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Dublin Family Joins Forces to Share Stories and to Inspire Young Readers

September 15, 2021

Recently, a rare trifecta was formed in our midst. It had nothing to do with horse racing. Rather, it was a cross-generational collaboration of love. Three siblings contributed their personal writings with the guidance of their maternal grandfather. Some of these stories are a decade old and they were carefully edited and then embellished with original artwork. The result of this collaboration yielded the now published and available book “Rishi’s Jungle Safari.”

Rijuta, Ritama and Ribhav Vallishayee have either matriculated or continue to progress through the Dublin Unified School District. Rijuta is in her second year at Rice University in Houston TX, Ritama is a junior and Ribhav a freshman at Dublin High School. Their proud grandfather, Sadhan Kumar De is a retired professor from the Indian Institute of Technology. He currently resides in Kolkata – the capital of the Indian State of West Bengal. Sadhan is a published author and one of his titles is “Two Beautiful Minds”: Untold Story of IVF Invention. He continues to create stories and the family will concede that he lit the spark that inspired his grandchildren to follow in his footsteps. “Rishi’s Jungle Safari” is a compilation of short stories from all three siblings and the senior De. To understand this journey, we were blessed to sit down with a segment of the family and they shared their thoughts.

Authors and Dublin High School Students, Ribhav (9th Grade) and Ritama (11th Grade) Vallishayee. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

OneDublin.org:  Please tell the story of how you and your siblings decided to collaborate with your grandfather on this project. Was this spontaneous or in the works for some time?

Ritama Vallishayee: “I started writing stories with my grandfather from a very young age (maybe from about 5 or 6). As these stories began to accumulate, my grandfather (maybe a year or so ago) had the most tremendous idea of compiling them into a collection of stories, with illustrations as well. Therefore, I would not say that the process was spontaneous in that to me, it has technically been in the works since we began writing stories together. To me, the whole process behind crafting this book and reflecting back on the stories I had written remains a testament to my growth as a person and the amazing connection I have with my grandfather.”

OneDublin.org: Your stories share some common themes including collaboration and compassion. Would you say that these are traits that you possess and are you sending a message to readers?

Ritama: “I would say that collaboration and compassion are traits that I possess, and I believe these traits are the most necessary for connecting to other people and forming meaningful links to those around us. It may seem like quite a predictable and banal concept, but several people, including adults, fail to realize this. Therefore, I believe that as a child, I intended to send this message to readers through my storytelling. Of course, there are not that many adults who expect to read a children’s book and learn something from it, but I find that there are many lessons within this collection of stories that even adults can learn.”

OneDublin.org:  Since you “lost” an onsite year in 2020-21 due to COVID-19, how are you planning to fully maximize your last two years at DHS?

Ritama: “I plan on maximizing my last two years at DHS by doing my best to participate in various activities, hanging out with my friends, and just doing my best to learn in person while I can. There are so many assets that DHS offers, and my favorite one just has to be the library. I have always had this immense love for reading, and during quarantine, oddly enough, I just never seemed to make time for it, even though I have so many books on my reading list. Now that I can physically spend time in the library, I find myself checking a book out at least once a week. I come to school a bit early, and it’s even become a tradition for me to sit in the library and read before school starts.”

Cover of “Rishi’s Jungle Safari”, beautifully illustrated by Pranab Paul. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

OneDublin.org: Explain to our readers how your grandfather guided/encouraged you to tell stories and to put them on paper. How has he been a mentor to you?

Ribhav Vallishayee: “My grandfather, throughout my life, has been one of the few people who really made me love the process of writing. When you write in school, everything has to be perfect, even when writing fiction, or for fun. You are graded on your creativity, and sometimes that took away my love of writing. However, when I was writing with my grandfather, it didn’t matter how well the story was written, and how perfect the grammar was, and I wasn’t given a grade on. When our grandfather told us we were going to publish the stories, we did edit them quite a bit, but that was still much more enjoyable, as they were stories with fond memories, and ones I enjoyed writing. Another aspect of this is that I was almost too young to write, so most of the time I would be telling the story by voice to my grandfather, and he would be the one actually writing. Also, my grandfather and I traveled within India and outside India, and most of my stories have some sort of inspiration from them. For example, the titular “Rishi’s Jungle Safari” was inspired by our trip to Kerala. I wasn’t allowed on a jungle safari with my dad and sister, which is one of the true parts of the story. Obviously, I didn’t actually run into the jungle, but that was one of my fantasies.” 

OneDublin.org: Your stories include some improbable combinations of characters including a Dragon and a polar bear. Is crafting these stories evidence of your love for all animals? If so, please explain.

Ribhav: “I really do love most animals, with the small exceptions of some invasive species. The two specific examples you mention here were my favorite animals at a young age. The polar bear is an animal I have been in love with for a really long time, because I was given a polar bear toy a long time ago, when I was a baby. Personally, I think that all animals matter, and that all of them have a part to play in our world, again with the exception of some invasive species that human brought to different places. Some of the especially weird character combinations, that have almost no relation to each other, were the result of me just listing my favorite animals at the point, and my grandfather and I making a story out of them.”

OneDublin.org:  While being denied an onsite promotion year at Fallon, how have you adjusted to life at DHS? Explain how it feels to reconnect with your peers on campus and in the classroom. 

Ribhav: “Being at school, and seeing my friends, and having extracurriculars to do, are all things I enjoy, and things that I have looked forward to coming back to school for. However, it is a really big step up from going to online school, (which was definitely easier), to in person high school. There is a lot more work, and a lot less free time. Waking up really early in the morning is really hard, especially since we live on the east side, so it’s a long drive to the high school. However, I really enjoy making connections with new people, and seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time at the high school. I think that online high school would have been boring, and in-person school has a lot of positives. For example, right now I am in the DHS marching band, which is something I wouldn’t be able to do online. Without it, I’d probably have a lot less friends and less fun than I do now.”

To ensure that each contributor is heard, we relied upon the student’s mother to complete the circle. Some readers may recognize Barna De as the beloved Media Technician at John Green Elementary School. She provides voice to both her father and eldest daughter. We were also graced with “bonus” quotes from Sadhan Kumar De.

Proud Mom (and John Green Elementary School Media Technician), Barna De. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

OneDublin.org: While Sadhan is a very accomplished man, it seems that he has been able to share his love of crafting stories with his grandchildren. How was he able to achieve this and what was his reaction to the finished product?

Barna De: “My parents were last in the U.S. in 2007 when Ribhav was born. During those early days, when I was busy with Ribhav, my dad kept the girls by reading books and telling stories to my daughters who were 2 and 5 years old at the time. After that we started traveling to India every summer. We spend 6-8 weeks with my parents each summer. Part of the time we would visit a new country and have new experiences with a new culture/traditions/food and part of it would be in India. Throughout these times (hotel rooms, delayed flights, long car rides) my dad would always engage in story time with the kids. As they grew older, they always wanted to tell their stories. My dad always encouraged them and I did too, because this kept them off devices. So every summer, it would be a fun process for them to write the stories with my dad. I think he is extremely happy how the book turned out to be and he is proud of this work with the kids.”

Sadhan Kumar De: “Like a friend, I could approach my grandchildren with new ideas/suggestions during their summer visits. Writing stories was one such idea, which they liked. Sometimes I used to propose to write a story with each of them jointly as a co-author and provided inputs about the storyline which were, of course, subject to changes by the grandchildren. I gladly accepted their views after discussion and made the changes. Often, they provided inputs and I suggested changes. We would often argue and then they agreed with the changes, not necessarily all of them- that I proposed. Although I wrote a few stories for the children often as their birthday gifts, I had felt that the children’s stories should be written by the children as authors, so that the characters could talk or act following the children’s thought process. Topics like animal rights and global environmental decay have entered into the story through the characters, but not forcibly thrust upon the authors to provide moral advice at the end of the story. In case I were an elementary school teacher, I would have played similar story writing games with my students, as I have done with my grandchildren.

I believe that playing such games of story writing with the children increases their self-confidence and ability to create something new. It was also amazing to observe how the children’s intellect grows artistically from say when they are 8 to 10 years old to say when they become 14-18 years old. Let’s take one example – Rijuta wrote “Owl-the Secret Agent” (Story No.1 in the Book) when she was about 10 years old and after 8 years she wrote “Chitwan-The Baby Rhinoceros” (Story No.13). The maturity developed in the span of eight years was amazing. Her writing skills and use of right words at the right moments as the story progresses take me virtually to a forest land and I can smell the aroma of the plants, friendliness of the monkeys and unseen entry of the undesirables in the forest. I will not be able to write what Rijuta has written at the age of 18. And I am proud of my feelings. This is my reaction to the finished product.”

OneDublin.org:  The artwork in the book is exquisite and seems to fit in perfectly. Tell us about Mr. Pranab Paul and did the authors give him free rein to create the illustrations? 

Barna De: “Another interesting event during our summer visits in India would be the art classes that children took with Mr. Pranab Paul. In an effort to keep them engaged in non-digital activities, we found Mr. Paul through some other friends, and he came home twice a week to teach them art and crafts. The kids looked forward to his visit. They would each draw, color and paint different things they are interested in and usually animals would be a common theme. Mr. Paul is an art teacher at a college in Kolkata and also runs a charity in Kolkata where he teaches art & crafts and helps children and women in the slums of Kolkata to be self-sufficient using hand-made crafts. I think the authors gave him the stories and asked for a couple of illustrations per story and sometimes mentioned their favorite part to help/guide him. We were all very excited and happy about how wonderful the illustrations turned out to be.”

The Vallishayee children with their art instructor and book illustrator, Pranab Paul. Photo by: Barna De

OneDublin.org: We must include your eldest daughter. How has her experience been at Rice University with academics and activities?

Barna De: “Riju is thriving at Rice. She loves being in Houston. She is planning to major in History and minor in Asian studies. She has joined the MOB (Marching Owl Band) at Rice and spends any free time that she has in the band room. This semester she is taking 5 classes, TAs, works at the bookstore, does Indian Kathak dance over Zoom and practices with the MOB a few times a week. She is also enjoying being part of the Executive Board of the Rice Historical Review (Rice University’s undergraduate History journal). Although the humidity is very different from home, she is enjoying every minute of it!”

We were pleased for the opportunity to sit down with this family so that we could share this fascinating tale that transcends generations. How rewarding it must be to effectively collaborate over distance/time zones to produce a finished product. More importantly, it was rewarding to witness how an elder family member continues to challenge and inspire younger people by showing that there really are no barriers to create something positive. OneDublin.org would like to thank the Vallishayee/De families for their willingness to share this tale.

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