The world’s most populous democracy is the subject of award-winning author Varsha Bajaj’s latest picture book T is for Taj Mahal. In the book, Varsha combines her talent for rhyme and measure with a veritable encyclopedia of information about India. A transplant of India herself, I visited with Varsha recently about her beautiful native country, picture books and comfort food.
India is such a huge and diverse country. How did you choose which aspects to highlight in your new book?
The size and diversity of India did make writing the book quite daunting. I grew up in India and wanted very much to portray it accurately. I made an effort to include aspects of India’s history, geography, and government as well as its popular culture, food and dress. I wanted to be sure to include facts that kids would find interesting. For example, B is for Bollywood highlights the movie industry and C is for Cricket describes India’s favorite sport. As I wrote the book I considered myself a tour guide to India!
The book is written in both poetry and prose. Is one type of writing easier for you than the other?
Both are difficult, but I feel more comfortable writing in prose. I love poetry and rhyme but I wish it were easier to write. Rhythm and rhyme is appealing and fun but can also be constraining.
You’ve written both picture books and longer fiction. Which genre is your favorite to write in at the moment?
I tackle more than one project most of the time. I like to go back and forth between different stories. Some days are novel kind of days and other days I love the challenge of a picture book. So, I really can’t choose. It would be like picking my favorite child. Today, I am deep in the throes of my novel but tomorrow will be a whole new day!
Recently, the New York Times ran an article stating that the picture book genre was “dead”. Do you agree? Why or why not?
That article caused so much angst to so many writers, including me. I don’t think the picture book is dead. But it is harder to sell a picture book today than it was in the 1980’s. They are expensive to produce and in a tough economy it is difficult to sell a $20 picture book. But I believe there will always be readers for a good picture book. After all, a good picture book is a work of art.
What are your three favorite things about India and why?
I love Indian food. For me it is comfort food. The zing of a well made curry makes life worth living. I love the warmth and simplicity of Indian people. They welcome you with a genuineness that makes you feel at home. I grew up listening and learning Indian music and could not imagine life without it.
What events do you have scheduled for the book launch?
I’m scheduling events now! Watch my website and children’s literature blogs for more information! The Houston SCBWI conference bookstore in April will carry the book as well as local bookstores and online. It’s also being featured in a sourcebook that will reach thousands of librarians across Texas.
You can learn more about Varsha by checking out her website at www.varshabajaj.com or follow her on Twitter @varshabajaj.
This interview appeared in the HOUSTON BANNER newspaper, March 2011 edition.