Published: 04th March 2021
Why Savie Karnel's book, set during the Babri Masjid demolition, will redefine the concept of religion for children
A journalist-turned-author, Bengaluru-based Savie Karnel reassures kids that their perceptions of life are more interesting than adults
Savie Karnel has a story to tell — a story about two boys who create their own gods. Yes, their own gods who answer only to their prayers. Before you jump off your chair and start a debate, let me tell you Bachchu and Noor do not look at the world like adults do. Instead, with their tantrums, they will make you laugh, go down memory lane and look back on how naively we believed a lot of things when we were kids. They show the possible reality of harmony amidst chaos and that belief is the common thread that connects people despite the differences. As a children’s book, it qualifies to become their best friend – to tell them the way they look at life is different and better. The book, The Nameless God, was published by Red Panda in 2021 .
Savie takes us on the journey of creating the book that might become your next favourite. Excerpts from the conversation:
Tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you first start developing an interest towards writing?
I grew up in Karwar, a coastal town in Karnataka. I was always in love with reading and wanted to be like the writers I read. When I was about 11 years old, I learnt that Rabindranath Tagore wrote one of his first plays, Prakritir Pratishodh, sitting on the same beach that I played on. Perhaps, it was at that moment that I decided to become a writer. From then on, I began writing ‘writer,’ on slam book questions that asked my ambition. My poem and story were first published in ‘Youth Express,’ a supplement that used to come with The New Indian Express. This encouraged me a lot. I thought a lot about writing jobs that could help pay the bills and help me see the world as well. So, I became a journalist.
The book encompasses a lot of things — religion, faith, superstition, food, family and children. What would you like to convey from these connections?
Faith is something that is very close to us. It is something that comforts but confuses us as well. Each of us have our own understanding of faith. A child’s belief in God is the purest, which knows no bias. But now we see these biases being easily picked up by children, through social media, propaganda and also through the elders they look up to. In The Nameless God, the children are critical thinkers. They question, seek explanations, and most importantly, they believe in themselves and their friendship. With the book, I want to highlight the importance of friendship and relationships, and bring out the pointlessness of boundaries created by religion.
You have used the Babri Masjid incident as a setting. Did you face any setbacks when it came to writing around that tumultuous period of Indian history?
The Babri Masjid demolition and the riots that followed are major incidents in recent history. For people like me, who were young in the 90s, the memory is still fresh. We are constantly reminded of it even now. Yet, we don’t speak about it to our children. So, I chose the incident as a setting. After choosing the setting, it took me a long time to decide on how to proceed with it, until I decided upon the boys creating their own God. Perhaps, that was the writer’s block. The most difficult part was to simplify the incidents and the emotions attached to them. Writing about the turmoil and confusion in the minds of children in a simple and humorous manner was not easy.
The Nameless God Book Cover
Is there a personal anecdote attached to the story? What is your favourite part of the book?
Yes, praying for some big man to die and to get a holiday. Didn’t most of us do it as children? After reading the book, many people reached out to me saying how they could relate to the characters and had prayed for a holiday like Bachchu. I love the part where the children create their own God. I think this part brings out the essence of the book, that God is somehow whom we feel close to, are comfortable with and are not afraid of. This part brings out the children’s innocence as well as their profound understanding which is not curtailed by religious beliefs. Their imagination and unrestrained thinking are something that every child has, and I wish it is nurtured.
The story beautifully captures the innocence of children when it comes to faith and a lot of other things that comes with it. Do you think this book is relatable to both children and adults?
I have received responses from both children and adults. Children have admitted to having laughed, giggled and found a world that they have not known of. Some parents wrote to me saying how their child was surprised that there was just one TV channel in the early 90s. This started a conversation where the parents went on a memory trip and spoke about their childhoods. Adults have written to me that they felt nostalgic, relived their childhood through the book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Many readers have insisted that the book is for both children and adults.
What kind of impact are you expecting The Nameless God to create?
People should read the book for pleasure, to just relax, to laugh and to reconnect with the child within them. Children can find themselves in Bachchu and Noor, and know of a time that is different from today. Adults can relive their childhoods and once again discover their innocent beliefs which held love and friendship above all. In The Nameless God, I just tell the story of how countless Indians lived and continue to live in harmony despite their religious differences. In a world where news of hatred gets prominence, I hope this story of friendship helps us see the beauty of our diversity and helps us realise that the secular nature of India is stronger than we are led to believe.