'The healing power of stories is amazing'

Young adult fiction

I hate Muslims”, is the opening line of a short story Those Yellow Flowers of August in which protagonist Nitya makes no bones about how much she dislikes them. The teenager is furious about everything they do and dismisses them as “first-class killers”.

At this point, the reader is almost furious, wondering what author Paro Anand was thinking while writing on these sectarian lines in a book meant for young adults. But then she introduces, Khalid, and the story takes on to a different tangent where understanding of Muslims as “terrorists” is dismissed and Nitya is informed that “bombs don’t have a religion”.

This isn’t just an example of powerful storytelling, but is about telling a story on current issues in such a way that without preaching, the writer is able to send out a strong message of universal brotherhood, peace and love through characters that have different religious identities, but are tied together with the string of belief and faith.

Nitya’s story is one such gem from a collection of short stories in Like Smoke (Penguin) that shed light on different issues and challenges an adult faces in his growing up years. The Delhi-based Anand has taken on topics such as the impact of terrorist violence on young people in Kashmir, bullying, gender equality, poverty and domestic violence.

“When I started writing this story, I had asked myself how anybody could dare say that. But I had to remind myself that this was not something I was saying, but I had heard children in school speak like that. It was the need of the hour to address the issue
in a refine way,” says Anand who has published 25 books including novels and
short stories.

She realised the enormous potential of stories as a safe space for discussing difficult issues as well as a way of developing creativity and critical thinking. So she developed ‘Literature in Action’, a program through which she has interacted with over 3 lakh children with a special emphasis on working with unreached children and those in difficult circumstances.

“Children who are orphaned have no imagination and children who have
faced violence or live in conflict-zones don’t open up so easily. It is through stories that I connect with them. We should remember that the healing power of stories is amazing,” Anand tells Metrolife.

Anand, for over three decades, has been creating and promoting literature for youth. She admits that young adult is a new genre and isn’t recognised worldwide, but this hasn’t deterred her confidence. “I am a young adult writer and I am not going to apologise for that. I am not even pretending that it is a lesser thing to be.”

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