Born on13 August 1955
Place of BirthCalcutta
City of residenceDelhi
Difficult to do this strictly chronologically, but:
- The Crow Chronicles (Penguin)
- Enjoying Birds (Clarion)
- The Life and Times of Altu Faltu (Roli/IndiaInk)
- Birds from my Window (Tulika and then Scholastic)
- The Caterpillar who Went on a Diet and other Stories (Puffin)
- When Banshee Kissed Bimbo and Other Stories (Puffin); Republished as The Parakeet That Squawked in English and Other Stories (Scholastic)
- The Small Tigers of Shergarh (Roli/IndiaInk)
- That Summer at Kalagarh (Tulika)
- Black Limericks (Roli/IndiaInk)
- Dancing Bees (Tulika)
- From Submarines to Sky Raiders (Pratham Books)
- Nature’s Web Masters (Pratham Books)
- Big Neem, Red Jaguar and Mrs. Samson’s Lammergeier (Rupa)
- The Bossman Adventures (Harper)
- Bossman and the Kala Shaitan (Rupa)
- Bossman and the Thrown Away Family (Rupa)
- The Simians of South Block and the Yumyum Piglets (Roli)
- Taklu and Shroom (Harper)
- Smitten (Young Zubaan)
- The Battle for No. 19 (Puffin)
- Faces in the Water (Puffin)
- Miracles (Penguin)
- The Secret of Falcon Heights (Penguin)
- The Deadly Royal Recipe (Duckbill)
- The Tigers of Taboo Valley (Rupa/Red Turtle)
- Birds of Delhi (Oxford University Press)
- Water Birds (Rupa)
- Mostly Birds Some Monkeys and a Pest (Ravi Dayal)
- Wild City (Penguin)
- The Birds of Teen Murti House (with Jaya Iyer and Anshuman Chaudhury) (NMML)
- Bambi, Chops and Wag (Roli)
- Stories in at least 10 Anthologies
BA in Economics and Sociology (both disliked) from Bombay University;
Diploma in Journalism from Xavier Institute of Communication.
Worked at Press Institute of India for seven (mostly boring) years, and then at the Indian Institute of Public Administration on a project on the National Parks and Sanctuaries of India for six or seven more; no jobs in mainline journalism available – as wanted – because would-be employers/interviewers were nervous/ignorant about ASD/OHCM/pacemakers. Full-time writing thereafter. Over 1000 articles, features, stories, columns published in over 50 magazines and newspapers.
Wrote the column ‘Down in Jungleland’ in the Indian Express.
Natural History, Birds, Dogs, Photography, Automobiles, Music, Cooking, Humour
Fantastic Five – Five of my favourite books
The Titus Books – Merwyn Peake For its darkness and descriptive quality: One of the trilogy has one of the most memorable murder scenes I’ve ever read!
Love in the Time of Cholera, and One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez You just revel in Marquez and go along for the kaleidoscopic ride he takes you on at various levels.
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie For (at last) turning Indian writing in English, upside down with sheer ingenuity and imagination and humour.
Gerald Durrell’s and Lawrence Durrell’s books GD for humour, descriptive quality; his brother for the sheer lyrical quality of his writing – and holding up slanting mirrors showing different perspectives…
The books of Patrick White: Voss, Riders in the Chariot, A Fringe of Leaves etc – Patrick White For sheer depth of characterization: telling it like it is, you can feel the steel blade of his truth!
Tell us about your earliest attempts at writing. When, where and from whom did you learn the nittygritties of writing?
This was not my first choice (automobile design and engineering was) as a ‘profession’; this was ‘plan B’ taken up due to health issues. Enjoyed writing from school; first attempts – ‘middles’ in the TOI back in the 1970s; then to freelance journalism (and photo-journalism). The books only started in the late 1990s with ‘The Crow Chronicles’ (1996).
‘Nittygritties’ of writing learnt by reading everything my elder sister had on her list for me, like 20 fat books during school summer holidays, starting off with say The Pickwick Papers, Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers etc, and from being told, “if you don’t understand a word, look up a dictionary – that’s what it’s for!” Still have the notebook in which they were listed …
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
news clippings, reactions to events…people, children – the conversations they have and things they do, from pictures of children/people … from which I often get my characters.
What does your typical writing day look like?
Rise by 5.00 a.m. At the computer by 8.30 am. writing till 1.00 pm; misc. work/reading/snoozing in the afternoon; cooking/walking in the evening; bed by 10 pm; thinking about what I’ll be writing about the next day, mostly all the time.
Try to break on weekends, but it depends on what’s being written and whether the characters need an urgent and immediate rescue from the horrible mess I’ve put them in!
What is one habit / trait of yours that makes you effective / productive as an author?
What is the one thing that you recommend every aspiring author should do?
Like everything else, the more you do of it, (hopefully) the better you get at it.
Tell us something about yourself that very few people know?
Umm… like I’ve nearly died six times in six very different ways, and each time learnt something different, and also that, most emphatically and importantly, encores are most not welcome!
Had radical surgery for congenital ASD and OHCM (atrial septal defect and obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) in 1974 and have been on pacemakers (7 to date) ever since.
Does technology (the Internet, software tools) help you in your writing process? If yes, can you tell us about them?
Started writing with a pencil, then typed the draft on a lorry of a Godrej office typewriter, twice, never more, so the third draft was correct and final. The habit has stayed, so now even with computers (which can make you gas away a hell of a lot!), I don’t do much chopping and changing after two drafts. But yes, you can physically write a lot more, provided you know what you want to write!
Is there any other way in which technology can help you in your work as writer?
Probably, but I have no clue how!
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others? (include websites, blogs or Twitter profiles, etc).
Various writers in various capacities – by giving different points of view, so you are not blinkered in your views/opinions and can understand that there could be another way of looking at things, even if you may not agree with it. There can be many sides to a truth… Can’t give any specifics here. Don’t follow websites/blogs or Twitter profiles too much.
PS: The four/five favourite books mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg…
Can you tell about what you are currently writing and other works in the pipeline?
Two books are due shortly: ‘The Dugong and the Barracudas’ from Young Zubaan, and ‘Our Nana was a Nutcase’ from Rupa/Redturtle.
You seem to write on a wide range of topics, both fiction and non-fiction ranging from adventure to satire. You also write for a wide range of readers – children, young adult and adults. How do you understand what all these readers want?
What I like in books is to believe that there’s a real, living person writing this; who has set my imagination on fire, made me think, laugh, become a marshmallow (not too much though – they’re bad for you), be angry, outraged, happy, sad, whatever, with a rambling rambunctious story full of interesting (in various ways) people/children/animals/characters in very interesting situations… So that’s what I try and put in mine…
In “The Secret of the Falcon Heights” and in “The Deadly Royal Recipe”, an elder child parents a younger sibling. This is a very unusual detail, unnecessary for the plot. Is there any story/reason behind this?
In ‘The Deadly Royal Recipe’, Yogita is the mother her little brother lost because that’s what usually happens in such families and such things do happen to families.
In Falcon Heights it was more to show that it really should be no big deal for a pair of brothers to bring up their little sister, if the situation so demands, and they are no less the ‘macho’ for it. The little girl doesn’t do maids, the father is AWOL, but has sensibly taught his boys what they need to know, and they simply get on with the job (and do it unselfconsciously, and with great good humour). Why should it be such a big thing? (It alas is -but: point for discussion; stereotyping roles!)
What do you think about awards and recognitions? What role do they play in the career of a writer? What did you feel when you won the Crossword Award and Laadli National Media Award?
Sure, I guess they’re good for a writer, especially in a field such as writing for children, which is for the most, in India, unsung, unheard of and unread!
Both the awards were unexpected, but it was nice to know that you’re not alone while dealing with such issues (female infanticide in this case).
Find me at
Facebook: Once in a blue moon.
PlusMinus’n’More: Thank you Mr Lal, for being our guest on F-pages and sharing with us your experiences as a writer.