Two young mums bring a wealth of Indian classics to Oz. USHA ARVIND reports
The names Amar Chitra Katha, Chandamama and Tinkle bring back fond memories for most of us desi transplants who date back to the pre-Nintendo era.
Of uncluttered, innocent childhoods and warm, tangible friendships; of sultry summers spent under the shade of neem and mango trees curled up with a comic book that recreated the magic of our mystical past. Of Lav and Khush, Akbar and Birbal, Bikram and Betaal, Tenaali and Supaandi – epics, folklore and fables, retold with utter simplicity. The list is endless and the repertoire rich and varied. Enriched by that unforgettable experience, many of us have no doubt tried to bequeath the same legacy to our own children. No trip back home so far has been complete without a few of those literary souvenirs, gifted no doubt by an indulgent grandparent or thoughtful aunt.
Those delectable gems are now merely a click away thanks to two enterprising Sydney mums, Dolly Singh and Shalu Gupta, who have founded an e-bookstore – Indian Mystique. Their collection, which includes picture books, classic/ancient tales, religious books and comics in Hindi and English, is aptly called Little Tall Tales. Through the medium of literature, Little Tall Tales hopes “to enable the expression of diverse cultural identities and sow the seeds of multiculturalism in children by bringing to life stories from around the world.”
Indian Mystique has tied with leading Indian publishing houses and bookstores to bring the original editions. Prior to their launch in August last year, Singh and Gupta have conducted a comprehensive research on their product line to understand and explore the market, the process and sourcing.
“Here we were two busy working mothers raising our families in a faraway land, wondering how best to recreate our own happy childhood for our kids,” Dolly Singh told Indian Link. “That’s when we decided we would actively help our children understand their roots, their culture and get them as excited about reading Panchtantra tales as we had been in our childhood!”
“Our aim was to envelop them in the warmth of books on Indian stories – books about Indian heroes, Indian villages, Indian mythology, Indian history,” added Shalu Gupta.
“The idea of Indian Mystique, quite literally as with most other Indian stories was born over a steaming hot cup of chai, as my business partner Shalu and I met up for our weekly nostalgia trips,” Dolly Singh stated. “We both share a lot in common – from young families to ideology, and now of course, this enterprise born out of a shared passion for books.”
“We feel it is important for our children growing up here to be surrounded by images and literature from their country of origin,” added Gupta. “Our vision is to help children understand, appreciate and learn about Indian culture, Indian epics, history and Indian mythology through beautifully written books.”
A former human resources professional and now a stay at home mum, Dolly moved to Australia in 2006, while Shalu who specializes in marketing is currently employed part time in banking.
“Books have always been my raison d’etre, keeping the fuzzies at bay,” said Singh. Her love affair with reading started with Enid Blyton’s series like Noddy, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Malory Towers, St Claire’s and of course, Amar Chitra Katha!
“My visits to the library were always the most exciting part of the evening for me – lovingly searching for a new title and waiting to get home and start the adventure,” she remembered nostalgically. “Journeys into the magical lands of India – laughing aloud at Supandi’s adventures, marvelling at Birbal’s chaturai (wisdom), savoring each story and reading slowly to make it last long… Ah, the disappointment of reaching the last page! Then the eager anticipation till the next book came home,” she added fondly.
Singh and Gupta hope to make RK Narayan as popular with young kids as Roald Dahl.
While most of the marketing is by word of mouth, currently Indian Mystique has a page on Facebook through which their new collection is advertised. Shalu and Dolly are also in the process of setting up a website.
“We want to see our books widely available across book stores, local libraries, schools, and all possible forums and events,” they stated. “We want to set up a reading center for children with beautiful Indian books.”
“It is a market with enormous potential and thus far we have provided our books to certain leading libraries along the North Shore,” said these two enterprising ladies.
The pair has also been in touch with Consul General Amit Dasgupta, and he has lent his support for their idea and vision.
“As well, recently we have also met with Dr. Phil Lambert, Regional Director for Education in NSW and he is providing his support by introducing our books in certain schools in Sydney,” Singh added. “It’s always very exciting to hear a resonance of our thoughts and ideas among the leaders of Australia!”
“Come along and begin your magical adventure – read a story from the Indian sub-continent and discover the beauty and wisdom of these tales,” is Singh and Gupta’s invitation to young readers.
Some of their upcoming titles include a selection form the legendary RK Narayan, aimed at school going kids.