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- Published 12.09.14
Squirrel is 13 and doesn’t quite like the shape of his head. It looks too much like an acorn — and a squashed one at that! He is a good slave, who does what is expected of him, delivering mail for the Pet Post and listening to his boss, Bacchu Banoose, the lazy mongoose who has probably never done a day’s work in his life. But what Squirrel doesn’t know is that he is the keeper of a secret within his bizarrely shaped head, which when revealed could change not only his own life but also that of those around him.
The chain of events is set in motion when Squirrel attends a high society wedding where he makes friends with Despatches the dog and takes a sip of the forbidden walnut wine. His head explodes in pain and he hears his dead mother’s voice, which sends the slave on a quest for the Map of Brittle across lands cheerful and dreary with Des the dog and Azulfa the crow. The reward? It would give Squirrel his name, and therefore his freedom from slavery.
The Petpost Secret (HarperCollins, Rs 250) is meant for the reader who wants to delve into a world of fantasy complete with animals who talk, hold lavish weddings, form unexpected friendships and plot murder. The book ends on a ‘wait-for-it’ note, indicating the start of a series that could well go on to become the next thing for children’s fantasy, made in India!
A chat with the young writer, Radhika Dhariwal.
Tell us a bit about yourself...
I was born in Calcutta and spent most of my summers there as a child visiting my grandparents. I lived and studied in both Delhi and Mumbai, as well as Australia, South Africa, Hungary, the Philippines and the United States. I have studied psychology at Brown University and NYU. But no matter where I’ve been and what I’ve seen, I honestly find Victoria Memorial in Calcutta to be one of the most charming monuments I’ve seen!
What inspired you to write The Petpost Secret?
When I moved back to India, I wanted to start a pre-school, so my mind was very occupied with thinking about ways to appeal to children. And then, one day when I was taking my dog to the vet, I saw a squirrel, a dog and a crow on the side of the street fighting over a piece of bread. I didn’t think of it much at the time, but that night I couldn’t sleep and before I knew it, those three animals morphed into my three main characters — Squirrel, Des and Azulfa. The entire story came to me and I started writing it immediately.
The characters are much like humans. Were there any real-life inspirations behind them?
Not really. I’ve definitely taken a few characteristics from people I meet and fused them while developing my main characters, but each character has taken a life of his or her own and developed a very real and distinct personality in my mind. In many ways, these fictional characters are more real to me than many people I meet!
Why a debut novel in children’s fantasy?
I think the fantasy genre gave me a lot of freedom and flexibility. It allowed me to create worlds and characters while writing a fun and fast-paced book that would capture the imagination of a young reader. I really wanted this book to be a break from reality — an escape in many senses. And, I hope I’ve managed to do that.
Do you yourself love to read fantasy fiction?
As a child I loved fantasy and gobbled it up in many different genres. My favourite fantasy author though was Roald Dahl, whose books always captured my imagination and took me to the most exciting places imaginable. And, in a somewhat different vein, I also always loved E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little... they’re timeless. Now I read just about anything I can get my hands on — from Hilary Mantel to Jeffrey Archer to Amish Tripathi. The last book I read was Soman Chainani’s School for Good and Evil and I really enjoyed it!
Is The Petpost Secret the first in a series?
Yes it is! A sequel will be out hopefully next year.