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Indian art finds a new panel in children's storybooks

There’s some good news, if you are looking for some on a Monday morning. India’s rich canvas of art forms, weaves and craft seems to have found a terrific platform to showcase its depth in all its vibrant glory.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Indian folk and fairy tale storybooks carried illustrations that featured less-than-representative (read: assembly line, boring, life-less) depictions of the landscape, its people, culture and colours — these were nowhere similar to its area of origin. Readers, be it the parent or teacher of the child, or the child, had to make do with these insipid representations of characters and scale that was presented to them. And then, there were cases where non-Indian illustrators were roped in to do the needful – call it lack of support for inbred talent, or the mindless aping of all things Western; justice didn’t seem to be done to these simple, practical lessons from Indian history, life and culture.

Barring Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha, Chandamama and a handful of risk-takers, few Indian publications were gutsy enough to showcase India, especially its rural persona, with its charm, earthy rustic hues and richness.

The centuries-old treasure trove of art works from across India’s length and breadth had become a sleeping, Kumbhakarna-like giant that had to be awakened, soon. Luckily, a few publishers decided to tread off the beaten track, 10-15 years ago, and get India back into its storybook panels and layouts.

Slowly but surely, we noticed the inclusion of work by unknown artisans from the hinterland as they proudly displayed their art work in our children’s storybooks.

India’s stories were being brought to life in the truest sense. From Bengal’s travelling Patua artists to Kutch’s appliqué wizards and Orissa’s ikkat weavers, we were treated to a fantastic showcase of India’s rich art of storytelling. This ancient art of using panels to depict stories and scenes from daily life seemed to have returned to tell tales to today’s children. This, even as the unknown artisan was being given a new platform to showcase his or her work, brought down from generation to another, in the oral tradition.

Not just with craft, designs and weaves, but even brush strokes were beginning to witness a sea of change. Gone were the days when Aesop’s Fables-like storyboards or dull, wintry palettes, often a misrepresentation of a vibrant India, were a staple in our storybooks.

We were, and still are (thankfully) witnessing a very distinctly Indian presence in our children’s storybook layouts. A direct and very positive implication of this surge to look inward also means an increasing number of options for book designers who must tap into this gigantic resource; it’s no longer regarded un-cool to bring Indian art to the fore via the storybook . To support this belief, we’ve been observing an increasing number of attempts and experiments in this form — of depicting Indian stories, and also hearing, and in good number, of the accolades that such titles are receiving at international book fairs and other platforms to celebrate book design.

Closer home, we’d love to see more of the intricate and immensely painstaking Warli art as well as other indigenous prints and designs make their way into our story books. Maharashtra’s rich designs, hues and shades ought to make its presence felt more strongly on this huge panoramic storyboard.

We’re hopeful, as we write this, that some bright spark is already drawing from this repository. Until then, we shall keep dipping into the Great Indian Storybook that is turning out to be more than a page-turner. 

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY

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