Bijal vachharajani is a children’s author whose new book, A Cloud Called Bhura, marries caste and climate concerns into an entertaining adventure. This is her fourth book. She speaks with SUCHETA DASGUPTA on what got her writing this book.
Q What got you into writing?
I always kept diaries, not too meticulously, but the shy child that I was, I poured my heart into my many different journals, pressing flowers and leaves in them and memories. But it was while working at PETA India and later Sanctuary Asia, I realised I wanted to write. And write about the environment and for children. As a journalist with Time Out in Mumbai and Bengaluru, I wrote about different subjects — from the environment to children’s books, and as an activist, about animal rights and food security.
Q What has led you to write this book?
As a student at the University for Peace in Costa Rica, I came across the brown cloud phenomenon. And as I studied Environment Security and Peace, I learnt about climate adaptation and mitigation and the frightening impact of climate change. But, I was most fascinated by the way people — policy makers, the media, the private sector, and the general population — reacted to the climate crisis, all of it ranging from apathy to fear to incredulousness to denial. Having worked closely with children as part of my working life, in contrast, I found that it was the younger generation who believed that change is possible. Bhura is set in Mumbai, my home city, and I found myself wondering what would happen if an actual brown cloud hovered over us. I ended up writing the book from three characters’ points of view — Bhura, Tammy and Amni. And I am forever grateful to Aindri C for illustrating such brilliant chapter separators to reinterpret my idea of a changing world.
Q Caste is an adult subject.
Was it challenging to marry it into the story? What triggered the idea?
Tammy is an integral part of the book, she is the one of her four friend, who gets adversely impacted by Bhura the most, but at the same time, she also questions privilege and entitlement. And it’s her family and her courage that glues the group of Amni, Mithil, Andrew and Tammy. Caste discrimination is well-entrenched, and age has nothing to do with it, and my late partner was very instrumental in my understanding of this. Tammy evolved from my many conversations with Abhiyan, and he got me to challenge and unlearn. A lot of the story is inspired from Abhiyan’s work with Anoop Kumar at Nalanda Academy in Wardha.
Q Do you have a writing schedule?
Yes, it’s a mixture of procrastination and binding deadlines. I find myself faced with pressing tasks of dusting, cooking and books to finish when faced with a writing project. But when I start writing, I first put together a sketch of the story — characters, settings — and then I transcribe them to Scrivener, this writing software I use. A lot my research goes into open tabs on my laptop, scribbles in my notebook. Then when my editors start sending stern emojis via WhatsApp, I sit at my desk and then write/type, losing track of time. Until I realise I have to go to sleep because I've work the next day.
Q Coffee/tea/cigarettes — numbers please — while you are writing…
Two cups of adrak chai. Dusting my 13 Harry Potter themed figurines, two Tintin figurines, one Darth Vader. Updating one Professor Snape’s figurine, with daily word count. He stands on my desk admonishing me to write. Infinite amount of dark chocolate, that keeps the dementors away. Five WhatsApp Chats ongoing to remind me that am supposed to be working and not chatting. Two friends, one editor, one art director encouraging, frowning, etc.
Q Best piece of advice you’ve ever got.
Trust your editor. And find an editor you can trust.
Q Who are your favourite authors?
Lots! JK Rowling, Anushka Ravishankar, Robert Macfarlane, Shabnam Minwalla, Katherine Applegate, Ranjit Lal, Oliver Jeffers,
Q Which is the most under-rated book?
What Maya Saw by Shabnam Minwalla. And while popular internationally, everyone should read Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’ The Lost Words.
Q Your favourite literary character.
Ivan of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. The gorilla has such a distinctive voice, and a compelling one when it comes to animal cruelty and empathy. The cat in Priya Kuriyan’s Ammachi’s Glasses.
Q Which are your favourite children’s books?
Apart from the Harry Potter series? Here’s a mix.
The Heart in the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers.
Dear Mrs Naidu by Mathangi Subramanian.
Stormy by Guojing Moin and The Monster by Anushka Ravishankar.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street by Shabnam Minwalla.
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend.
Snip by Canato Jimo.