‘I wish I was a writer,’ sighed Wisha.
‘Well, you are Wisha Wozzariter,’ said the Bookworm.
‘So I am! But I don’t quite know where to begin.’
‘At the beginning, of course,’ said the Bookworm, rolling his eyes.
Payal Kapadia’s second book, “Wisha Wozzariter” (Puffin Books), is the story of 10-year-old Wisha who reads day and night. Every good book she reads makes her wish it came from her. With a little nudge from the pushy Bookworm, Wisha begins a journey, collecting one by one all she would need to write her own book. Onboard the Thought Express, it’s a journey that leads the little one from the Marketplace of Ideas to the Grand Idea Auction, Superhero Salon and Bargain Bazaar. The text is accompanied by illustrations by Roger Dahl.
Wisha’s dilemma, in some way, is reflected in that of Payal herself, who started writing the book more than seven years ago, when she was on maternity leave from her job at Outlook magazine in Mumbai. (“I saw journalism as a pit stop to becoming a writer,” she says.) Payal had penned down the first half of the book. Then, the quintessential writer’s block — which also gets a literal, physical form in “Wisha Wozzariter” — struck.
“I brought Wisha up to the point where she met the Scissors of Style and then I didn’t know what to do with her. So I stopped writing,” she informs.
Then, last year (by then she had quit journalism), Payal ran into an old Word document; it was “Wisha Wozzariter”. “So I opened it and read it, and when I read it in the gap of seven years it read beautifully, it felt wonderful. When I went back to it I actually enjoyed it. If I felt like this after seven years, I thought there was some hope in the story,” Payal recalls.
The publishers responded positively. Payal, however, had only one half of the manuscript. “They said, ‘Send us the other half,’ and I said I didn’t even have it in my head, I didn’t have it anywhere. I said I don’t know what happens next. I was like Wisha on the train, pretty much stuck.”
Continuing was easy this time around. “When I read it again trying to pick up from where I had left, the ending was so clear; it had to be about Wisha becoming a writer, her journey being the story of the book. That resolution came to me six to seven years later, it didn’t come to me at that point. I think I needed to distance myself from the book to look at it more clearly,” the author says.
In “Wisha Wozzariter”, it’s Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” that brings out Wisha’s angst over her inability to start writing her book, while Wisha’s struggle with the Imagination Balloon can’t but remind one of Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole. (There’s also a reference to the latter in one place.) The book, while making literal the elements that a writer tries to incorporate in one’s story, also gently pokes fun at clichés — the Villain of the Piece, for example.
Payal recalls how it was a stint at The Japan Times in Tokyo, where she started a children’s book review column, that opened her to the newer, more exciting world of children’s literature — a world where children aren’t angels, where they’re treated as grownups, where every story needn’t end with a moral, a world most often represented by the likes of Dahl and the legendary Maurice Sendak, who passed away recently, a far cry from Enid Blyton’s. Publishers from the U.K. and U.S. would send her books hot off the press, and it proved an introduction to a world that was “more versatile, more dramatic” than before.
While Wisha’s now been introduced to readers, Payal isn’t clear about whether she’d want to write a sequel. What’s in the pipeline, however, is a rhyming story about a princess called Keya (which is also the name of her older daughter).