Paro Anand: No child's play this young-adult fiction

Interview

Paro Anand

Paro Anand, one of India’s top writers for young adults has been writing for children and young people for over 30 years and has published 26 books so far, including novels, short story collections, plays, picture books and a teacher’s guide. She also works with children in schools and NGOs, through her programme 'Literature in Action'. 

Anand is a world record holder for helping about 3000 children to make the World’s Longest Newspaper. In conversation with Dalu Jose of Deccan Herald, she speaks about her work, literature and the burning issue of the #MeToo movement in India.

Has your writing style changed over the years with new media and how do you still hold the interest of youth with books?

In my experience, young people are reading more than ever. They are more aware. Yes, there are a million distractions. But, in my personal experience, years ago, kids couldn't name a single Indian author and were reading a limited range. Now, every school and interaction shows that they are reading.

There is a space now for all kinds of reading. I haven't changed myself or my style because of tech advancement. I write what I want to read and there are, thankfully, enough young people and parents out there who want to read my work.

#Metoo movement is starting a new era for women in India; do you agree? With a male-dominated narrative for so long, do you think women are finally breaking social barriers to give their account?

#MeToo is a long overdue necessary development. Actions that we didn't even have names for and silly names like 'eve-teasing' are now outdated. We know what action is an offensive action and we know that it can be called out, which is great. I don't think that we need to give voice to one group by taking away the voice of another group. Yes, there needs to be a correction in gender balance, but I strongly think that all people must have recourse to state their point of view to defend.

I don't know of a single woman who has not had a #MeToo movement and it is a relief not to have to bear that burden of shame and silence anymore. So many stories that are coming out after years and decades of silence are horrifying. And we should all be horrified. I think all of this is going to teach us how to bring up our boys better. 


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What holds some women back from not speaking out or naming the abusers?

I know quite a few women who don't want to speak up and that should be their choice and only their choice. I do wish that family pressure doesn't come into play, but it does. I know women who have been sympathised with but were asked to not speak out. I know of men who have approached women with apologies before being named. 

Whatever the way is, it should be a way forward. Not a way to hold back. That's all. If I prefer to sort it out in my own way, then I should not feel pressured to speak up. Providing that the person is not in a person to abuse others.

I have a huge amount of respect for the women who are telling their stories, thereby giving immense strength and courage to others to join their voices. 


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How do we create awareness among children and adolescents to speak up when they face sexual abuse?

Personally, I have found that stories are a great way to broach subjects as difficult as sexual abuse, bullying or discrimination as the issues are cloaked in fiction. It feels safer that way especially for young people to talk about it. They may be discussing fictional characters, but they are talking about themselves. Sensitive stories on sensitive issues are truly empowering. I have experienced this in my work with over 3 lakh young people over many years.

Tell us about your new book ‘ The Other-Stories of Difference’ and the creative process that went into writing it.

The process of writing 'The Other' was really visceral. It came from deep within–based on interactions I have had with youngsters. It wasn't an intellectual exercise for me. That is why it was often devastating personally. The book took so much longer to write than the length suggests, but that was because I needed to exit that space, to find succour and relief elsewhere because it was too painful at times. Which is why I often write two books at the same time—to escape, like a pressure cooker release button. This time, I wrote 'A Very Naughty Bear' along with 'The Other.'

Because the teen years, which is my target readership, is a hard phase, though, I also try and end each story on an upswing note of hope rather than leaving it bleak. 

You’ve also been selected by BBC Hindi in their #100 Women Project. Do share your journey about the same.

More than a journey, it was a shock to have been selected for this. I never take recognition for granted, as to it comes as an awesome surprise, a gift. It is a gift to get to do what you love and find other people love what you do. I was recently asked how I felt to be at the pinnacle of my achievements. And my first thought was, Eh? am I really on a pinnacle? which pleased me greatly, until the second thought crept in—if you are on a pinnacle, the only way from there is down! I wasn't that pleased anymore. Or was I?

What can we expect from your participation in the Bangalore Lit Fest this year?

To be able to talk about so many of my works is a highlight for sure. I am doing a session around 'The Other', 'A Very Naughty Bear' and then will be talking on women in conflict. I will focus on 'No Guns at my Son's Funeral', 'Weed and Like Smoke' as well as 'The Other'. I think it is also significant that an author of young adult fiction is included in a panel that has non-fiction adult writers and journalists. This is a big step for children and young adult writers and I am honoured to be the one taking that step

What are your plans for the future in the Literary world?

I am working on a novel called Nomad's Land. It's been a while since I wrote a novel. It is beginning to take shape and I plan to settle down with it from February and give it as much time as it takes. It is based on the theme of displacement and finding roots. 

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Paro Anand: No child's play this young-adult fiction

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