Some fictional characters are immortal, because their influence spans generations, especially those from the stable of the legendary Amar Chitra Katha .
Rajani Thindiath, our next pathbreaker, writes her own fiction and short stories for different formats like books, stories, scripts, screenplays and games.
Rajani talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her past 13 year stint at Tinkle Comics, ideating, writing and collaborating on stories and scripts for popular comics such as Suppandi, Shikari Shambu, Tantri, Defective Detectives, Ina Mina Mynah Mo and many more iconic characters.
For students, whether it is factual narration (journalism), visual narration (animation) or creative narration (comics), the common denominator is storytelling !
Rajani, can you give us a glimpse into your early years?
Stories have been a part of my life from early childhood. Mom used to tell us stories when her work for the day was done. And so did other elders in the family. These ranged from folktales to Count Dracula!
However once I learnt to read on my own, I was too impatient to listen to stories. It didn’t take long to become a bookworm.
Growing up, I was known for ignoring everything else for reading, spinning tall tales, dancing and sketching. My parents encouraged me and my siblings to learn dance and art apart from studying hard. Studying hard was required. There were no two questions about it.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I was like most kids who didn’t have a clue about what career I wanted to take up. So, I tried everything from psychology (in which I graduated), journalism and animation (diploma) before I figured out my early talent in telling tall tales? That’s what I wanted to do. Tell stories.
What were some of the key factors that led you to a career in storytelling?
I was clueless. I came to writing after trying different things and figuring out what I didn’t want to do. Then, once I started writing stories, a lightbulb lit in my head. The turning point came when I had to write a story for the animation course I had taken up after college. This solidified when I wrote stories for a comics series in a weekly children’s newspaper.
All those tall tales in childhood, the nightmares I saw in full cinematic visuals, my imagination that visualized every single thing, all the reading and getting lost in the world of stories… They all led me here.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?
The only thing I knew was what I didn’t want to do.
I didn’t have a formal education in writing stories, except the course I took in animation which honed my ability to think in visuals. Later, there was journalism which taught me how to express myself in the simplest, briefest possible way.
I started as a copywriter at Atlantis Communication Strategists. Copywriters are basically people who write what you hear or see in advertisements, in a short and attention-catching way. I was there only for two months.
For the next four years, I was at Navneet NewsHouse, a weekly children’s newspaper as sub-editor. I rewrote various news pieces in simple language. The real joy came when I took over the writing of their comic strip “Sandy Bandy”. Once I figured I love writing stories, I started looking for other options.
I then joined Tinkle Comics from the house of Amar Chitra Katha as sub-editor. I wrote stories and scripts for popular comics such as Suppandi, Shikari Shambu, Tantri, Defective Detectives, Ina Mina Mynah Mo as well as original stories of my own.
I was made Assistant Editor in six months and continued writing more stories. I was made Editor in four years and I decided to give back what I had received. So I introduced many popular series such as Dental Diaries, WingStar, NOIS, SuperWeirdos and YogYodhas, the last two of which were my creations.
As part of my responsibilities, I led a team of 11 into creating award-winning content, taking workshops—both offline and online—and connecting with the audience in a variety of ways including through surveys, focus groups and activities.
Apart from this, I’ve been a TEDx speaker thrice, at IIT Indore, SIES-CASC and BITS-Pilani, Pilani campus, and have had the privilege to talk at universities, schools and book fests around the country.
I’m a planner with long-term and detailed vision and so I have managed to come up with successful ideas that overhauled the look and content of Tinkle magazine, from print to digital, after I took over as Editor in 2011 and later Editor-in-Chief till Jan 2021.
I launched several initiatives to interact with the audience such as Tinkle Awards (content survey) and Tinkle Squad (focus group) on the print platform and Li’l Tinkle Stars (User Generated Content), Tinkle Game Show (live quiz show on Youtube), vlogs, videos and clickable games on the Tinkle App.
How did you get your first break?
Once I knew I wanted to write fiction and stories, I kept hunting for opportunities for nearly four years before things clicked with Tinkle. Writing original fiction is a small field unless you branch out into different formats like I am doing now. You just keep persisting. You don’t give up and that increases your chances.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: Fiction writing is a small field. So, opportunities are few. So either you persist or you create your own opportunities. I did the first and continue on that path, while I explore the different forms of writing fiction.
Challenge 2: I also continue to do the second that is create my own opportunities, by writing my own books. And that is a whole new challenge because the world has tons of talented writers. So, it takes persistence in pitching your stories with agents to get them published. And this can take a long time, years in fact.
Tell us about your current role as independent Author
I am currently on a sabbatical to write my second book, write fiction in other formats such as screenplays and gamewriting as well as to pitch my first book to agents while I look for opportunities to write.
The only challenges when I am writing a book or screenplay is about crafting a tight plot, plugging loopholes and getting into the character’s head.
What are the skills needed to be a good writer? How did you acquire the skills?
A good imagination. You can hone this by doing various brainstorming exercises and by reading a lot. Observation of people and things around you also helps to figure what kind of stories you would like to write about. The learning never stops, so curiosity is a great trait to have.
What’s a typical day like?
I am at my best in the mornings, so I write then. Setting up a routine, setting an alarm for an hour or so, is a good way to train your brain to be creative on a daily basis.
When I was editor, this included ideating and planning content for the magazine, commissioning or assigning stories to my team or freelancers, listening to stories, editing scripts, checking art, finalizing designs and the final proofs till the magazine went to press.
Apart from this, there were workshops, contests, surveys, brainstorming ideas for the digital platform in the form of videos, game shows, etc.
There was also coordinating with other departments such as production which looked after the printing, marketing which let people know that a new magazine or story was out, accounts to pay all those freelancers, human resources to solve any problems my team has and so on.
What do you love about this job?
When I was editor, I loved it when one of my team members came up to me and asked, ‘Shall I tell you a story’ whenever they needed to pitch a story to me. Also, sitting back and spinning new stories, worlds and characters is so much fun.
How does your work benefit society?
I have always felt it is the individual who can make a difference no matter what field they choose to be in.
In my case, I knew as the Editor of a nationally-popular magazine, I could reach out to many young minds.
I want youngsters to think about gender equality, diversity across communities, skin colour, body shapes, festivals, abilities and disabilities, etc. I believe diversity of thought is essential for innovative thinking.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
There are so many over the 13 years I was at Tinkle. Most of the time it was a young reader writing back after reading a story and sharing how it touched them, made them think and how they planned to talk to their friends and families about it so that they could try and bring about a change.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
It’s rare that we know exactly what we want out of life. Surprises are good. Try to remember that there are no mistakes, only guesstimates and course corrections, just like when you do long division.
So start off your journey, explore and experience everything you can about whatever interests you. And if you don’t find what you like immediately, then hold on, have patience and persist, even if it takes many, frustrating years. In the meanwhile, find something to pay the bills and continue your hunt.
Remember that the people you meet during your journey have their own stories, perspectives and priorities that may be totally different from yours. Nothing they do is aimed at you, even if it may feel like it when it’s upsetting. The way they act is due to who they are and the issues or concerns they have.
Similarly, when someone else reaches the goals that were similar to yours and you haven’t, try not to feel too bad about it. You don’t know under what conditions they reached those goals. Perhaps, they were conditions you may not have been happy with.
If some people take away your energy, move on and continue your journey. There is no such thing as universal fairness. What’s fair for you may not be so for another person. So, try to learn to see yourself bigger than any challenges that come your way or look at them as exciting opportunities to explore.
When things feel overwhelming—too much pressure, too much stress, nothing going your way—just tell yourself one step, one thing at a time. There’s no point worrying about a future that you don’t know about. What you have are the creative possibilities of the present as Epictetus said. You can tunnel through a mountain if you chip away at it, one day at a time. It may take long, frustrating years but you can do it if you keep at it.
Find your tribe of people who motivate you, who will increase your energy and encourage you. Once you make it, share and pass on your energy, your knowledge, and your experience onward.
Learn to be kind to yourself, forgive yourself and trust yourself. And mute that useless voice in your head that tries to put you down, that criticizes you. If you can’t mute it, distract yourself. Remember, pointless criticism never helped anybody. Encouragement sure does.
You don’t need to do only one thing in life. If you plan well and save up enough, you can learn new things and try out new things. It’s your life, make it count.
To continue on my journey of telling stories whether it is through the books, stories, scripts, games or screenplays I write. And if I can, continue to try to make a difference through my writing.