Subhadra Sen Gupta has written over twenty-five books for children including mysteries, historical adventures, ghost stories and comic books.
Right now she is waiting for someone to build a time machine so that she can travel to the past and join Emperor Akbar for lunch. She loves to travel, flirt with cats, chat with auto-rickshaw drivers and sit and watch people.
Interview with Subhadra Sen Gupta
tgbc: What inspired you to write this book and what did you hope to do differently?
Subhadra: I love history and I have been trying to make it interesting for children for many years now. It began with doing historical fiction but then I felt they needed a book that treated our history as a story of our people. My plan was to make it completely different from the dry textbooks that make children dislike history.
tgbc: 5000 + years of history, differing opinions of archaeology and historical accounts – how did you manage to sift the wheat from the chaff?
Subhadra: The research was the hard part! Telling the story was easy. You read a lot and extract a little from it. I don’t give opinions, just state the facts and let the readers make up their minds. Also I stick to the great historians from R.C. Majumdar to Ramachandra Guha whose research is impeccable.
tgbc: The trend these days is of creating historical fiction. You have also authored some of these books – why a non-fiction then? What according to you are the advantages, and disadvantages of historical fiction and pure non fiction?
Subhadra: You know life is often stranger than fiction. Our history is full of stories that no story teller could have imagined. This is a book of stories really, about extraordinary people and their actions. For instance, an unarmed and peaceful people took on the might of the British Empire and won. Who could have believed such a thing was possible? So in a way I’m still telling stories.
tgbc: In your research, what parts of Indian history do you think remain largely underrepresented in our books?
Subhadra: The history of ordinary people, the forgotten ones – tribal, lower castes, women. Also the history of the North-East. Our history is still very north-centric so even the South needs more coverage. Do you know we don’t have any modern history of South India? The last one was written by N. Sastry in 1955! One day, if I can con a publisher into funding it, I’d like to do a People’s History of India.
tgbc: What is your personal favorite from all historical periods? In terms of perhaps a king, or the life and times?
Subhadra: Of periods, the ones I enjoy writing about are Mauryan, Vijayanagar, Mughal and the freedom movement. I think because they are eventful and full of colorful characters. While writing this book I got hooked on the Cholas.
tgbc: We have such a rich historical past but the current way of pedagogy makes it all about dates!! How can history be made more engaging for children?
Subhadra: The problem with our school textbooks is that the syllabus is decided by university professors who have no contact with children. The textbooks should be done by school teachers who have a sense of what children like and their comprehension levels and also know how to make it interesting. With so much of it, our history is difficult enough without this obsession with dates and economic policy that the prof finds fascinating but children find dull.
tgbc: What are the sources you used for research?
Subhadra: That is a very, very long list.
tgbc: How long did it take you to write this book?
Subhadra: Two and a half years.
tgbc: What are your next plans?
Subhadra: I’m planning small books on various aspects of Indian history for Red Turtle (Rupa). All the fun stuff that I could not put into this book and there is a collection of ghost stories that I’m sort of doodling around.
tgbc: What is currently on your book shelf?
Subhadra: The book shelf is sort of out of control but next to my bed are an Ian Rankin, Rebus detective novel, a collection of Bhakti poetry and an Alice Munro short story collection.
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