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Wizards of Oz

Australian 'word nerd' David Astle with countrymate and writer Judith Rossell, on a visit to the city, give us a peek into their creative minds

It's a first time visit for both. And what better way to know a city than through interactions with its younger residents. Australian authors David Astle and Judith Rossell have been interacting with students across schools in Chandigarh as part of Australian government’s school outreach programme in India. Prior to Chandigarh, they were in Delhi to participate in the Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival.

“I am just a year younger to Chandigarh. I was born in 1961,” Astle is quick to let us know. No, he really doesn’t look that old.

Wizards of Oz, Lifeinchd
Photo By: Vikram Joy

Interestingly, his first introduction to Punjab came many years ago when he read Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’. As for Rossell, who is on her first ever trip to India, the sights, sounds and smells might be unfamiliar but she admits they are exciting, to say the least. We met up with the two taking a break post a hectic workshop schedule at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Chandigarh.

What’s a word nerd? It’s not often you meet someone who is better known (and handsomely paid, we are told) as a “full-time word nerd”. “I love playing with words, twisting them up to make new words. I have always been fascinated with word play even before I could read sentences. It’s a disease, I tell you,” quipped Astle as he introduced himself. His name might be unfamiliar to most of us here but back home in Australia, Astle is a professional crossword maker for newspapers like The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. He’s also a famous Wordplay columnist and has authored a number of crossword and puzzle books for children. “I like breaking down words, finding words within words, double meaning words…I love the duplicitous nature of words,” said Astle who conducted word play workshops with children in the city. “I am fascinated with Hindi as well,” said Astle who has in a short span of time has learnt many words in Hindi. “I encourage children to use language as a toy and to have fun with it. I encourage lateral thinking and love to teach children the art of word play,” explained Astle as he went on to share an example. “For instance why is a cow called a ‘gai’ when it is actually a girl and the milk is so cool that it is called ‘dhoodh’ as in dude,” chuckled Astle who admits he’s going to have fun with Hindi a lot more when he gets home.

Before that he would be visiting Chennai for school workshops and will also be a part of the Kahaani Festival in Jaipur.

Wizards of Oz, Lifeinchd
Photo By: Vikram Joy

Just as there are voracious readers, there are prolific writers. Judith Rossell qualifies for both. An Australian illustrator and writer, Judith Rossell has authored children’s books for nearly two decades. “It started with my love for drawing and it naturally progressed to writing books for children,” said Rossell who has illustrated more than 80 books. Though her titles are not yet published in India, they are widely available and read in UK and USA. Some have also been translated into nearly 20 languages. We were curious to know whether India or an Indian character has featured in any of her works. “Not until now,” replied Rossell as she went on to add, “My latest book is part of a series and is set in Victorian England. The central character is Stella Montgomery who lives with her three dreadful aunts. The plot packs in adventure, mystery, magic…it would be interesting to send Stella to India of the 1880s but that would mean a lot of research on my part,” said the writer.

Rossell also mentioned how writing for children is a very popular genre for writers in Australia. “I was at a huge publishers’ meet recently and was told that children’s books form the major chunk of book business in Australia,” informed Rossell. Unlike in India where reading storybooks and non-curriculum literature among children is reportedly on the decline, Rossell is happy to state that it quite the opposite in her country. “Parents also read to their children a lot. I grew up reading a lot of Enid Blyton books as my mother is English,” said Rossell who loves to draw. As part of her visit to schools in India, she has planned drawing workshops for students. “It’s interesting to interact with them,” summed up Rossell who will head to Mumbai next.

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