Thursday, November 26, 2009

Artful storytelling

The Looking at Art series happened quite by chance (as most good things in life do). Thanks to Tulika it came into being, otherwise the books would’ve probably just remained ideas. I’d sent a novel that I’d written to Tulika when they wrote back saying that they were focusing more on picture books. That’s when I sent them a draft of Barefoot Husain. They got back instantly. It fit perfectly into a series that they had already launched with a book by Paritosh Sen. It was a perfect match! What’s more, they wanted books on other famous artists as well. 
 At first, I thought it would be challenging to come up with four different story lines that evoked the spirit of each artist. But gradually, as I researched every artist, their distinctive styles and their personalities, themes began to emerge. And soon, I found that the entire picture had fallen into place. 
I was soon going to discover that writing the text and actually executing it in print are two different ends of the spectrum. While Tulika seemed to be making headway in finding the paintings that were associated with the text, acquiring the rights to print them was quite another story. It took over two years. There were hiccups, roadblocks and refusals, but I’m soon learning that this is all part of the process. And today, finally, when I stand with a copy of the four books, the buzz of excitement in my head is unshakable.
Event: 'Meet the Author' session, Vasant Valley School, New Delhi
Armed with that heady feeling, I walked into Vasant Valley School in New Delhi for a ‘Meet the Author’ session. I’d already sent them reading copies in advance. I entered to find an eager set of Class 3s, curious and full of questions and expectations. They were convinced that I was going to demystify the world of writing for them. 

I went through a quick introduction of each artist and a famous work done by them. We then went on to read, The Veena Player, the book on Ravi Verma. At the end of it, to my delight, they were full of questions and astute observations- ‘Is the Veena player the most famous painting of Ravi Verma?’, ‘ Where is the story set? Where is Valsa from’, ‘How many days do you take to write a story?’, ‘Who is the main character of your book?', 'Is it Valsa or Aunty Prima or the Veena player?’.... 

I then went onto speak about some basics about writing. I was pleasantly taken aback that a cross section of seven and eight year olds were so aware of beginnings-middles-ends, character, setting and one of them even asked me about pacing in a story! My only real contribution to their already clever writing skills was that they must plan their story in advance. Finally, Madhvi, their teacher, led them out, albeit unwillingly.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing this series on Husain, Jamini Roy, Ravi Verma and Amrita Sher-Gil. India has much to offer in terms of great leaders, artists, musicians, culture and history. While it’s important to know the Van Goghs and the Da Vincis, it’s equally  important to learn about Husain. The way forward is to bring our heritage to young readers in a way they can relate with it. Let’s be creative. Not pedantic.  And that way the coming generation will be asking for more.
-Anjali Raghbeer, Author