Dr. Anurima Chanda is a friend, sister, colleague, and teacher to many of us. She has been a guide and a storyteller to her friends and juniors over the years. An academic and an author now, Dr. Anurima Chanda is the mother figure behind ACLiSA, an online site for children’s literature works in South Asia. She has worked on children’s literature for her MPhil and PhD and now is writing books for children bringing her lifelong desire to tell stories to her young and adult readers. This week Dr. Chanda joined me in having a conversation about her world of stories, writing process and the future of children’s literature. Dr. Chanda has written ghost stories for children, historical works for children, co-edited books and written many academic articles.
Arpita: What is the importance of stories in your life, Dr. Chanda?
Anurima: Stories are very important to me because I grew up in a house that gave stories and storytelling a lot of importance. These stories are fictional, historical, and non-fiction! In my household, stories are told as we make tea, prepare dinner, or sit at leisure. I love sitting with my friends and listening to their stories. The place and space I grew up in obviously had a huge influence in how I am and how I approach things in life. I came to know the importance of stories after I moved away from Siliguri. It was in Delhi that I realized how much of my life is about stories and storytelling.
Arpita: How was your experience as a researcher of children’s literature in India?
Anurima: I spent a lot of time as a child and an adult reading and researching children’s literature in Bengali( my mother tongue) and other languages. I chose to work on children’s literature for my MPhil and PhD and the experience was a mixed bag. I say a mixed bag because of the researching part involved in writing academic works and the excitement of writing something new for future researchers. You want your research to be read or influence other academicians who are interested in the same topic and be as excited as you were. In order to do so, you spend hours and months finding the most interesting information. My entire journey researching for my PhD was an experience that changed my perception of children’s literature research in India and the struggles that come with it. During my PhD I had to visit libraries in Delhi, Kolkata and abroad for resources that should be available to academics easily especially in the field of children’s literature which is still struggling to be a prominent discourse in India. The lack of archival resources, accessibility, and expensive library memberships made me realize the work we, academicians, and enthusiasts of children’s literature need to do. I think my PhD research added to my experience as an academician and scholar more than writing my actual thesis. I do love my thesis but researching was a great influence in my learning. I think we need more platforms where resources are easily available and accessible for academicians and researchers to produce interesting works because we have the literature and the stories to share with the world.
Arpita: What inspired you to become a writer/author? And how would you describe your writing journey?
Anurima: Growing up with stories and finding solace in stories have always made me want to tell stories. My writing journey started with working on a project my friends were working on. She included me and that was the start. I was very unsure in the beginning but now I feel writing stories is natural to me even though I struggle with writing them for children from time to time.
Arpita: What challenges do you feel when you write stories for children?
Anurima: I feel academic writing is easier for me than writing stories. Writing stories for children needs to have a balance of what we, adults want and what children want to read. No matter how much I try I always struggle with maintaining the balance. It is always helpful to take your stories to children and have them read it. It is they who will help your writing. I was lucky to interact with children with my stories which gave me perspective about my writing.
Arpita: What made you start the online website and soon, the journal about children’s literature in South Asia?
Anurima: It was during my research I realized the lack of archival resources. I also realized the dearth in theory and critical works. I got my DAAD scholarship and hence, could get access to many resources which were extremely difficult to access in India. That’s when I realized I wanted to start a blog. But soon I met scholars and children’s literature enthusiasts who started the facebook page and got the ball rolling. The facebook page gave us the wings and a plan to start the website.
Arpita: Does this website cater to only academics or is it accessible to anyone who is interested in children’s literature?
Anurima: The website is for everyone. I want academics, children’s literature enthusiasts, children, and adults to find reading resources on the website. I want to highlight earlier and contemporary works that are reconstructing the world of children’s literature in India and I want to reach maximum people who need these resources.