Achemical engineer by profession, Deepak Dalal set out to write “Indian tales for Indian children” in 1998. And thus was born the VikramAditya series of adventures, set in some of the most picturesque places on the map—Lakshadweep, Ladakh, the Andaman Islands and Ranthambore. Vikram is a meticulous, intelligent and very correct schoolboy. His friend Aditya is the opposite—strong, impulsive and not averse to bending a few rules. Both love the great outdoors, which helps forge a bond among them as they fight to save wildlife from poachers and evil traders.
Twelve years and six books into the series, Dalal has turned publisher. This week, the newly launched Tarini Books released the seventh and eighth books in the series—Sahyadri Adventure-I: Anirudh’s Dream and Sahyadri Adventure-II: Koleshwar’s Secret. Though set in gritty Mumbai, the books tell the story of the city before it became a megapolis, when Fort was not just an address and Churchgate meant more than a railway station. Edited excerpts from an interview:
On the trail: Deepak Dalal.
What are the ‘VikramAditya’ books about?
They are stories of adventure of two schoolboys, Vikram and Aditya, set in the very beautiful wild world beyond our cities. These are primarily meant for the 12-16 age group. Today’s children live very urban-centric lives. What I’m trying to do is tell them about the exciting country beyond: the Himalayas, the coastlines, the wild forests. There’s a lot of wonderful children’s books—old favourites like Enid Blyton or the Harry Porter series or Artemis Fowl. But there’s hardly any good Indian stories being told to Indian children. Yet India is one of the most vibrant countries in its history and geography.
Vikram and Aditya sound like the Hardy Boys.
There is a bit of the Hardy Boys element. But these are very Indian stories. Today parents take children to the Maldives and Australia to see the coral reefs but Lakshadweep is equally beautiful.
My stories are drawn from my own experiences. I had actually been on a snow leopard expedition before I wrote The Snow Leopard. When I’m writing about a place, I usually land up there and spend a few months, meeting and talking to the local people, learning about the flora and fauna, the history and geography.
But the two new books are set in very urban Mumbai?
Actually it’s about Bombay as it was 150 years ago. For the first time, the VikramAditya stories get a historical perspective. And unusually for me, most of the four years it took to write the books were spent at the Bombay University library, researching the city’s history. The Sahyadri Adventures are about the forgotten city. Say, for instance, Fort. Everyone knows it as the downtown district. But there was actually a fort there. This vanished bastion had three gates, one of them beside a church, hence the name Church Gate. Fronting this Fort was a massive open ground known as the Esplanade. The open spaces of the Esplanade still exist, only now they are known as the maidans (grounds). The second book, Koleshwar’s Secret, is set in the forests of the Sahyadris. It’s a place I go to often, specially during the monsoon. They are lush and wild. It’s a world worth exploring.
Aren’t Vikram and Aditya too grown up in their ways for the average schoolgirl/boy to identify with?
The current way of writing is to address children as adults. Kids like to see their heroes take on problems and situations which adults too will find difficult to handle. For example, in the Harry Potter books, Harry and his friends, without any help from adults, handle very difficult situations. This is across the board in writing for young adults. Children’s writing and their expectation from their readings have evolved.