Just take a moment with me here and think back to the time you spent in class while your history teacher was droning away. What were you likely doing? Nodding off. The more creative among us would be doodling away. Come exam time and the dreaded dates would be dancing in our heads, making us curse whoever thought ‘history’ was interesting. Really, who cared about which wars were fought 1000 years ago and between whom?
That perspective changes for a lot of us(hopefully!) as we grow up- our history has shaped out today in more ways than we care to see. But, the challenge of making it interesting, and more importantly relevant still remains. Except for the iconic Amar Chitra Katha books, there was very little access to history that was interesting and relatable. Meet the woman who took the challenge head-on.
Devika Cariapa – the woman who found a way to infuse deeper meaning into her line of work, which by itself is quite an uncommon choice. An archeologist(!!!) by profession, Devika fused her love for writing with her love for history and the past.
It’s not often that we see someone’s study project culminate into a work of joy that brings a whole lot of perspective on a subject as important as their country’s journey through the times. Devika’s own experience with students’ tepid response to history urged her to rethink the way history was presented to us. Devika’s intensive work in archeology, researching, and visiting sites opened her eyes to the fact that that there were many wonderful stories that children would love, but may never hear or know them because nobody was telling those stories.
The Universe truly seems to have conspired for her vision, because Tulika was looking to start their India Focus Series. Devika’s work was picked up by Tulika as part of their India Focus Series and ‘India Through Archeology: Excavating History‘ was born. The result was a stunning piece of work- a book titled “India Through Archeology.” Every piece of history gets a lovely context and story that are eye-opening for several adults, leave alone kids. It’s no surprise that Devika won the prestigious “Bal Sahitya Award” for her illustrious work.
The book provides interesting snippets ranging from the prevailing fashion of ancient cultures to ideas about engineering and famine-relief that could come in handy in today’s age.
We caught up with Devika for a brief chat(I have to mention that her easy approachability was such a pleasant surprise!) Here’s an excerpt of our interview:
Hi Devika. It’s a pleasure that you are here with us.
Thank you! It’s a pleasure and privilege to be here.
You recently won the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award for a book depicting India’s journey through the times, “India Through Archaeology: Excavating History”. Hearty Congratulations for that!
Thank you so much. Receiving the Bal Sahitya Puraskar is a great honor – a national award that recognizes children’s writing across languages and genres is unique and very exciting for children’s authors.
You are an archeologist by profession and found an excellent way to intersect your knowledge with something adventurous and exciting for children. Tell us about your background and your journey as an author.
I graduated in History from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi and went on to do my Masters’ in Archaeology from Deccan College, Pune. I specialized in prehistory and then took up research in prehistoric art for a few years as a research fellow at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi.
I left my academic life to become a full-time writer once my kids came along and found myself increasingly drawn to writing non-fiction.
As far as ‘India through Archaeology’ is concerned, back when I started out in the discipline, I knew I wanted to write a book like this because there are so many exciting stories in archaeology that I knew kids would enjoy.
How did you conceive the idea for the book?
I had been writing small pieces on archaeology for children and sent some of them to Tulika (the publishers). Tulika was then in the process of finalizing their India Focus series of books for children to get to know about the country through the lens of different subjects. So, as it happened, India through Archaeology turned out to be the first in the series!
This is a very research-intensive book, with the unique challenge of breaking all the heavy information into relatable chunks for kids, in the form of rich stories. How did you approach the research itself?
I approached the book as a series of chapters in a story format which I thought would capture the imagination of children. Once these were done, the extra information formed itself around the stories.
The challenge was really in putting down information from a huge range of time, from prehistory almost down to the present. A lot of research went in and of course, fact-checking and verification.
How did you divide your time between research and actual writing?
Most of the research had already been done by the time I got down to writing. It was more about finding the storyline that would spark a child’s interest in one particular aspect of archaeology.
The book obviously required a lot of collaboration. Tell us a little about the entire process- from conception to winning an award:)
Tulika designed a great format and layout for the book with colourful illustrations, cartoons (by the brilliant Ashok Rajagopalan) photographs, maps, timelines and information boxes. All these had to be worked around the main stories so there was a lot of information flying back and forth between Delhi where I’m based and Tulika headquarters in Chennai!
The process was slow but definitely rewarding.
The book won the Hindu-Youngworld Goodbooks award for non-fiction in 2018 and the Bal Sahitya Award was the icing on the cake this year.
Who/what serves as your inspiration for this book?
My love of history and archaeology! And a great fervor to make children aware of the rich heritage that surrounds them.
What advice do you have for your young readers?
Read anything you can get your hands on…books, magazines, newspapers, the backs of cereal boxes! Reading should be like a dear friend that takes you along on fabulous adventures.
How do you divide your time between research, writing and your other responsibilities?
I have to get up very early – most often starting work at about 4 am to avoid all those household interruptions. I work till about 10, take a break and then go back into it post-lunch when the house quietens down again.
What’s brewing from you next? Tell us about it.
The next book is the second in the India Focus series. It’s called ‘India through People: 25 Game-Changers’, and it’s about some extraordinary men
and women who helmed the great changes that India went through in the last century or so, shaping modern India. I’m very excited as, once again, the team at Tulika have done a fantastic job of the design and layout.
What does the future hold for your fans?
I do hope to write more non-fiction going forward- it’s the genre I enjoy most.
‘India Through Archeology: Excavating History’ by Tulika Publishers is available in all major bookstores and Amazon.