Nananda Sen speaks at Kolkata Literary Meet in Kolkata, Jan. 25. (Press Trust of India)

Nananda Sen speaks at Kolkata Literary Meet in Kolkata, Jan. 25. (Press Trust of India)

Actor, writer, child activist Nandana Dev Sen feels both films and books have the power to change the way one looks at the world, and in doing so, they can go a very long way in changing the world. (@Siliconeer, #Siliconeer, @NandanaDevSen, #NandanaSen)

She is equally passionate about both books and films “because I believe in the transformative capacity of cinema as much as I trust in the power of books, especially children’s books.”

Sen has recently come out with a new book for children – “Mambi and the Forest Fire,” an adventure about discovering strengths and celebrating the unique gifts that make every kid special.

Published by Puffin India, the book tells the story of a shy little monkey called Mambi who adores her older jungle friends.

“This first picture-book about Mambi the Marvel is a colorful jungle adventure about courage, friendship, and self-confidence – about unearthing the unique talents buried in every child. It focuses on embracing your own identity while celebrating difference; on the need to respect yourself while helping, and learning from, others,” she says.

Mambi came into her life, along with a room full of amazing children, in a shelter in Kolkata.

“The plan for the day was to encourage the kids to express themselves creatively, but because most had come from traumatic pasts – rescued from trafficking, or from the streets – this group was initially very shy.

“Though they were wonderfully creative and resilient, the kids had little confidence in themselves at first, and most didn’t believe they had any gifts worth sharing – that everyone else was, somehow, much better at everything, Sen told PTI.

Struggling to break the ice, she found herself conjuring up Mambi on the spot – Mambi, the shy little monkey who wants to be like her older, cooler jungle friends, but is more heroic than anyone else.

“And by the end of the afternoon, I was playing with a delightfully raucous, utterly irrepressible bunch of kids. It was the most incredible transformation I ve ever seen in one day – and one of the loveliest days in my life,” Sen says.

On Mambi, she worked very closely and intensively with her Dutch friend Saskia Pekelharing.

Sen s love for writing books for children grew naturally out of having worked with children for years, in the area of child protection.

“And being blessed with seven wonderful nephews and nieces (to whom Mambi is dedicated), who are a constant source of inspiration for me. In fact, I have another children s book coming out in 2016 in Europe and the U.S. – a bedtime story, fully in rhyme, called ‘Kangaroo Kisses’ (Otter-Barry Books).

I wrote this book for my oldest niece Hiya who never wants to go to bed!”

Sen says she has always been drawn to the freedom, fantasy, and fun that children s literature is suffused with.

In fact, my first poem was published in ‘Sandesh’ by Satyajit Ray when I was a child myself. And I started writing my first novel, most precociously, when I was 10 years old. In addition, my mother and grandmother both wrote extensively for children, and growing up in a house with an enormous collection of kid s books must have had something to do with it as well!

“The imaginative nonsense of Sukumar Ray, Lewis Caroll, and Edward Lear were my special favorites, along with Bengali and Russian fairy-tales, Buddhist and Hindu folklore, the fiction of Erich Kastner and Satyajit Ray, and of course, Asterix as well as Amar Chitra Katha,” she says.

Sen loves writing for young adults and kids, and she has been asked to write four more children s books in the next one-two years.

She’s working on a book for adults as well, tracing the evolution of a literary culture through the eyes of three generations of rule-breaking Bengali women.

“One of the books I’m most excited about writing this year focuses on bringing the Sustainable Development Goals (announced this September) into a child s line of vision. The objective is to familiarize kids from all over the world with these important new global goals; to make them aware at an early age, and in a fun, non-preachy and child-friendly way, about the greatest challenges facing the planet be it poverty, gender equality, illiteracy, climate change, preventable diseases, and so on.

“One reason why I love writing for children is because they have enormous power to make a difference. In 15 years, by when we are supposed to have met the SDGs, the children of today will be adults making important decisions not only about themselves, but about the world. They would have the power to change the face of the planet,” she says.

Asked from whom she draws inspiration for her writing, Sen says, “It depends on what kind of writing! But the primary muses for my children s books are my poet mother Nabaneeta Dev Sen, and my hyper-imaginative niece, Hiya Aparajita Kanjilal.”