The Emperor's new storyboard
The story and history
The challenge: This is my first book for children, and as I wrote it, I kept trying to remember what it was like to read as a kid. As we get older, we all become more tolerant, in a polite kind of way, of mediocrity. We start second-guessing ourselves, 'Everyone likes it, so how can I not?'. As a kid, you either love a book or you don't read it. And those are the best books (at any age), the ones that grab you by the collar and don't let go until you're done.
A panel depicting Mughal emperor Babur seated in his garden, Bagh-e-Wafa on a little hill surrounded by flowers and a stream, where he encountered a large bird that they called Tragopan. Illustration Courtesy/The story of babur, Goodearth publication and Puffin Books
As I was writing drafts of Babur, Simran (Lal) was reading them to her children, which was a great help to me because she'd tell me what they liked, what they wanted more of. And now that the book is out, I'm hoping for more reactions, from kids and their parents. I am keeping my fingers crossed!
Parvati Sharma, writer
Making the book happen: Before this, as I said, I knew very little about Babur. Raiders from the North is pretty much all I'd read about him, but that was a bit too battle-heavy for me, so I hadn't really thought of Babur's life as one I'd want to write about. Then, while we were discussing Goodearth's line of children's books, Swati Mitra (executive publisher at Goodearth Publications) gave me her copy of the Babur Nama.
And I was very taken with it — it's Babur's memoir, but he writes them like a private diary, with no self-consciousness, self-aggrandisement. He writes about his father having to hold his stomach in, or when his tunic ties would break, about a teenage crush he had; he gets really excited about planning his gardens in Kabul, and about all-night drinking parties; he describes every building and plant he sees, the taste of everything; and he loves to describe raids and battles and weapons. It's a real joy, as a source, the Babur Nama, because it's just chock-full of detail — I mean, a king whose tunic ties burst open? You can't make that up.
The Story of Babur, Parvati Sharma and Urmimala Nag, Rs 695, Goodearth Publication & Puffin Books, at bookstores and estores
You can't read the Babur Nama at a go. There's too much information. So I also read a few other books and articles about Babur, to get a larger picture of his life and times. The Great Moghuls by Bamber Gascoigne was a particularly good read. The Emperor's Writings (a fictionalised autobiography of Akbar, by Dirk Collier) was another book I enjoyed, and from which I learnt a lot about Mughal battle strategy. This is the 'story' of Babur, not the 'history' — I've taken incidents, details, legend, and extrapolated/fictionalised them to make a story. The prank the kids of Osh would play on travellers — Babur describes that, but he didn't do it himself. The story of his death is pure legend.
— Parvati Sharma, writer
Bringing the book to life
The story of Babur was a very different experience altogether as it spanned the protagonist's lifetime. From visualising Babur's childhood to that of a parent required developing and identifying with the character through various stages of his life. Not to forget the vast and diverse geographical expanse of his empire.
Ready for the battle of Samarkand at nightfall
Ours is a culture, wonderfully rich in its visual history. We decided to create a more contemporary style of illustration drawing from the Mughal miniatures as Simran Lal and Swati Mitra suggested, with its attention to detail, flora and flavour.
A map showing Babur's conquests
Kids are flexible visual readers, they can linger over images with a time defying immersion that grown-ups tend to lose.
Babur as King of Samarkand. Illustration Courtesy/Goodearth Publication and Puffin Books
Young Babur as a warrior
The challenge, hence, has been to keep up with being able to keep them riveted, though Parvati's words have already achieved that and more.
— Urmimala Nag, illustrator
Design and inspiration
Design meets storytelling: Design and stories are interrelated. Designs give form to ideas and become vehicles to communicate stories through colours and imagery — engaging everyone in a dialogue that motivates and inspires. When words and design are effortlessly combined together, the story will travel from person to person, packed with emotions and will create powerful memories.
Babur was referred to as Little Tiger
How different is this book? Many of us have grown up on imported children's books from the West with some exceptions of Indian children's books. Though the space is filled with illustrated books, there is still a gap and lack of crossover Indian books with an Indian style and sensibility.
I wanted to create books that ignite their curiosity about where we come from and who came before us, to excite them about our own culture and country, to give our little readers joy through enchanting storytelling and to create a series of the highest quality books written from an Indian point of view. I thought that was important. What also makes this book unique is that it is fun and engaging not only for kids but their elders too.
— Simran Lal, Good Earth