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Amra and the Witch – Arefa Tehsin

Amra and the Witch – Arefa Tehsin

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Amra and the Witch – Arefa Tehsin

Shweta Kapoor

Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? At what point did you pick up the (figurative) pen and start writing your first work?

I had this dastardly gene of a story spinner since my childhood. I grew up telling tales to my friends and cousins about aliens living in our garden and the worlds inside my pencil box. My father encouraged me to write when I was in school. I remember my exam essay Kachra Patra ki Atmakatha – the autobiography of a dustbin – being read and applauded in the parents-teacher meeting. Once I got hitched, Aditya pestered me to take my writing more seriously. I remember writing my first novel for young adults on rough pages in three months, all livid at his insistence. That was when I got the taste of blood…or ink, equally compulsive habit forming. 


‘Amra and the Witch,’ as well as most of your other books have been targeted towards a younger audience. How did you gravitate towards children’s literature? And what does writing for children mean to you?

Some of the people I am close to will declare that I never grew up! Writing for kids was a natural consequence. Writing, whether it is for children or adults, is essential for my well-being. 


You write that your book has been inspired by an incident in the life of your father, Mr Raza H Tehsin, a well known conservationist. Can you tell us more about his impact on your life and writing?

My father has been a wildlife conservation crusader. He is known as the Vasco de Gama of Mewar forests as he has tread that part of the Aravallis in Southern Rajasthan on foot and help to form most of the wildlife sanctuaries there. He brought me close to nature since I was a kid. He took me to the forests and inside the cages of leopards, crocodiles, pythons and bears so that I lose the fear of animals. And I did, to a great extent. I love snakes, and I love handling them. If I see a snake, I have to go and catch it or observe it more closely. One of my early memories is playing every day near Jogi Mahal in Ranthambore National Park under the same banyan tree where a tigress used to rest daily. My father taught me not to fear the dark, not to fear the wild and not to fear the unexplained. 

It was with suggestions and help that I started writing features for Times of India when I was in school. I’ve seen him fight for wildlife conservation, even with the government and authorities (like I wouldn’t do for my own family) without looking for reward or recognition. He has been my inspiration and my hero. 


The culture of the Bhils comes out beautifully in your narration. How do you do it? How do you make a children’s book simple yet incredibly informative?

Thank you for your kind words. Writing on wildlife or nature or the Bhils I grew up with is effortless as it all stems out of love. When it comes to nature writing, my father always said that the way to connect children (or adults) to nature is not through preaching or teaching, but through stories. That is what I try to do.  


The book has been illustrated by Chetan Sharma. How is the process of writing and illustrating a story done in tandem? How much of a role did you play in the illustration process?

The entire credit for conceptualizing goes to Chetan and my editor. I didn’t have any role in it. They are the ones who collaborated on it. I am so fortunate and happy to have someone like Chetan breathe life into the characters; he’s brilliant! The school, the village, Amra, Veerma, the scenes, the hut…all have been portrayed just as I had imagined them. He has done complete justice to this story. 


Are you writing something right now? When could your readers expect a next book from you?

I’m working on the 6th and concluding novel of the Iora series, which is a rainforest based fantasy for young adults. Excited about completing it and launching the series soon!

About the Interviewee:

Arefa Tehsin was shortlisted for The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Best Author Award 2017 for her book Wild in the Backyard. Her picture book The Elephant Bird was read at over 3000 locations across India from the slums to the Presidential Library on International Literacy Day 2016. It has been translated into 25 languages. She is also the author of several fiction and nonfiction books on wildlife. She was appointed as the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur and has relentlessly pursued nature conservation through her writings and columns.