It’s a cold rainswept evening in New York as one speaks to Jugal Hansraj. The actor-filmmaker is in buoyant spirits, with his new book, The Coward and The Sword having just been acquired by HarperCollins Publishers India. This is not Hansraj’s first book, though. His first children’s fiction novel titled, Cross Connection-The Big Circus Adventure, was published in 2017. However, instead of veering towards another genre for his second book, he has persisted with children’s books. One asks him what motivates him to continue in this space. “I have always been a voracious reader since childhood, poring through Enid Blyton books, Hardy Boys, and more. Even now, always have a book on the bedside,” he says.
Though writing for children today, with their limited attention spans taken up by streaming platforms and television, comes with its set of challenges, Hansraj feels his style of storytelling might keep them engaged. “Stories can get complex with subplots. However, I keep it simple. There is one destination to reach through my stories,” he elaborates. “Having said that, I don’t dumb it down. I realise I am writing for a very intelligent readership. Kids are very conscious these days.”
The story of The Coward and The Sword is based in the kingdom of Kofu, ruled over by the brave King Rissho and his wife Queen Kanito. However, while the land is happy and peaceful, trouble is brewing within the royal family, with the 16-year-old prince, Kadis, being a timid and anxious boy. The story follows his adventures, as he embarks on a trip into the enemy territory of Molonga with his uncle, Shonin. He goes with peace in his heart and the mystical sword of Kofu in his scabbard. The saga questions if peace will win against war.
With children absorbing news of violence daily, this seems like a pertinent question to ask. For Hansraj, who has been studying Buddhism for many years, the trigger was a saying by a 13th century monk from Japan, who said that a sword is useless in the hand of a coward. “It teaches that bravery lies not in the sword but in the person wielding it. The idea came from that one line and then I developed it into 50,000 words,” he laughs. Hansraj took his time to write the story, which might be set in a fantasy realm, but is based on very real notions of bravery, self-belief, friendship and peace.
Being a filmmaker, he extends his visual vocabulary to the book. He envisions the stories like a movie, with scenes, shots and angles in mind. “Often while writing dialogues, I was reading them out as I typed. One day my wife walked in, thinking I had gone crazy and was talking to my laptop,” laughs Hansraj. The book is not the only thing keeping him busy. With streaming platforms offering a space for experimentation and new formats, he too is developing a show in collaboration with producers in Mumbai. “The kind of subject we are exploring might not have earlier made it to a film format. But OTT has changed all that. It’s liberating,” he adds.