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Varied Voices: Chitra Soundar

25 September 2019 Share

I am pleased to introduce our new blog series to add to the CE and Development and Discussion blogs - Varied Voices. Varied Voices was Chitra's idea, and we got into a discussion about the importance of diverse authors talking about their books, rather than just their diversity.

Varied Voices 

I am pleased to introduce our new blog series to add to the CE and Development and Discussion blogs - Varied Voices. Varied Voices was Chitra's idea, and we got into a discussion about the importance of diverse authors talking about their books, rather than just their diversity. This blog will be an inclusive place for authors to talk about their books, and the ideas and concepts behind them. Chitra will be sourcing blogs, and at the SLA we are proud to provide a platform to allow these authors to discuss their ideas. We all know that children want to be reflected in what they read, so every month there'll be another blog highlighting an author you might want to get to know. This month, to celebrate the launch and Libraries Week there'll be two blogs, so check back mid month for the second. 


Varied Voices: The Extraordinary Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Chitra Soundar

Growing up in India, I learnt a lot about the Indian independence movement through what was taught in the History books and Amar Chitra Katha comics. I voraciously read about different leaders, the movements and the events that shaped a young country.

  

My dad was just 7 when India won its independence and all my grandparents and their siblings were touched by the colonial rule in some way or the other. My mother’s dad went to work for the British in Burma, modern-day Myanmar. He learnt his trade on the railway tracks welding iron. My father’s dad focussed on the social impacts of a foreign country being in power – he lived in villages and treated poor people for free.  India is a large democracy – with huge problems, then and now. States were under monarchy and the lines were redrawn after the British left – in so many painful ways. I was ten when I first read Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth. Many things he said touched me – about honesty, about hygiene, about being stubborn to assert a point, to fight for a cause. I saw the struggle of a man who spoke the truth and confessed to his own weaknesses. 

And as I grew older and different ideas swirled around the politics of a young country, I kept going back and forth between liking Gandhi and not. Judging his contemporaries and debating the rights and wrongs of the British empire. Wondering about why it took them so long to get the British out and constantly arguing with my dad that bad infrastucture is better than no freedom.  And so when I got a chance to write Gandhi’s biography last year, I jumped on it. Gandhi read and wrote voraciously. He ran multiple journals and newspapers, and expressed his thoughts in more than one language. But this time when I read his words, I came to it from multiple new perspectives. I was now in the UK, where Gandhi came to study, to argue at the Round Table Conferences and famously snubbed the king by not wearing a suit. I have been to Manchester and East London where he visited and stayed. I have walked the streets he had walked once.  Watch a British documentary detailing his visit.  Being in Britain also meant I can assess the truth of those words written more than 100 years ago against what I know on the ground. I could juxtapose the British Raj and today’s situation - the scandals of Windrush and the Brexit climate.  And as a writer and an adult I read other accounts of Gandhi. I evaluated it against what has happened to India since then. The fights against prejudice and caste system, Ambedkar’s drafting of the constitution and today’s politics of Hindus vs Muslims, the case for a unified India made by Gandhi in 1946-47 against the tensions in today’s Kashmir – gave me a different perspective to write his story.

Gandhi was not just a freedom fighter. He was a social reformer – he talked about the perils of capitalism and industrialisation that might put workers at risk and we are seeing that now over and over again. He spoke about the perils of being bigoted after being free from the British – hoping India’s so-called elite gave up their privilege and stand equal to those they had mistreated for centuries. He called on western powers like the British not to be hypocritical – exploiting people in Africa and Asia while fighting the Nazis. Listen to the first ever video interview (called a talkie those days) recorded by Fox News with Gandhi where he wants to abolish child marriage and oddly alcohol too. But more importantly listen to him talk about why civil disobedience (Satyagraha) is the only way and that he’d be prepared to go to jail anytime to defend his cause.  As I read and researched, as I tried to distill his words into a narrative, I realised how much more relevant his words are today. And that’s why I’m so glad I got to write it – having lived in both countries – India and Britain and seen how these two countries have learned very little from their ordeals. I hope the young people reading this book can look back and learn from it so they can move forward without prejudice against anyone.


Biography

Chitra Soundar is the author of over 30 books for children. She grew up in India and now lives in London where she writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry for children. She has also written and performed a play, tells stories to children and adults and visits schools to talk about reading and writing for pleasure. Find out more at www.chitrasoundar.com and follow her on Twitter at @csoundar.