“Will you sing a song for us?”
“What do you like best in the whole world?”
“Did you use up all your imagination?”
“How many chapters are there in the book? How many pages? How many words?”
It was a question and answer session like no other, at what had to be one of the most high-energy children’s book launches ever at the Citi Centre Landmark.
Anushka Ravishankar, award-winning children’s author, poet and playwright, found herself at the receiving end of a rapid-fire round of random questions of the sort only seven year olds can come up with, and literally had to run off the stage (only to be mobbed by her little questioners for autographs) at the launch of her new children’s book, ‘At Least a Fish’.
“It was so hilarious,” she said, laughing good-naturedly later (when she’d had a chance to recover). “They ask the first thing that comes to their minds – it doesn’t matter if it’s relevant or not, and they don’t really want to know the answer. They just want to ask!”
You could think of it as a ‘welcome back’ celebration of sorts – the author, best known for her picture-books and nonsense verse for young children, is writing storybooks for this age group (seven to eight year olds) after a long time. ‘At Least a Fish’ is the first of a series (the ‘Zain and Ana’ series) planned for Scholastic.
“This is actually such a great age group to write for – I got to tell a proper story and I let myself go much more in terms of humour,” she said. “I had an absolute blast writing it.”
Her audience seemed to have as much of a blast listening to it –the jam-packed group of little kids who’d been brought from various schools burst into spontaneous laughter every now and again during the short dramatised reading from the book. Eight-year-old Tarun Lakshman and nine-year-old Shreya Thomas added to the fun with their immensely natural, lively performances as the goofy Zain and brainy Ana respectively (impressively, they remembered all their lines – not a piece of paper in sight).
“Purely by accident, it turned out that Shreya was just like Ana – Tarun immediately pointed that out – and Tarun was like Zain in a lot of ways and loved the character,” said Anushka. “We rehearsed for just a couple of hours for three days – I had to do very little with them.”
The little actors were helped along by Anushka’s wonderful writing – funny, realistic dialogue and depictions of childhood situations, such as playing with pets (and really, really wanting a dog because you can’t cuddle a fish – well, you could, but you’d get wet), imaginary dragons in the pond nearby and grand plans to capture it, older siblings who scold and the annoying twins next door who want to play house.
“The series is just about the adventure of being children,” says Anushka. “Things seem so much more important then – what fish eat can seem like a matter of life and death!”
Other things of importance cleared up by kids in the audience during the q-and-a session – whether the author keeps fish, how many she has, why she likes fish, what other pets she’d like to keep… Really, there was very little left for this reporter to ask by the end.