We thought it would be a lovely idea to celebrate Diwali with Mahtab Narsimhan, the author of Looking for Lord Ganesh – and we were right! Mahtab told us fascinating stories about the bravest people in India and why Lord Ganesh is a wonderful symbol for starting a new life in a new country. We also found out the meaning of her name…
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and share a few fun facts about Mumbai, the city of your birth?
My grandmother named me, Mahtab, which means moonlight, in Persian. I was born in Mumbai and lived in this city till I was twenty-four. This city by the sea has some of the bravest people in India. Every year they are battered by fierce monsoons, mind-numbing heat, and humidity, and yet they soldier on with life without complaint. This is also the city which is famous for the ubiquitous dabbawallas, tiffin carriers, who deliver home-cooked food to white-collar workers. A unique aspect of this 150-year old service is that it is entirely manual (no computers or paperwork to track the six million tiffins delivered on a monthly basis) and yet their accuracy is 99%. One box in six million is lost, and this is the premise of one of my novels titled – The Tiffin.
Mumbai also has the legendary Gateway of India constructed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay (Mumbai).
Your first picture book, Looking for Lord Ganesh, was recently published in the UK. What is it about?
It is about a young girl, Anika, who has immigrated to a new country and is trying to fit in. This is something many immigrants, just like I once was, can identify with. When Anika faces problems in settling in, she remembers her grandmother’s words, which is to pray to Lord Ganesh for answers. Being a child of the digital age, she turns to the internet for answers. Her problems are finally solved but the reader has to decide who it is that is actually helping Anika.
What made you decide to write about Lord Ganesh? What is so special about him?
I’ve always found Lord Ganesh to be one of the most fascinating, and fun, of the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Plus there’s a cool (and gory!) story of how he got his elephant head. Lord Ganesh is known as the God of Wisdom, New Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles. It was serendipitous that my first foray into writing picture books is about the God of New Beginnings, and my favourite.
What do you think of Sonja Wimmer’s illustrations for your book? Which illustration is your favourite?
They are simply gorgeous! I could not have asked for a more talented illustrator, nor imagined a better way my words could have been brought to life. My favourite illustration is the one where Anika and Hadiya are sitting on a tree branch, talking about forming their own team.
Looking for Lord Ganesh speaks particularly to children who have experienced immigration, or those who have been bullied at school. What message do you hope readers will glean from your story?
That help is always available if you actively seek it. Sometimes it can come from outside – an adult, a friend, or a book you’ve read where the character faced a similar problem and managed to work through it. But often, we already have the answer within us. All we need to do is to listen to that internal voice which gives excellent advice even if it may be hard to follow. In reading this story, I hope I can inspire kids to look inward as well as outward for answers to their problems because the one constant in life is change.
You grew up in Mumbai but spent a few years living in the Middle East before you settled in Canada. Can you tell us what it was like for you to move to a new country? Was there a time that you felt lost and out of place like Anika in the story?
Very often I felt the way Anika did. Change is always hard. Leaving everything that is familiar to you and embracing the unfamiliar is scary. You have to believe that you will get through this stage, be brave and carry on. I am totally at home in Canada now even though the first few years were very hard.
What is Diwali and why is it so special to you? What role does Lord Ganesh play in this
Diwali marks the triumph of good over evil. It is when Lord Rama vanquished the evil Ravana and returned to Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile, as the rightful heir to the throne. He was accompanied by his wife, Sita and his brother, Laxman. The people of Ayodhya were so happy that they celebrated this occasion with lights and firecrackers. Diwali is also the New Year for Hindus and is the time when they worship the Goddess Laxmi (for wealth) and Lord Ganesh (new beginnings).
Do you think children living in Mumbai (where you grew up), children living in the UK (where the book is published), and children living in Canada (where you live) will appreciate the story in different ways?
I am sure each child will take something different away from the story based on their own experiences and perspectives. That is the beauty of stories. It resonates with different readers in different ways, which is exactly the way it should be!
Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?
Absolutely! It’s the main reason I write. It is so very important that children from every culture see themselves in stories. It gives them a sense of pride in who they are, builds confidence, and helps them connect with the characters more strongly.
Finally, can you give aspiring children’s book authors any tips on their writing?
Read a lot. Everything you love and even things you don’t. You will always learn something. To be a good writer, you have to love reading!
- Practice writing every day.
- Never lose touch with the child you used to be, or the sense of wonder you once had about our world.
- And lastly, have fun. If you’re having fun, then writing doesn’t feel like work.
Thank you, Mahtab! You can find out more about Mahtab, her awards and her books here.
Photos from Mahtab Narsimhan