Two Nikhil Narayanans worked on the book, one to write the stories, another to illustrate them.

One bearded man wearing violet shirt is mock scolded with a pen by another bearded clean shaven man wearing specs and a white t shirtNikhil Narayanan (illustrator) and Nikhil Narayanan (writer)
Features Books Friday, February 19, 2021 - 18:31

Just as you relax with the book, legs propped up comfortably, the black and white illustrations and the big font soothing you, the story ends. In 88 words, Nikhil Narayanan’s first story of Chachuru, spread out lavishly on a little pale white page, ends. Out of habit, you turn the page over, and shake it too in an attempt to make hidden words drop. But no, Chachuru, the title character, is going to tell you really short but beautifully-worded little tales – brief anecdotes, a day or an incident in his really young life. Many are funny, some are sweet, but not all of them are pleasing.

“Yes, they are all based on real life accounts. I am the Chachuru in the book,” says Nikhil Naraynan joyfully, unafraid to own up. He has been a grownup for a long time now, working as an advertising copywriter, settled in Bengaluru. But he spent most of his early life in Ernakulam and bits in Thrissur, being Chachuru to his grandmother and pretty much all in the family, including the uncle who was chasing him in that first story ‘The Hunter and the Prey’ that ended so abruptly.

“Some of these stories that I recollect would be 35 words long, some others would go on to 350. It was my wife Joy who said so what, write them,” Nikhil says.

Joy was also the one who got him to start writing after he kept procrastinating. Those who have seen Nikhil’s writings for his work knew he had a charming way with words. But Nikhil kept finding reasons not to write even though he had wanted to tell stories for a long time. Joy told him, write something and see. “She would make me tell stories and then ask me why don’t you write about that. That’s how I wrote that first story of the uncle’s chase. I felt it was not working but she asked, why not. I began thinking of more old tales and wrote 12 of them in one stretch.”

Many of these, as do most stories of childhood, feature animals – mainly the creepy-crawlies. Insects in Chachuru’s life are an unfortunate lot. One gets jailed in a matchbox to be released to a screaming classmate, one gets eaten (told you it wouldn’t be all pleasing), a third drowns in the ‘mother of all pesticides’ that Chachuru ‘invents’ with a friend.

Nikhil is obviously not holding anything back, baring his childhood with all its inane ugliness and sweet innocence (well, less of that and more of the former). His recollection of the first friend in kindergarten, the fear of ‘ghosts’, are all told by simply describing the scenes and not so much the emotion. Just the way a child would tell the story. Nikhil, perhaps unknowingly, borrowed not just the memories but the mind of his childhood to see things the way the little boy did.

The illustrations came from his friend and namesake (to the last N), Nikhil Narayanan. “He had called me to tell me about his wedding. And I told him I needed a designer for Chachuru. He was excited. It was a frustrating time with COVID-19 in the air. For him as well as me. A colleague had passed away and that’s when I decided to prioritise life and began writing on the weekends.”

He wrote 26 stories and faced a mind block. It took Joy again to come to the rescue. He had for some reason fixed ’30 stories’ in his mind and couldn’t think of another four. Why keep any such rule, just bring out the 26, she put sense into him for the third time. Nikhil thanked her with all his heart when he wrote in the beginning of the book, “To the Joy of my life…”

Anish Chandy, founder of Labyrinth Literary Agency, had not been too encouraging when Nikhil told him about the book of short stories. Short stories are a bad bet, he said, and dissuaded Nikhil, whom he knew to be an excellent writer. Nikhil self-published with the help of a Chennai based firm, and the book reached the top 100 across all categories on Amazon. Anish was the first to put a post about their little exchange, ending it with, “The main lesson here is if you have written a book and have built a following through authentic content, then don't wait for the gatekeepers (me included) to open the gates. Just barge in."

Also read: This picture book on consent is key to an important conversation with children

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