Shoumi Sen is the author of Celebrate Durga Puja With Me! We caught up with her on the release of latest book 'Celebrate Holi With Me!' on the Festival of Colors.
What inspired you to become a writer?
My writing originated as one of the ways to have my daughter appreciate a connection with her Indian roots, while growing up here in America. Growing up in Bombay and Dubai, my sister and I were surrounded by the magic of Indian festivals. I still remember the excitement during celebrations of Durga Puja, Holi and Diwali from my childhood!
I searched for books which would help me paint these cultural experiences for my daughter and eventually decided to write them. I wanted something that would connect immediately with a child and therefore chose the approach of a little girl to be the storyteller.
In Celebrate Durga Puja With Me!, we learn about Durga Puja through the eyes of three-year-old Riya. In Celebrate Holi WithMe! Riya and her friends immerse everyone in a carnival of colors! The mix of poetry and illustrations connected well with my daughter and made her feel like she was a part of the story and the celebrations.
What is your favorite South Asian festival?
It is difficult to pick one – I enjoy them all and each of them has a special meaning for me. With Holi being around the corner, I love how it brings out the child in me!
Why did you write the book and how long did it take? How did you ensure the stories and information in your book was authentic?
Even before I released Celebrate Durga Puja With Me!, I knew I wanted to write about Holi. Growing up, Holi had a special place in my heart – colors, dancing, music, food – what’s not to love?
The idea was reinforced when we were watching Holi celebrations in a Hindi movie and my little girl, wanting to experience this for herself, made a beeline for the pantry to access my jar of haldi! Averting a mini disaster, I explained the story of Holi to her, wishing I had something age appropriate that we could read.
And so I started recreating my childhood memories in the form of a poem. There’s so much that goes into a book – there’s the research, the writing (lots of rewriting!), the illustrations until you eventually have the book in your hands – this takes the good part of a year to complete.
Describe how you celebrated Holi while growing up, and how you celebrate Holi now?
My most vivid memories of Holi are from when I was in school in Bombay. My friends and I would start planning weeks ahead of time, stocking up on abeer, gulal and balloons while figuring out vantage points for the big day!
When I think about it, the entire neighborhood would get together on celebrations like these – young and old, boys and girls, it didn’t matter what religion you followed, which part of India you were from – we all played together, creating these amazing memories. It was the one day we were permitted, and even encouraged to get as messy as we wanted, and our parents joined in the fun too!
Today, Holi has become an international festival and has inspired many a ‘Festival of Colors’ worldwide. Living in LA, we have Indian communities that organize Holi and everything that goes with it – the colors, the pichkaris, food, the works. Though they cannot compete in scale with Holi celebrations in India – where entire cities get painted in color - the festivities, the revelry and the feeling of togetherness all transport me back to my childhood.
What is the one takeaway you would like children to learn from your Holi book?
During festivals like Holi it is heartwarming to see entire communities celebrating together, creating memories with each other. As kids read and gain an appreciation of this incredible spring festival of colors, I'd love for them to remember the underlying theme, which is the victory of good over evil.
What do you like more - playing Holi or eating gujias?
Playing Holi, knowing that a plate of gujiyas (and other sweets) is waiting for me :)