Swapna Dutta loves writing more than anything else. An established Bangalore-based freelance writer who has travelled around the world, Swapna never ran short of resources or the medium for conveying it to the readers. She has written extensively on travel, nature, historical legends, folktales, biography, cookery, interviews and poems, and also indulged in translation. But writing for children, the field she has become synonymous with, came by chance.
“I was fresh out of the university (post grad in literature) and spending time writing literary criticism and academic articles; I got an opportunity to visit the International Dolls’ Museum in Delhi and to meet K Shankar Pillai, the famous cartoonist who started this museum in 1954 as a personal collection. He asked me about myself and, suddenly, asked me if I had ever thought of writing for children,” recalls Swapna. Shankar was observant about the deprived stage of children’s writing in India and was keen to have more Indian writers in English. “He asked me to give it a thought,” remembers Swapna.
Shankar made a great impression on Swapna and she went back to write her first children’s story in English based on an incident from her own school life. Soon she found herself writing for Children’s World, a magazine for children he started.
“I realised that it took very little time and was a really enjoyable experience. As I was quite close to my own student life, I had no problem finding themes and telling the stories in language children could relate to. The same year Shankar asked me to write the story of Raja Harishchandra for children; that was my first book ( 1968 ) for children. Having once started, I just continued to write for them,” says Swapna, recalling her literary journey that somewhere connects to her childhood spent with her grandparents in Hazaribagh.
Little wonder, she is quick to say it was her grandfather who introduced her to the Book of Knowledge that retold stories from the classics when she was only nine years old. “I still retain a special love for the classics,” she says with a smile. Probably, it is her love for history and the classics that saw her writing supplementary readers for Orient Longman, Ratnasagar and Hemkunt.
Her children’s books are diverse- Stories For A Winte’s Night (1996), Teddy Comes To Stay (1992) and her popular Juneli series – stories about a girl called Juneli set in an Indian boarding school. Along with writing for newspapers and magazines in India and abroad, Swapna, who was has been a part of the Limca Book Of Records editorial team, has translated stories from Bengali to English for Indian Literature, The Little Magazine for the National Book Trust, to name a few.
“It is this variety in my writing which keeps me going as a writer. I would hate to do just one kind of writing! I write what I feel like and send them across for consideration. Sometimes, they are accepted and sometimes they are not; it’s all part of the game,” says Swapna who is currently working on a youth-centric novel.
However, she strongly resent being called a ‘woman writer’. “All writers are creative beings and portray the world from his/her point of view, whether it is a man or a woman. The question of being a man or woman does not arise when one is discussing a doctor, engineer, lawyer or an IT person; why should it be any different for a writer?” questions Swapna, a recipient of several awards including the National Fellowship for Literature and a National Award for Creative Writing in Hindi.
Defining herself as a simple person with simple tastes, someone who is perfectly happy as long as she has a book of her choice and something to scribble, friendship holds an important place in her life. And when not writing and catching up with friends, she loves to read, listen to music, especially Rabindra Sangeet, or travel and explore places.
As a former civil servant’s wife, Swapna has always been on the move, packing and unpacking bags. But post retirement life in Bangalore has given her the pleasure of enjoying books, reading and writing. Letters from her young fans (she specifies small towns) keeps her enthusiasm alive. Indeed, Swapna is happy in her world, writing to bring a smile on her reader’s face and does not want to be part of the rat race.
“I feel that I’ve reached a stage where I write just because it is what I love to do the most; I feel and understand the language of children and want to continue writing for them. I hope to go on writing as long as I live, whether everything I write is published or not,” she confesses.
The original link to the article published in BTW – Women’s Day Special
BTW – Swapna Dutta