Coming home to pure love

Coming home to pure love

Sudha Murty tells Shweta Sharan why writing stories featuring her beloved pet was such a heartwarming experience and why we need more Indian books about children and animals

The author with her beloved Gopi.

Remember when we were children and loved reading books about animals? Anna Sewell’s ‘Black Beauty’, books by Gerald Durrell, and of course, Enid Blyton’s novels about horses, dogs and farm animals, were our constant companions.

We didn’t have many Indian books that conveyed the joy we felt when we brought a dog home or played with the animals on our street. Very few books reflect this reality even today and very few document children’s experiences with animals in India.

Filling this gaping hole somewhat is Sudha Murty’s new title for children, ‘The Gopi Diaries: Coming Home’. A  beautiful chapter book about the author’s own dog, the book features the delightful Gopi who comes into her world and changes it completely.

The book is filled with warm familiarity and illustrations that recall so many scenes that children will know and love. It is written from Gopi’s point of view and it is interesting to see how cleverly the author narrates familiar scenes from the perspective of a dog.

What does Gopi think when he sees people for the first time? Why do squirrels and butterflies appear temptingly close when in reality they are so far away and out of bounds?

“Children ought to love animals,” says Ms Murty. “They should treat pets as part of their own family. Animals teach us so much about unconditional love and kindness. When children read these books, they will perhaps understand that there exists another world of animals. Animals have their own difficulties and can get upset too.”

Through a dog’s eyes

The book’s illustrations capture the world through Gopi’s eyes and it is a colourful, exciting world indeed. Says Sandhya Prabhat, the book’s illustrator, “I enjoyed creating compositions that visually gave Gopi central importance and had the other humans revolve around him. I added a lot of greenery and flowers wherever I could in order to make it feel like the cheerful world that Gopi perhaps sees.”

In the book, the author’s family members make an appearance too, including the famous co-founder of Infosys, Narayan Murthy. ‘Ajja,’ as Gopi calls him, is very fearful of animals but does Gopi change him? You will have to wait for the entire series to see such interesting narrative arcs unfold. The novel reflects the life of a modern family living in India.

We see Gopi face-timing with the author’s grandchildren in another city. He cannot understand what is happening when the author, whom he calls ajji, brings a plate with fire on it and moves it round and round in front of him!

Gopi’s visit to the vet is particularly hilarious. The other dogs, for instance, warn him about the ‘monster’ in the white coat who is about to prick him with a needle.

The scene also signals Gopi’s possible future traits as a dog. He goes by his animal sense and trusts the vet even though he dislikes the experience immensely. Incidentally, Ms Murty tells us that she wrote the book in just two-and-a-half hours! She adds that the upcoming books in the Gopi series will have many more adventures. “Gopi visits the office and he even gets a teacher,” she says.

“In the first book, he is a pup, but what happens when he grows up? How does his world change?”

Dearth of stories

Apart from their innocence and capacity for love, animals appeal to children for so many reasons. “Children usually grow up with animals,” says Ms Murty. “Now it is not possible because we live in cities, but in villages or in small towns, an animal is part of the family. We used to have a horse, a donkey, a cow and even buffaloes. Occasionally a monkey, a crow or a parrot would come along too!”

This year, the author also wrote ‘The Daughter From the Wishing Tree: Unusual Tales about Women in Mythology’, a remarkable book filled with stories about women from mythology — fearless women who led wars on behalf of the gods.

“We have so many entertaining characters and stories, princes and princesses, in our own literature in India,” says Ms Murty.

“People have not written about them or figured out how to present them to children. Children like books that relate to their country, their environment and climate. India has so many children’s stories waiting to be told and there is such a dearth of stories, especially about children and animals.” 

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