In conversation with... Ameya Narvankar

Hi Ameya! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of Ritu Weds Chandni! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you so much, I am grateful to Yali Books for putting this story out in the world! Ritu Weds Chandni celebrates a same-sex relationship of two women and is set against a colourful backdrop of a big fat Indian wedding. It is seen from the point of view of young Ayesha, who is excited to see her cousin Ritu marry her girlfriend Chandni and wants to dance in her baraat (procession). However, some people are not happy and have vowed to stop the wedding; and it is up to Ayesha to save her cousin’s big day.

Congratulations are also in order because Ritu Weds Chandni was nominated a Best Picture Book of 2020 by Kirkus Reviews. That is an incredible recognition. How does it make you feel?

A: It is honestly unbelievable! We are thrilled by all the love the book has received so far. I am hoping that the recognition facilitates the book to reach out to more families and make a positive impact.

Where did you get the inspiration for Ritu Weds Chandni?

A: For my Masters’ thesis project in design school, I explored the subject of visibility & representation of LGBTQ+ in Indian society wherein I looked at various portrayals of the queer community in popular media and art, especially those catered towards younger audiences. I found that the mainstream has shied away from accurate representation and often the depictions have been cruel and downright homophobic. As a gay man who grew up on a staple of Bollywood films, these depictions always bothered me. I wrote Ritu Weds Chandni to create better representation which in turn would bring greater awareness on the subject.

The illustrations in Ritu Weds Chandni are stunning. Did you have the design and colour palette in mind before you started or did it take a few attempts to get the visuals ‘right’?

A: I had a fair idea since the mood board is inspired by typical north Indian wedding colours and motifs, primarily the use of reds and golds. The academic version of the illustrations was simpler and used a few colours. It was at Yali Books that over time the visual style evolved with the infusion of intricate details and patterns. It was definitely labour-intensive but ultimately, a rewarding process. I am pleased with the outcome!

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write or illustrate?

A: The scenes where the baraat is faced with opposition from the immediate family who refuse to be a part of the wedding, the neighbours who shout obscenities and ultimately the society (on high horses) who literally rain on their parade were quite difficult to pen and illustrate. Homophobia comes in different forms and all these served as reminders to my own experiences as a queer person and of those around me.

If you are already working on your next project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I am interested in contextualised education through storytelling, and have a few ideas in mind based on historical fiction for children set during Emperor Akbar’s reign in Mughal India. The most fascinating aspect of history is that there is no single or correct perspective. My goal is to make learning fun for young readers and keep them engaged, and at the same time enable them to have an open mind to various viewpoints.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: I am currently reading ‘Monsoon’ by Vimala Devi, translated from Portuguese which is a collection of short stories offering perspectives of colonial Goa.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I have been hooked on to Instagram way before the book came out so it was an easier transition for me to slip in to the role of marketing the book and interacting with the readers on social media. I also call myself an ‘accidental’ author since writing is not my strongest suit and I am a visual artist & designer by profession. I think in images, storyboard on paper and then the words appear to me.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Write what you know! Draw from your own experiences to tell a convincing story.

Thank you for your time!

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