At home with nature

A chat with Niyatee Sharma on her journey as a children’s author

“MADURAI: From an interiors architect and furniture designer to an author of children’s book, the journey all along has been creative because I have embraced nature and remained alert to surroundings,” says Niyatee Sharma, who till 2016 was designing hand crafted toys for children under the name Squiggle. In the last three years she authored three fun books for children.

An intense love for gardening coupled with imagination has fed both her professions, says Niyatee, who finds herself in an extremely happy space today. Her Squiggle toys came into being because she could not find decent toys other than the plastic ones for her son when she went shopping for the one-year-old in 2011. “I decided to create my own line of products that were not only made with eco-friendly material but subtly also carried messages about protecting the nature,” she says..

Children’s author Niyatee Sharma

Children’s author Niyatee Sharma
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And then soon enough with another baby added in the family, Niyatee found a new voice and discovered her love in writing for children while reading out stories to her toddlers every day. The idea for her first book came from her lush terrace garden when her family was waiting to harvest the tomatoes. “It suddenly struck me what if the tomatoes go missing!” she laughs, “and I started imagining everybody in my house including my husband, children, the cook, driver, househelp, ironing guy — how each would react and how the curiosity would lead them to solve the mystery of the missing tomatoes.”

Given her children’s excitement over the story, Niyatee started scripting keeping the primary school children in mind. “I realised it is not easy, to simplify your thought process and write in a language a child can easily read, understand and enjoy,” she says and adds as an afterthought, “words take experience”. Much like her own, the story starts with a litte boy Veer and his family who plant tomato saplings in their garden, water it daily and eagerly wait to pluck the ripened fruits. But Veer, who is counting days for the tomatoes to ripen is shocked to see they are gone exactly on the day he excitedly goes to pluck them. The story progresses with every family member getting involved to unravel the mystery.

Gripping for a KG student onward to find out who the thief is, the book carries beautiful illustrations, is in a size easy to hold and read aloud. The feedback she received from thrilled young readers made her pen a sequel, The Tomato Flood , again a story inspired from her garden. In this book, the tomato yield is so rich that the family finds it difficult to consume them all even after liberally distributing them to friends, extended family, neighbours. So much so that they daily innovate new recipes from tomato chutney, curry, pickle and rice to tomato jam and juice.

“The book is all in red!,” says Niyatee and each page without preaching shows the child how to care and share or think about new things or manage a situation. Basking in the success of two books did not allow Niyatee to rest and this year she came up with her third book in a row titled The Runaway Peacock, that was launched at the Madurai Children’s Literary Festival. Published by Tulika Publishers, it is an adventure trail with a perky peacock who escapes from a saree. It is a fun filled racy narration of how the peacock meets with many new experiences from riding on an umbrella to flying with a kite and perching on a treetop to get life’s perspectives straight. “It helps a child’s imagination run wild with possibilities. A peacock perhaps is an unreal hero but it can do so many unexpected things is what makes the child want to read the book and think,” she says.

Niyatee feels it is not difficult to bring a child to a book. “What next” is enough food for them to read. And to do that, she advocates, parents should fill up their homes with more books. “Every child is hooked on to gadgets because we thrust it in their hands. Instead, it is best to make the books more visible to them,” she says.

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