SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Tale of My Journey and Dance with Words

 

By Mita Bordoloi

I was born into a bookish family. My paternal grandfather was the founding editor of The Assam Tribune and an award-winning author of books. My maternal grandmother wrote children’s stories. One uncle was awarded the highest Indian literary award, the Jnanpith, only this month. My father was a journalist and a writer. He headed the public relations department of an oil company before we moved in my teens to the edge of a vast national park to pioneer a sustainable and ecological hospitality complex. It was the precursor of Diphlu River Lodge owned and is now run by my brother and his family. British royalty William and Kate stayed there during their debut visit to India in 2016.

In my twenties, I made an enormous leap by coming to the United States. I taught at schools; worked at museum, bookstore, library; volunteered as an AmeriCorps member; earned another degree; freelanced as a translator/interpreter of languages; and resided and taught in Hong Kong for two years, too.

I owe my picture book writing journey to children’s book author, the late Barbara Steiner of Boulder, Colorado. I first met Ms. Steiner, a productive writer and traveler, when I was a teenager and she traveled to Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India, to research wild tigers. She became my pen-pal. We wrote each other every Christmas, even after I arrived in the States after I was married. She encouraged and inspired me to write about my experiences by the national park, home of the one-horned Indian rhinoceros and other animals.

In 2014 I acquired an MA in creative writing to deepen and validate my writing life. Besides children’s stories, I wrote short stories and nonfiction for adults, some of which were published in literary magazines. I joined SCBWI in the subsequent years and attended a few retreats. At present I am brimming with writing projects in both children’s and adult literature. I am hoping to complete them in the coming years.

About twelve years ago, when I made my yearly visit to India, the plastic bags strewn on the roadsides and streams appalled me. I was yearning for and thinking of the natural products and easily growable plants from my childhood – bamboos and bananas – which were biodegradable, renewable and sustainable. So, I wrote Bulbuli’s Bamboo and sent it out to publishers in the U.S. and India. Tulika Books of Chennai, India responded and published it in nine Indian languages in 2012. Its illustrator was prolific artist, Proiti Roy. It became a recommended science book for Indian schools.

I also wrote Bumoni’s Banana Trees and the Raiding Wild Elephants about the same time along with The Queen’s Game, The Tiger Mom and Phuleswori: The Flower Princess, all of which were published as ebooks by MeeGenius of New York in the following years. When MeeGenius was acquired by another publisher, I retained all my rights to these stories.

Tulika Books re-issued my latest picture book, Bumoni’s Banana Trees (in a slightly altered form) in 10 Indian languages this year, and for the first time, I wrote it in my mother-tongue, Assamese. I translated it into English as well. Talented graphic artist, Tarique Aziz, illustrated it.

In my home state of Assam, India, it is not uncommon in some villages to be surrounded or raided by as many as 150 elephants at night. They eat up crops of bananas, sugarcanes, or paddies. Man-animal conflicts are real issues there. So, I donated a large chunk of the Assamese Bumoni’s Banana Trees to wildlife organizations, such as Aaranyak, Hati Bondhu and Wildlife Trust of India, for its distribution to the children living in the elephant corridors – to inculcate and nurture empathy at the grassroots level. I gave some same language books to the local school children at the setting of the story as well.

I also have written a middle-grade novel set on the periphery of Kaziranga National Park and loosely based on my own life, as suggested by my pen-pal and mentor, Ms. Steiner. I have sent it to several publishers in the U.S. and India, but there are no takers, as of now. Yet, my belief in the story is strong. I keep sending it out. Rejections do not deter me.

I have certainly lived a unique life and I have more stories to tell. I hope I find diverse readers across the globe, and soon.

No matter what happens in my writing life, these words by children’s author Gary Paulsen, who passed away recently, resonate with me. “And the dance with words gave me a joy and a purpose I had been looking for my entire life.”

 

Mita Bordoloi was born in India where the Brahmaputra River flows. She resides and writes stories for adults and children from the American Midwest, not far from where the Mississippi flows. Her website is www.mitabordoloi.com.

 

Children who live in the area where Bordoloi’s story stakes place, holding donated books.

BUMONI’S BANANA TREES in 10 languages