One day a seven-year-old boy scribbled a poem which was nothing more than gibberish. Proud of his voice on paper he took it to his father who read every word, hugged the child and simply said, “It’s Wonderful!”
Well, the boy grew up to be Ramendra Kumar, writer of 35 books, mostly for children, inspirational speaker and storyteller. He was felicitated with 31 awards by Children’s Book Trust (CBT)of India. Ramendra’s writings have been translated into 15 Indian as well as 14 foreign languages. One of his stories was included in the textbook for class nine students of Norway and another fable has been adapted as Kamishibai, the traditional form of storytelling in Japan. 6 of his books have been recommended by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India, as supplementary reads.
In an hourlong conversation, we talk about books, children and the ways and woes of our world. Ramendra’s thoughts are nimble and his humor ripples as he thanks me for taking him out virtually from the steel town of Rourkela in East India to talk about literature. I laugh as he drives home the truth about the money earned from writing not even enough to feed his Labrador. He confesses to writing because of an inner compulsion combined with the objective of reaching out to his readers with a slice of fun, a touch of hope and a sprinkling of values.
The world inspires Ramendra. All that he has gone through has become him and all that he is and sees finds its way into his stories. He and the world with its twisted ways and shards of hope meet on the pages of his stories. Be it his book Against All Odds about a boy with one arm who strikes down all odds to make it to the school football team, or Ramendra’s latest, The Siege of Cricket where a daring foursome foil a devilish plan of evil adults to murder the gentleman’s game, Ramendra’s characters are relatable and like him bristle with a sense of uprightness in the ugly muck of corruption and deceit. Readers love him for his “sensitive storytelling”.
Growing up in Hyderabad two incidents left an indelible mark on Ramendra. The first occurred when he was in ninth grade in Hyderabad Public School. Pressing family needs followed by a bout of illness resulted in a long absence from school. When he finally joined back in tenth grade, he found he had slipped from a rank of top three to way down. The teachers accused him of complacency, over confidence and belittled him in the presence of his classmates. He became a target of ridicule and started shunning school. Secondly, his mother left home to live with a much younger man. These two incidents blighted Ramendra’s existence. I quote Rumi, the Sufi mystic… “The wound is the place where the light enters you,” to coax Ramendra out of his silence. Emotionally he replies, “I write about kids like me who are ordinary, but have to counter situations, which are abnormal.’’
Journey so far
It was almost poetic justice when Ramendra was invited to participate in the Hyderabad Literary Festival hosted by Hyderabad Public School, his alma mater, which he had left almost forty years ago in acutely embarrassing circumstances. Ramendra considers his father (professor of literature) and two children as his mentors. His father’s unconditional love and unobtrusive guidance helped Ramendra grow into a fulfilled human being. In 1988, on completion of Engineering and MBA, he joined SAIL (one of the largest public sectors of India) where he met his future wife Madhavi. He has been writing for the last 35 years. He began with political satire in which he portrayed politicians as the scum of the earth. However, he changed the course of his feisty writings to avoid controversies whilst working in a public sector firm. Also, his wife’s inspiring “tirade” that since he was not good at any domestic work he might as well keep his kids busy with stories propelled him into the world of children’s fiction. His kids loved his stories and he penned them and pitched them to editors for publication.
As Chief of Communications of SAIL, I wonder when he finds the time to pen his tales. He narrates that he is always in a creative space that exist in his brain … a space that he slides into during boring gatherings or when his wife extols the virtues of her mom. This space once held a story titled Mother for 12 years as it developed in his own universe with Ramendra’s affection for a lady that reminded him of a mother he had been bereft of. The pain and the angst still bother him, but he has learnt to channelize it into the searing truth of his tales. His book Effective Parenting is in his words “culled from my own experiences as a child from a broken home, my observations as a writer for children and my own struggles as a parent.”
The way forward
Ramendra is concerned that the advent of social media and both parents working has drastically reduced connections in relationships. He feels parents are fulfilling their duties but are not creating memories. A single word defines his relationship with his kids, masti or fun that he learnt from his father, be it getting wet in the rain with them or hiking off to distant places in the physical and imaginary realms. Ramendra believes our world needs more stories not through the audiovisual medium, but from within the rustles of a page that ignites their imagination whilst cocooned in the arms of their loved ones. As we bid goodbye, I realize he says the first thing that comes into his mind which means his speech and thoughts are in sync and can only arise from the pool of truth. He reveals that though writing came to him by serendipity, we must make and create happiness by choice and not by chance. That for him is the only way to bring a wonderful world to our doorstep.