Published: 15th May 2019
How Varsha Seshan is taking serious social issues into the realm of children's books
Varsha Seshan, an internationally celebrated children’s books writer, talks about her journey and the books she has written so far
As we grow older, we tend to focus more on our jobs and in the bargain, lose touch with our talents and interests. But Varsha Seshan is one among those few people who knows how to strike a balance between her interests and her writing. Varsha, who is a writer, dancer and teacher, completed her Master’s in English Literature from Jadavpur University in Kolkata. She is a Bharatanatyam dancer with over 25 years of experience. Apart from writing and teaching dance, she conducts workshops for children and adults on reading and creative writing.
Varsha Seshan started writing when she was seven. In fact, she won the first prize in a story-writing competition at this age. She says, "My father used to subscribe to various newspapers for children and books. Like every other kid, I too have read books authored by Enid Blyton and when I was 13, the Harry Potter series authored by J K Rowling was released. I wasn't too keen on reading books like Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. I also used to read several books written by Anne Fine. Basically, as children, we enjoyed reading books. Thanks to this constant reading, I had the chance to improve my writing and shape my thoughts. And, today, at 32, I’m writing books for children which not only entertain them, but convey important messages and talk about issues that the society is dealing with."
Multitalent: Varsha is not just into writing. She is also a Bharatanatyam dancer and has given performances abroad
Varsha further adds that the habit of reading books is developed only when there are parents at home who also read books. "Since I conduct a lot of workshops which deal with reading and writing skills, I have observed that most of the children who read come from a family of readers. If a parent is going to give the child books to read and spend time on a laptop themselves, then it is not going to help. Reading is a pleasurable activity more than a forceful one. If children have to read books for pleasure, then they have to enjoy what they read without being judged by parents."
Varsha started her career by writing a book of short stories related to sports titled Let’s Play! Her second book The Story-Catcher is a short story which went on to become the second runner-up at the Parents Kids Choice Awards 2014. After publishing these two books, Varsha received an overwhelming response from children and their parents. She was approached by a company in Pune which was looking to provide information on the Indian Railways in the form of a story rather than just plain content. It was a stimulation systems company which had tied up with the National Rail Museum in New Delhi. She got an opportunity to write 14 books in this series which were about the history of Indian Railways and the mechanisms of how trains work. Seven books were meant for seven-year-olds and the other seven books were meant for students in their middle school. While for seven-year-old kids there are books like Bholu at the Level Crossing for middle school students, there are books like The Duronto Adventure. "I felt great while working to bring out these beautiful books. For some children, the story might be more important but for others, the mechanism of how trains work is more interesting. So the book entertains you and provides information as well. There are no more copies available of these books except at the National Rail Museum."
More than writing: Varsha conducts workshops for children to help them develop reading and writing skills
In 2016, Varsha got a wonderful break thanks to her book Dragonflies, Jigsaws and a Rainbow which was shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award. "I felt happy as I started gaining international recognition. Writers from as many as 50 countries take part in these awards. It was a privilege to be among the top five. Scholastic Asia published my book and it is available only in East Asian countries like China, Vietnam and Cambodia. I am hoping to work with Scholastic Books to ensure that the book is made available in India too." The 32-year-old writer's name was shortlisted in 2018 for the same award and this time, she won the first runner-up award for a middle-grade novel titled Red Eyes which will be published in 2020.
Apart from novels and short stories, Varsha also has two picture books to her credit titled What Will Happen? and Today I Am. Varsha has collaborated and worked with two different illustrators for her books. Today I Am is illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat and What Will Happen? has illustrations by Vivekananda Roy Ghatak. She says, "These two books were written to inculcate the reading habit in children. The book Today I Am consists of one sentence on each page while the rest are all pictures and What Will Happen? is a book for level II readers. It has more text along with pictures. These books are available in different languages like English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Marathi, Italian, French, Swahili, Filipino, Luganda, Malayalam, Japanese and Korean."
Hop onto the train: Varsha has written 14 books in the Indian Railways series and Bholu is one of the character in her book
Currently, Varsha is promoting her book The Prophecy of Rasphora. According to her, its a one of the most unique novels among all her other works. Why does she feel so, we ask and Varsha says, "The unique idea behind this book is that it does not feature kids from urban areas. There are three underprivileged kids who come from a very poor background. Apart from this, the story talks about a land full of beautiful paintings, which is actually a gold mine. Now, the prophecy is that only these three girls can save the land from being exploited by people for gold. In simple terms, this novel actually conveys the message of protecting Mother Earth from being destroyed. It has elements of love, betrayal, joy and care. So children above the age of eight can read this novel."
Varsha is also working on a book that highlights those issues that women go through in the society. The book is titled Sisters At New Dawn and is being published by Zubaan Books, an independent feminist publishing company. "The publishing date hasn't been decided yet. We are still working on the book. Hopefully, it will be out on the stands by next year," she concludes.