Saturday, December 03, 2011

Books are magic, says Ken Spillman, author of Advaita, the Writer





When Advaita leaves Delhi for boarding school in Dehrudun, she is lonely and unhappy, even though the school is the best in Asia, even though it is supposed to have a wonderful library. However, the library soon becomes a haven for Advaita as the books more than cover up for her homesickness. One day, she learns that Ruskin Bond, her favourite author, is staying close by. She wonders whether he is the same person, the author whose books she so dearly loves. She also wonders whether she can become her writer one day. Well, all this forms part of a 50-page storybook written by Ken Spillman, who was in Chennai recently to interact with children, something he loves to do.

Spillman, based in Australia, first visited India in 2006 and immediately fell in love with the country. He “soaked everything up and wanted to read and write about it.” He spent hours in the book shops of Khan Market, New Delhi, bought loads of books, read Ruskin Bond, and tried to get a hang of the kind of books that influenced children in India. In 2008, he was invited to the Mussoorie International Writers’ Festival where he met Bond, Ruskin Bond, for the first time. It was there that Spillman met Advaita Kala, a writer, whose book Almost Alone had sold well. They struck a healthy friendship even as she took him to the bookshops in central Mussoorie and got him to savour paan. Advaita had felt lonely while at the Welham School in Dehradun but felt reassured knowing that Ruskin Bond was staying close by.

Yes, Advaita the Writer is Advaita Kala’s story, simply and wonderfully narrated by Spillman for children, encouraging them to read and write. At a workshop conducted by the Spring & Zoom Centre for Literary Arts and Tulika Publishers, Spillman kept emphasising at every point that “books are magic”. To questions from anxious parents, asking him how they could get their children hooked to books, he gave the example of a child’s aunt who took the boy to a large bookstore and left him in the midst of the children’s section while she went away to search for books she wanted for herself. The boy had never shown an interest in reading before, but, left in the middle of all that “magic”, he couldn’t resist picking up a picture book or two and thumbing through the pages. Eventually, the boy grew to become a great lover of books.

Listening to Spillman talking to a group of small children at the Spring & Zoom centre and enthusing them, I was taken back in time – to my days as a schoolboy when I spent most of my spare time reading books. Spillman has now inspired me to find some time to read a book, even if it just be a few pages every day. Thank you, Ken.

For those interested in knowing more about Spillman, log on to www.kenspillman.com.

Pictures show Spillman acting out a story, interacting with children while autographing books, and parents (do fathers care at all!) listening to the author.

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