Story Time

Meet Melbourne writer Swarn Lamba; her latest children’s book ‘Let’s play’, is all about storytelling on different games from different states of India.

A children’s book with all the ingredients to be an encyclopedia of Indian sports (games) is a gift to Australians. Swarn reflects her childhood through the lives of her granddaughters and often wondered connecting them to their roots. But how? The thought soon translated, taking shape slowly through the medium of sports in an illustrated book, ‘Let’s play’. It’s an anthology of eight stories with eight different characters exploring traditional games like Kho-Kho and Gulli danda.
Sixty-seven-year-old Swarn moved to Australia from Tanzania with her husband in 2016 to be close to her daughter and her family. During the walks throughout the lockdowns, Swarn reminisced her childhood spent in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Delhi. In between the games were the funny banters, the childish disagreements, and the animated faces that made it fun, no doubt but it was the cultural diversity that made it even more interesting.
The different food, languages, traditional attires, and all the childhood quirks sparked an idea of a book. The series of stories was created through the lens of a younger Swarn so that her granddaughters can resonate with her and India.

A transcript From Gulli Danda with Preeto.
“With his tongue between his teeth, the nine-year-old Pritam is rocking on his haunches and writing his English words on his phatti. He had cleaned his slate and spread Multani mitti on it last night. It had then been left to dry. He had also filled his inkpot with water and dissolved small pieces of limestone in it to make the ink. His kalam, which is made of bamboo reed, is well sharpened to form a nib….”
As a child when she read books, she would always imagine herself weaving a story one day that everyone else would read. “I would daydream and the fairy tales I read to me into a world of fantasy”, says Swarn.
Her childhood dream to write did come true but under the shadows of a terrible incident. Swarn published her collection of poems ‘A Twinkle, A Tear…moments in a mother’s Life’. In 2008 after the unfortunate demise of her twenty-four- year old son in a car accident in 2006 in Tanzania, East Africa. In his memory, Swarn wrote a coffee-table book online on Blurb called “Jay’s Journey” outlining his life with photographs that had a story to tell. Swarn expressed that writing this book was a cathartic healing process, which became her way of expressing emotions.
These days Swarn works as a part-time primary teacher at Lyndhurst Primary School, and she’s also an interpreter in Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu for the immigrant population that is not very fluent in English. She’s also a Melbourne Multi-faith and others Network and Women’s Interfaith Network Foundation member.
Growing up reading Grimm’s fairy tales to all the series by Enid Blyton, the writer in her was brewing as she soon began to read almost any situation, people, and the conversations that make people. So now, after almost after a decade, she’s leaving a legacy with Let’s Play for her granddaughters, who were also involved in launching her book on 20th March.
Dedicating the book to them, Swarn was not only playing the sweet grandmother but also an intelligent author for sparking young minds to an early knack for reading.

From the Preface.
‘Thus, was born my series of stories about the games I played when I was younger, as well other games that are played in different parts of India.’
Let’s Play is an easy read for all eight-year-olds and above with beautiful illustrations; and a book that took a year to produce as soon as the idea was conceived. There’s also a possibility of Let’s Play two, says Swarn.
Currently, Swarn has completely revamped and revised a story she has written twenty years ago that is currently sitting with a publisher in Tanzania. It’s about life in a safari park as seen through the eyes of a Baobab tree that has stood there for a hundred years.
Juggling, life, work, writing a food blog and in between promoting her book in schools as an author, she turns a few pages now, and when she’s able, to read books. She’s currently reading Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin.
As we turn the last page to this interview, there was a moment in time in Swarn’s childhood when she would be encouraged by her father to speak in English at home and today this is her moment to cherish as an author.
We at G’day and The Indian Weekly couldn’t have had found a more appropriate story this Harmony Week. With that thought in mind, we couldn’t help quoting “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks, American civil rights activist

By Nandita Chakraborty

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(The book is available on, Flipkart, Paytm, Shopclues, Snapdeal, Zorba Books)