA and children’s fiction manuscripts.
To self-editing authors: There is no such thing as a self-editing author. If you are writing then you will not edit your work, because you cannot edit your work. Period. Yes, you can correct the language as much as you can and you can re-read what you are submitting and recheck for typos, but editing is not expected or really possible of a writer. When you write you develop blind-spots to your own writing and often when you work is edited and sent back to you, you can end up feeling rather sheepish about some obvious bloopers your eye missed. But it is part of writing and it happens.
A good MS is one that has a gripping opening line or at least a gripping opening para. It has to be something that makes the reader start thinking and needing to know more. I tell my authors when they write, even if you know how your book goes, if you do not have a good opening line, don’t start.
I hate weekends with a vengeance. It’s that time of the week where everyone thinks they are entitled to relax and they sit around waiting to be pampered. And I have loads of domestic chores to catch up with and waiting on my kids, catching up on their studies and doing back-breaking home cleaning chores (that no one has forced me to, but my guilt of not being an at-home-mom drives me to lift mattresses and personally scrub corners and remake the cupboard) makes me take the form of a rude, mad witch. I am often caught muttering at a boiling cauldron with an evil glint in the eye.
I am a tea junkie. I’m famous for travelling around everywhere with a flask of boiling hot chai that I sort-of half-heartedly offer people who meet me (hoping that they will say no), and then, before they can decide, promptly take out a glass (which I also carry) and proceed to pour tea and drink it without meeting anyone’s eye.
Read. Read, read, read. Be updated with what is happening in the world of literature. And what is being written is astounding. If you are reading you will know what is trending as much as you will understand that good work is always rewarded. Also when you approach an agent or a publisher, do research on the work they are coming out with. If you know them and understand them, then you will know how to pitch your work.
Also, when you write to them, tell them who you are and why you think they should be reading your manuscript/proposal. Agents and publishers get 20 odd manuscripts per day or more. When they are sifting through tomes of writing, you need to catch their eye and tell then why your work needs another, serious, dekko.
If you want to know more about our guest, please visit their website below: