Author Aparna Karthikeyan’s ‘Looking for Laddoo’ takes children on a journey across Chennai and introduces them to the various people and places that make up the city.

Aparna KarthikeyanAparna Karthikeyan
Features Books Wednesday, September 22, 2021 - 16:44

Little Karthik is feeling sad and looking out the window of his home in Chennai. Laddoo, his white puppy with brown spots, has been missing since the previous evening. He stares at the gate hoping Laddoo will come back. Seeing him look mournful, his mother, who is a veterinarian, asks him to join her as she does her rounds in the city. You might be able to spot Laddoo somewhere on the way, she says. He jumps into her van, and mother and son drive across the city, passing iconic sites and meeting the people who call Chennai home. Looking for Laddoo, a children’s book by Aparna Karthikeyan with illustrations by Tanvi Parulkar, is part of the Karadi Tales 'City Series' and was released last month to mark Madras Day.

From Elliot's Beach and St Thomas Cathedral to Big Mosque in Triplicane and Pookadai, the picture book takes you on a tour of Chennai with a simple but engaging storyline. “I knew I wanted to cover the city from the south to the north along the coast,” Aparna Karthikeyan tells TNM. The journey across the city had to be possible to do as well. So Aparna, who is originally from Chennai but was living in Mumbai during the time she wrote the book, turned to technology. “It had to be a doable journey, so we used Google Maps and timed the distance from place to place to get the timings right.”

So, as Karthik and his mother travel around the city, at lunchtime you see them stop at Woodlands Restaurant to grab a bite to eat, and later in the day as they head towards Adyar Bridge from Mylapore, the mother and son stop to watch the sunset.

“There also needed to be a reason for the two to travel around the city, so I decided to make the mother a veterinarian because I’d always wanted to be one, and one of the ways you get to live out your dreams is by writing fiction,” says Aparna.

In the book, Shankari the vet cares for a dog found by a porter at Egmore Railway Station, treats an injured animal at Urur Olcott Kuppam, and gives medicines for the goats belonging to Muniyamma, the vegetable seller near Santhome Church. All the while Karthik keeps an eye out for Laddoo.

A lot of the characters Shankari meets on her round are inspired by people Aparna knows in real life. “I worked as a reporter in Chennai and places like George Town and Parry’s Corner, Pookadai and Renganathan street used to be my happy hunting ground for stories —  these are busy areas with lots of human activity,” she says. Aparna, who is also a journalist, has written for The Hindu, The Wire and PARI, among other publications.

"Two of the people in the book, the sowrie seller (someone who sells hair extensions) and the boom boom maatukaran (a street artist who performs with a cow) are very special to me. I have met them and featured them in stories earlier,” says Aparna. The officer on the beach was inspired by the police in the city who were feeding stray dogs during the COVID-19 induced lockdown. “I wanted to humanise the people we tend to ignore as we go about our lives. These are people who use the streets for their livelihood and take time out of their day to show kindness to the animals around them. I wanted to acknowledge them.” 

The author also says that books are a great way to present lived realities and the important things happening around us to children.

“I hope children pick up on the everyday heroes around us and realise no city and no culture exists without the people,” says Aparna, talking about what she hopes young readers get out of the book. Another subject that is close to her heart that she wishes will resonate with children is ‘adopt don’t shop’. Looking for Laddoo very gently shows all the stray animals in the streets around you that need homes. “Children understand, they grasp quickly and if a child decides to bring about a change, the whole family will change,” says Aparna.

Since Chennai is the hero of the story, what does the city mean to her? “Chennai is home, it is syncretic, harmonious and secular,” says Aparna. “A city where there is an old-world charm, where you can still find small pockets from, say, my father’s college days which haven't changed very much. And at the same time, you have the new, modern, glass-faceted spaces. I like that many Chennais can coexist at the same time in this city.”

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