New Delhi: Undisturbed by his silent neighbours in the capital’s Nicholson Cemetery, this leading author has penned numerous works of fiction and nonfiction for both adults and children in a career spanning several decades.
Ranjit Lal, one of India’s foremost writers for children and nature, has authored several books, including the much acclaimed and widely read “The Bossman Adventures,” “Enjoying Birds,” “Faces in the Water,” and “The Crow Chronicles”. In 2010, “Faces in the Water” won the Crossword-Vodafone Award for Children’s Fiction and the Ladli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity in 2011-2012.
His illustrious writing career is an inspiration for many but equally overwhelming is his humble residence next to the Nicholson Cemetery in New Delhi. In the scorching summer of 2016, this correspondent was struggling in the crowded bylanes of the Kashmere Gate area of the national capital to locate his place.
Seeking directions from vendors and rickshaw drivers, one managed to locate the duplex apartment, which, right from its entrance, seemed to be an intriguing mix of greenery, bliss and aesthetic beauty.
We sat in the most beautiful room of his house — where he writes — as the much acclaimed author began sharing his perspectives on literature and writing. As I look around, there were numerous photo frames displaying photographs of beautiful women, birds and wildlife that the author has passionately captured.
“I got about writing for children because I enjoy it more than writing for adults. It is a lot more fun. Like all writing, it is a discipline: I write from 8.30 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. mostly every day, but really it’s a 24X7 stint, because the rest of the time you are thinking about what you’re going to write about, or how your story is going to progress or how the characters are going to get out of the mess you’ve put them in,” Lal told IANS in an interview.
Painted in red, the room evokes a sense of nostalgia as the 61-year-old writer has carefully curated every aspect of his room to transport him to yesteryears. There is a comfortable bed, on which he usually relaxes after penning a couple of pages. Two desks, one with an old desktop and the other laden with reference books, sticky notes and diaries, are his constant companions.
There is a CD player and a guitar, fancy table lamps, coffee mugs and toys of racing cars to keep him entertained in solitary hours. And then there is the balcony size window that brings in fresh breeze and sunlight into the room.
An absolute calm and green view meets one’s eyes as Lal peeps out of the window. Little did I realise that the window opens directly into the sombre refuge of the cemetery, with neem, date and tamarind trees dotting the graves of hundreds of Christians who passed away during the British colonial rule of the country.
I could feel goosebumps immediately upon this realisation but Lal impressed upon the fact that his neighbours in the cemetery were “quiet” and that he remains “undisturbed”.
To ensure there are no distractions from birds or jeering monkeys from the trees outside, the heavy Burma-teak writing table with the desktop faces the wall. Another white fold-up desk accommodates all the flotsam and jetsam of notebooks, stationery, mail and well, miscellaneous junk.
Sure, there are mornings when a posse of jungle babblers hammer on the French windows demanding to be let in to see if he has been writing anything seditious, but Lal sits tight and does not yield.
Although Lal is best known for his columns on nature (Down in Jungleland in The Indian Express), it is in his books for children where his creative genius finds utterance. From bringing alive the refined details of the animal kingdom (The parakeet that squawked) to complex issues like female infanticide (Faces in the Water), Lal succeeds in conveying the central message of his books to young readers with an ease which is commendable.
“Writing for children is important because it makes kids use their imagination, which these days, especially, they are forgetting how to do because of TV, Internet and social media. And without imagination, nothing can be achieved in any field from accountancy to zoology”, Lal says.
His language, tone, situations and people are all straight out of childhood memories. There is, thus, little surprise that Lal’s house is home to numerous toys and gadgets for children. A little childhood touch to his surroundings perhaps has a lasting impression on his writing too.
The gifted writer was born in Kolkata in 1955, and educated in Mumbai, graduating in economics and sociology. As a freelance writer and columnist, he has over a thousand articles, short stories, features and photo-features published in over 50 newspapers and magazines in India and abroad.
He has special interest in areas like natural history, photography, humour, satire and automobiles, on which he writes for both adults and children. He is one of the few Indian writers to write satire and humour on a sustained basis.