“We do have to work much harder to keep our children connected to our roots” says an established Author Bhakti Mathur
She is a contributing writer for many renowned publications in Hong Kong. An Indian Expat Mother of two sons with a simple desire – to impart the vivacity of Indian culture to her kids. And with consistent efforts coupled with ginormous passion, this ex-banker today, is a well-known author of book series “Amma Tell Me” – a fun, colorful and refreshing way to tell the tales of Indian mythologies. Introducing Bhakti Mathur – a Hong Kong Indian who is well on its way to get featured by one of biggest publishing houses – Penguin Random House India.
With much pride and in awe of her work, we caught up with Bhakti to know more about her journey from being a self-published author to where she is today.
- Tell us about yourself – how did you get in to writing?
I was born and raised in Delhi, India in a middle class family. My biggest childhood influences were my mother, my grandmother and my nanny.
My mother was an avid reader. In my childhood I remember being ‘read to’ much more than I read myself. One of the first books I recall hearing is ‘Horton Hears a Who’ by Dr. Seuss while sitting on my mother’s lap. I fell in love with it. My mother worked as a librarian and as a result I landed up spending several hours in the library as a child. I suppose libraries are great and inexpensive babysitters! I remember spending entire summer holidays in the library devouring books. I think that’s where the love affair with books first started.
I studied at Modern School Vasant Vihar and obtained my graduate degree in Economics and my postgraduate degree in Finance from Delhi University. In the year 2000, my husband and I moved to Hong Kong, a city which is very much home now. Both our sons were born here in 2008 and 2009. I worked as a banker for 22 years before leaving the industry last year to spend more time with my children and writing. I am an avid reader, a long-distance runner and a yoga enthusiast.
While growing up, many lazy afternoons were made adventurous by stories from Enid Blyton, the Nancy Drew series, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and JRR Tolkien. Next came M.M. Kaye, AJ Cronin, Daphne du Maurier, Somerset Maugham and I was hooked for life. But my favorite stories are from Indian mythology. And as a reader I find myself going back to them again and again. Some of my favorite authors who write on mythology are Eknath Easwaran, Devdutt Pattanaik and Ashok Banker.
- What was the inspiration behind “Amma Tell Me” series? Do your kids love it? What were their initial thoughts?
The motivation for writing the ‘Amma Tell Me’ series was to share with my sons the fascinating stories from Indian mythology that I had grown up with. It was December 2010 and Holi was round the corner. I was looking for a good book to explain the festival to my older son who was two years old then. But I found that there were no resources that were simple to understand and that captured the rich imagery of mythological India that is such an integral part of these stories for me. So I went ahead and started writing the stories in a style that I think kids find fun and non-preachy and collaborated on the illustrations to bring out the imagery that I want my stories to convey.
My two children, 10 and 8 years old are my guinea pigs. They serve as rather blunt story consultants, often more than I want. This has helped me to keep the writing simple and hopefully engaging for children. Many times when I am reading a draft of a story to them, they get up and run away. Then I know that I need to change the way I have written it. Sometimes they are riveted when I am reading them a story. Then I know that the writing is working.
- What were some of your challenges while self-publishing your first book?
In 2010 when I started writing my first book, I happened to start reading about self-publishing. Self-publishing was my first choice. Whether it was a right choice or the best choice I don’t know but it was certainly my first choice.
It was driven by the fact that I wanted to keep control over the project and the process, keep the rights to my work. So I set-up my own publishing company and called it ‘Anjana Publishing.’ Anjana being the name of Hanuman’s mother and Hanuman is my favorite God.
I have learnt a lot in the process of self-publishing. It is very different from writing. As a publisher, you are responsible for every aspect of the book – from the editing, to the print quality to the distribution and the marketing. It is like running a small business. It is a lot of hard work but also very satisfying and rewarding. The biggest challenge was finding distributors in different markets.
- Which is your favorite fiction / non-fiction Indian female writer?
I have enjoyed books by Jhumpa Lahiri, Indu Sundaresan and Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee (her book ‘Palace of Illusions’ is a favourite).
4.Can you share a gist of your future writings?
The ‘Amma Tell Me’ Series has 12 twelve titles now – the latest one being on Raksha Bandhan. The next book in the series will be on Lord Shiva. I am also writing a series with Penguin called ‘Amma Take Me’. It is a travelogue of a mother and her two children as they travel to different places in India. It is for children in the 8 to 12 year age group. The first two books are on the Golden Temple and Tirupati and the next book will be on the Dargah of Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri.
- While living abroad, raising kids in international schools, how do you manage to continue inculcating the basics of Indian culture in your kids?
This is true not just for immigrant parents but for all nuclear families – immigrant or non immigrant. When I was a young schoolgirl, after I came home from school, my grandmother and my nanny would catch hold of me and tell me stories from Indian mythology for two hours everyday! There was no Ipad or Iphone to get distracted with! Today grandparents don’t stay with the grandkids and there are way too many distractions. So we do have to work much harder to keep our children and ourselves connected to our roots. Celebrating Indian festivals, telling them stories from Indian mythology and taking them to spend time in India certainly help.
All the books under “Amma Tell Me” series can be found on the shelves of Bookazine. Each book cost HKD 108. Shop online or visit the Bookazine store near you (IFC Mall, Festival Walk, Landmark Prince’s Building, Lyndhurst Terrace, Exchange Square, Discovery Bay etc.)