In conversation with author Bhakti Mathur

Bhakti Mathur, author of the Amma Tell Me and Amma Take Me series has recently launched her new book ‘The Avatars of Vishnu!’.  The 13th  book in the Amma Tell me Series and overall, her 17th, it takes Bhakti’s beloved protagonists Klaka and Kiki on yet another adventure through a story telling session with their ‘Amma’. Written in rhyme and prose, the book dwells on the various avatars of Lord Vishnu, and more specifically his Matsya (fish) avatar. It is beautifully illustrated with wonderful imagery to capture every kid (and adult’s) imagination. 
We sat with the author to talk about her new book and more.

  1. What fascinates you about Lord Vishnu’s story and will the Vishnu series include all his avatars?
    In Hindu mythology, the Trinity comprises of three gods – Brahma, the creator of the Universe, Vishnu – the preserver and protector of the world and Shiva – the destroyer. Of all the three functions – creation, preservation, and destruction, ‘preserving’ or ‘sustaining’ is the hardest. To give an example, it’s easy to begin a pursuit and easy to end it. But maintaining and managing that effort is challenging. 
    Something fascinating I learnt during the research process is that the avatars of Vishnu trace the evolution of man on earth. Life began in water, Vishnu first comes as a fish or ‘Matsya’. Then came then amphibians, and Vishnu’s second avatar is that of a turtle or ‘Kurma’. The came mammals, and Vishnu’s third avatar is that of a boar, ‘Varaha’. Finally after millions and millions of years, came man and Vishnu comes as the great King Rama and Krishna. 
    Yes, the Vishnu series will include all the avatars (except Kalki, since he has not appeared in his tenth and final avatar as yet!). As you can see, I have my work cut out for me.
  1. What kind of research went into writing this book and how long did the process take?
    It took six months to put the book together. It took me three months to write the draft. The research was quite extensive.  Research is my favorite part of the writing process, it’s something I love. Fortunately, there are several books on Hinduism written by experts and English translations of the Puranas (ancient stories that date back to 3000 years, written by our sages) that are available. That made my task easier. It took Maulshree Somani, the illustrator of the book, three months to make the beautiful illustrations. And after six months of hard work, here we are!
  1. How has your environment or upbringing influenced your writing?
    I was born and raised in Delhi, India in a middle-class family.  My biggest childhood influences were my mother, my grandmother, and my nanny.  My mother was an avid reader.  In my childhood I remember being ‘read to’ much more than I read myself. One of the first books I recall hearing is ‘Horton Hears a Who’ by Dr. Seuss while sitting on my mother’s lap.  I fell in love with it.  My mother worked as a librarian and as a result I landed up spending several hours in the library as a child.  I suppose libraries are great and inexpensive babysitters!  I remember spending entire summer holidays in the library devouring books.  I think that’s where the love affair with books started.  
    My love for mythology was a gift from my grandmother and my nanny.  They both used to tell me stories from the two major Indian epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata every day after I came back from school.  That was the best part of my day.  Those stories took me to far-off places.  I remember, how much I loved listening to those fascinating tales about myriad Hindu Gods, of great kings and heroes and their triumphs over the most evil of adversaries.  
  1. Your favorite childhood book or books?
    While growing up, many a lazy afternoon were made adventurous by stories from Enid Blyton, the Nancy Drew series, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and JRR Tolkien. Next came M.M. Kaye, AJ Cronin, Daphne du Maurier, Somerset Maugham and I was hooked for life.  But my favorite stories are from Indian mythology.  And as a reader I find myself going back to them again and again.  
  1. Do you follow any writing rituals?
    I write with pen and paper first before transferring the text to a computer. I love the feel of a pen on paper and seeing the words flow.
  1. The last book you read, and what you enjoyed about it?
    The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. 
    The writing is incredible and the imagery the author evokes is exhilarating. Set at the end of the second world war, the story is about two siblings as they try to come to grapple with and come to terms with their past.
  1. Finally, how do you take your coffee? 
    I enjoy oat milk latte and cappuccino. These days I start my day with ‘bulletproof’ coffee, which is coffee mixed with ghee (clarified butter) and coconut oil. Getting the good fats in the body at the beginning of the day.

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Picture Credit: Bhakti Mathur

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