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In conversation with Mitali Perkins: Creating ‘friends’, not ‘protagonists’

  • Published at 11:17 am November 9th, 2018
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

 Bangladesh can be the next powerhouse of women empowerment

Mitali Perkins was all smiles during her panel while talking to journalist Shuprova Tasneem. When asked why she writes only for a juvenile audience, she candidly replied, “Well, I don’t like adults, they are just dull!” She spoke highly of her mostly young adult reader base. She sincerely believes that children do not come with preconceived notions; they read more widely and have a free-flowing, flexible imagination that transcends borders. At her panel titled “Rickshaw Girl,” Mitali Perkins spoke of her creative process, how she finds inspiration from different parts of the world and, more specifically, her book, Rickshaw Girl. 

In choosing what realities to portray, she spoke of her incessant hunger for a “desh,” a home. Her pursuit to feature diverse voices, she shared, takes her around the globe, from Myanmar to the Sundarbans to India during the seventies to modern-day America. “Why specifically Bangladesh, though?” Shuprova asked, to which Perkins spoke of her Bengali roots. “My great grandmother was from present-day Bangladesh, and she was married off at the age of 9, my mother also married really young.” Perkins wondered what it would have been like if her great-grandmother had the same opportunities she had while growing up. She spoke with admiration of Bangladesh’s role in “empowering her girls,” with the help of microfinance and subsequent female entrepreneurship. To her, Bangladesh can be the next powerhouse of women empowerment, hence her decision to create a Bangladeshi protagonist, Naima, for her novel. 

Perkins puts great emphasis on her three Ps: people, place, plot, and believes that her creative process involves braiding the three into a single unit. ‘‘People” or her characters always come first. Then, she focuses on the plot, where high stakes and tension characterise much of the action. When Shuprova asked how she fleshed out her characters, Perkins proudly spoke of her responsibility of writing for a young audience. “You, as a non-fiction writer, tend to change people’s minds,” Perkins told her, “Yet I have the pleasure of shaping children’s hearts, and that too into becoming more responsible individuals.” Her characters, hence, have a human quality to them that helps her readers “become friends” with them.

With Rickshaw Girl soon to become a full-length film, Perkins sincerely believed that in Amitabh Reza Chowdhury’s able hands, Rickshaw Girl would become a truly Bangladeshi story and an authentic Bangladeshi experience.