Saturday, September 23, 2006

Illustration Friday - Phobia

My first post for Illustration Friday, after a year of watching from the sidelines!
This is an illustration I did last week for Time Out, Mumbai. It's about new mothers and their phobias about parenting. Being a first-time parent myself, I think it fits in perfectly with this week's theme - the Little Godzillas do manage to inspire lots of phobic feelings in us poor parents!

Friday, September 22, 2006

New Scholastic book!

My latest children's book from Scholastic arrived today! The Mystery of the Secret Hair Oil Formula is by Asha Nehemiah. It is about a swashbuckling Granny (Paati in Tamil) and her amazing invention - a super hair-growth tonic!
I did all the illustrations in pen and ink - my trusty old Rotring Rapidographs - and the cover was colored digitally. This style evolved from my endless doodling. I always thought that you needed a more 'polished' style to to illustrate for children. But it turns out that this style works really well too - the more quirky, the more kids like it!
I only wish Scholastic-India books were available in book shops here and were not just sold through school networks. The pleasure of seeing one's books on a display counter is quite something else...
Some illustrations from the book:

Sunday, June 11, 2006


This week has been eventful! Two books with my illustrations arrived in the post. The first one is a Ladybird – The Shepherd Boy – and the second is a Scholastic book – Grandpa Fights an Ostrich and other Animal Stories. YIPPEE!!

The Ladybird is written by Anushka Ravishankar, and the Scholastic one has animal stories by Ruskin Bond, Sampurna Chattarji and others.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mere paas Supremo hai!

The other day we unearthed a huge pile of old Indrajal Comics at a raddiwala and hidden among them was an Amitabh Bachchan comic! I had seen some of them when we were kids and didn’t think much of them then, but laying our hands on one of them now – in our crazed-collectors avatar – has been thrilling!

For those who came in late, some bright soul came up with an idea of developing a comic book series about Amitabh as a superhero called 'Supremo' back in the ’80s, wanting to cash on his popularity and perhaps his illness. Unlike AB himself, the series (published by IBH and written by one Pammi Bakshi) didn’t have a very long innings. Poor Gulzar (yes, the Gulzar) was the ‘Script Consultant’!

Now about the comic itself: the issue I have is called Supremo and the Dacoit Queen. The story is a sort of Balaji-meets-Chambal-saga. Amitabh just happens to be shooting with Manmohan Desai in the vicinity of the Chambal and saves the day by donning his Supremo avatar! The comic is quite sexist, with a Dacoit Queen who has a ‘fixation’ for kidnapping little kids and is ‘demented’. Her husband and child were killed by the Zamindar, which is when the poor woman lost it. So she now drugs kids and imprisons them in a cave. Till one solid whack on the head from falling on a rock – thanks to Supremo – makes her sane again! Pointedly, she is called Malan Devi.

The illustrations are not very great (the standard Bahadur kind of drawings). But what takes the cake is Supremo’s costume. Conventional superhero couture of undies-over-tights has been avoided, and Supremo has a piece of brown cloth draped coyly around his waist, held there by a hip-holster. What is thrilling though is the fact that everywhere Amitabh’s face is drawn in these frozen, movie-poster kind of expressions, as if it was copied from various photos and stills. Very sweetly, the issue also has a letter from Amitabh to the kids thanking them for their support during his illness.

Bad stories and execution, perhaps, but such quaint old-times sort of fun! And we are not complaining, after all it is a collector’s item! (Read the update on this one!!!)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

From the trenches

Writing this from a room clouded with the nasty, sharp reek of primer fumes. Horrible it is. To top it all, our painter is a zealous old man, determined to go that extra mile for us, while we keep trying to curb his enthusiasm and make him do less! He's disgusted with our lack of moral fibre and tenacity, and at our protestations. It's hot, it's stinky and there's that ghastly persistent cement dust all over the place... no amount of washing your feet can rid you of it. It follows you, unseen but felt, like a family curse.
Nayana is most disturbed by it all. We kept her at mom's for two days and when she came back, she looked up at the dark grey cement blotches on the wall and said, "Wot happen? Who bwoken nayanu house?" She informed us then that she was 'skaid' of it all. We're camping at our neighbour's place and it's confused the heck out of her!
Oh, and in a fit of pique, I went all Jean d'Arc and chopped my hair off in front of the mirror above the washbasin. I'm sure I shocked the primer-applying painter (not the oldie) in the kitchen out of one year of his life at least!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The French Connection

I came to Asterix rather late in life – at about 15. (Amit’s on a shoot, so can’t get the dates for him!) For a year or so after that, all I did was look for more titles and read them with an appetite that only burgeoned as it was fed. I felt then that I’d found Asterix too late in life, having wasted so many good, Asterix-savouring years!

But perhaps it was just as well. I was old enough to sense the genius, to relish the amazing illustrations and to savour the puns. I was also old enough not to let the story distract me from the various strains of pure genius in the books – the art, the story-telling, and the translation.

I love the series because it’s irreverent (none of Tintin’s right-wing politics here) and intelligent (what a range of puns!). It has a lovely sense of being anti-establishment. But what really makes it tick in English is the brilliant translation. I read a French Asterix some years back and I know now what most readers sense – that creating the English versions must have been almost like writing the stories from scratch! Puns have been reinvented, and names have been changed, adding a whole new dimension to the characters.

Like the chief’s name in the original is ‘Abraracourcix’, which I read somewhere means with your fists at the ready, sort of cocked for a fight. Now that changes to ‘Vitalstatistix’ in English, setting off a whole paradigm change. To us the chief is an important man, but one who is also being ribbed for his girth – his statistics. His willingness to fight isn’t foregrounded here, though we do know that he is brave. To our minds, he is, above all, a fat, important guy! The gentle ridicule starts off here.

I love all of them but my favourites are:

Asterix and the Normans (especially that scene when Justforkix looks up and sees all these horrifying, blue-eyed Vikings staring down);
I love Obelix and Co. (unforgettable slimy management-type, with his lovely pidgin and his full-on, MBA-style condescension);
Mansions of the Gods is my fantasy-favourite – imagine a whole tract of forest being cleared for a gated township, and then being reforested magically overnight – sigh;
The Soothsayer I adore for its brilliantly cinematic illustrations – especially stunning is the scene where the soothsayer enters dramatically with thunderclaps in the background;
Another all-time hit is Corsica. I love it for its thrilling Mafiosi moments and the hilarious machismo of the men;
Britain, Switzerland and Cauldron are also well-loved because of the gorgeous layering of the text and the artwork (the ghastly, P G Wodehousian Brits, the sweet but obsessive Swedes, and the wily Chief Whosemoralsarelastix in the Cauldron!).
Cleopatrafor her nose, and Squareonthehypoteneuse, the architect!

René Goscinny died early, at 51. That must have left Uderzo, his comrade-in-arms, with so much artistic energy, but no one to ideate with. So he’s been writing and drawing the books of late, and I must say – regretfully – that there’s a serious drop in the inventiveness of the stories. Which is an unbearably sad tribute to a brilliant writer…

Anthea Bell, one of the translators, has written a detailed article on the challenges of translating Asterix.

And for those of you who are interested, here are Bengali and Hindi versions!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Shanaani Chidiya

Here’s yet another Nayana post, with due apologies. Mea culpa. But there is a children’s literature slant to it, so please just stay with me!

Ok, Nayana is one of those kids who hates TV, and will not watch cartoons or music TV (unless it’s specifically the picturisation of a song she likes – say Kajara re, or Bulla). But she’s got hooked on to an old NCERT-Films Division film made for good ol’ DD called Ek aur Anek. Many of you probably remember the short from your own childhoods. It’s got an unforgettable song that goes: bela, gulab, juhi, champa, chameli / phool hai anek kintu mala sirf ek hai. And it combines the Nehruvian ideals of socialism and secularism, along with a lesson in grammar!

Despite its vintage – the ’70s – the film is lovely little gem. It’s got a great narrative, fantastic art, and shrill as the soundtrack is, it’s also very catchy. Nayana watches it open-mouthed. She loves the didi and the kids and the whole shebang. Till, that is, the hunter shows up, and then she lurches back in Amit’s hand, terrified of the maan (‘man’). You can hear her heart beat faster and she cringes, till the birds fly off to get their nets cut by friendly mice. Then she’s happy and when the song goes chatur chidiya, sayaani chidiya, she triumphantly warbles along, shanaani chidiya… and that’s where this post gets its title.

I think what’s charming about this film is its narrative quality, which is layered and yet so easy to understand. And it’s refreshingly innocent. Is that communicated to Nayana somehow? Obviously she doesn’t understand the dynamics at play in the narrative.

But listening to the song and watching the kids play together, I’m sure we could all – like her – sense the joy, the wisdom and the hope!

For those of you who have the time and the inclination and broadband, download the video and get the lyrics here.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Nayana hits the bottle!

Small poster paint bottles hold an immense fascination for Nayana. Wawa botil, she calls them. Being basically lazy, and a practical sort of mom, I let her play with the bottles, but didn’t let her discover what was inside them. Trust the impractical parent, the truly creative one, to help her do that! Before breakfast yesterday, Amit handed her a brush and they explored the insides of the luscious bottles.
This is her work, with her at the helm and on the brush. When we put it up, she frowned at it and then said imperiously, “Dimove!” which is herspeak for “Remove!”
Not quite pleased with her first efforts at an artwork? Hmm… I wonder who that reminds me of! (see post called On Working Together below).

Friday, March 31, 2006

Back to the drawing board!

No post from the illustrator half in a long time. Been busy busy with some filming assignments (the rozi-roti) and lots of illustration work. A Ladybird title for Puffin and a book of Animal stories for Scholastic, two covers for Puffin/ Penguin, and not to mention a mega-24 illustration assignment for Time Out, Mumbai.

The Ladybird book was the most eventful, with the art director scrapping ALL the illustrations submitted in the first round (12 spreads)! Kaboom!! A month’s work down the drain! But the art director said that she knew I was capable of delivering better stuff. The worst thing was that I knew she was right. The illustrations were just not happening – no apparent style, not great watercolor work and no character. An illustrator’s nightmare, in short. Just gritted my teeth and started off on the fresh lot. Don’t play safe – that was the mantra I gave myself – go OverTheTop!

After investing in a new set of water-colours, getting some good paper and waking up at 4am every day, I had a pretty good set to send off for approval. After a couple of days the reply came. “We all love it! Go ahead with the rest!” the art director said. Hurrah! Hallelujah!

Note to myself (and fellow illustrators!): Don’t be complacent, don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t be disheartened if somebody says your work is shit…and most importantly – don’t skimp on art-materials! Here are two illustrations from the new lot. The old ones now line the loo-window to stop the pigeons from invading… They too are scared of the baaaad illustrations!


Friday, March 24, 2006

A mulligatawny of emotions...

Don’t let anyone kid you. Being a parent is a weird, complex, lovely job. I’ve been one for a little over a year now. How do I feel? Sleepy. Yes, incredible sleep deprivation is the overriding emotion even at the end of 18 months. When I went to my GP with a succession of colds and coughs four months after Nayana was born, he said something that seemed profound to me then, “Most new mothers fall sick, feel tired and depressed because of lack of sleep. That’s a bigger drain on your resources than breast feeding.” My eyes welled up. Here was the truth at last: not hormones, resentment, hunger, or selfishness. It was lack of sleep that was making me so miserable and angry. You see, I’m a seven-hours-a-night sort of gal, and with Nayana around, I was averaging a mere three!
We’ve moved on since then. Nayana’s older and sleeps better, but I’m still on auto-mom-mode. It’s like there’s a watchdog inside me, listening, listening for the slightest sniffle, the tiniest of moans, and the watchdog never rests. Did baby wake up because of a bad dream? Or did an ant bite her? Is it colic? Something worse? That’s when I think of children in institutions and wonder about their care. Even if they are clothed, sheltered, fed and well-tended-to, who hugs them and comforts their nameless fears? That’s the second word I’d use to describe my feelings about motherhood: guilt. Sheer, heart-wrenching guilt about so many children without moms, grandmas, dads to hold and comfort them. With no one to stimulate their growing minds, and no one to coax them to learn that seemingly-simple task of eating well… I always wanted to adopt, believing that it’s immoral to create more kids when there are enough on earth already who need love. But life – and family – has a way of getting around your best intentions.
And there’s another feeling, of course, one that’s the mainspring of our urge to become parents: pride. And a sense of wonder. At Nayana’s many perfections, and at her lovely little imperfections. There must be some atavistic joy we get out of seeing ourselves replicated. How selfish, I tell myself, but oh how nice. She reads books briskly, turning pages with all the concentration and confidence of a Mrs More going thru files in a government office. She sings songs and laughs at our ‘jokes’; loves being hugged and tickled; tells us stories, shortened telegraphically; plays with her doll and becomes their ‘Nayanu chechi’ (or didi), and ‘feeds’ them; has set fears, likes, dislikes. Like me, she loves books, food and talking. Like Amit, she loves music.
But for all that, she is her own person. She has traits of generosity, concern and cleanliness that she hasn’t got from either of us. It is fun to watch a child grow – and to attribute claims of genetics to her… to spot a mirrored feature, a similar reaction. I know that she is a combination of her innate nature and of the things we expose her to. And I firmly believe that if we were different parents, she’d be a different kid. So much for genetics! As someone who’s always enjoyed being with kids, I’d say that watching a child – any child – grow is fun. Even if they aren’t from the same gene pool as you!

PS: Speaking of reading, I found an interesting article by a developmental psychiatrist who is also a dad. It’s not online, so till Amit figures out how to link it, please do mail me if you’d like to read it. Nayana is a passionate book lover! Current chart-toppers are: Dr Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, Goodnight Moon, various Nursery Rhymes books (with singalongs by any present adult), If you give a mouse a cookie…, and many more!

Sunday, March 19, 2006


What is it about us and book exhibitions? I look down my nose at friends and relatives who turn into panting fiends when let loose in a clothes store. But bung us into a book exhibition, and both Amit and I change. We transmogrify miraculously into drooling, slavering shopaholics; crazed, breathless, and obsessive, buying books we don’t need, wanting some we’ll never be able to afford.

My cheeks get flushed; determined and competitive, I dart around looking for bargains; and pick up piles of books. Amit is the more measured of the two. He is a slow searcher, combing thru racks in a painfully slow fashion till he finds the real gems. Then, flushed and happy, we meet at the counter and have a weeding-out session. This appears like a quiet, adult discussion, but actually, it can set the tone of our relationship for a few days. Usually we chuck out the same stuff, but sometimes one of us has to give away a favourite which has been rejected by the other’s cold, businesslike eye. And the sense of being sacrificial, of having been wounded or wounding the other, stays for days.

We love the Fort Book Depot’s exhibition that’s on at Chembur just now. They have all kinds of yummy books – practically no new novels, but well, frankly, strange, obscure, delightful stuff that you’ll never find anywhere else. They also have some lovely kiddie books… We’ve been thrice, and spent obscene sums, but every day I find myself wandering in and chancing upon some books that I simply must have.

Yesterday, we went back. Amit and this friend – let’s call him Hemant for now – were rooting through the cartoon books section, and Hemant picked up a ratty-looking book called Toons for our Times. I wasn’t with them, but just happened to turn around at that very moment (do you get the fatedness of all this??). And just as Hemant was opening it to look at the contents, I darted forward like a giant locust and grabbed it out of his hands, shrieking, “Ohmygod, Bloom County!!” Left the poor guy with no choice but to let me buy it.

Bloom County is an amazing strip – a sort of precursor to Calvin in some ways, but a lot more obscure, a lot more cruel about the world we live in, a lot less self-conscious. I feel that its creator, Berke Breathed, is startlingly talented. I got hooked when a friend – Nandita – leant me another BC book called Billy and the Boingers Bootleg years back. I suspect that one of my ‘friends’ borrowed it and lost it (the person shall remain unnamed). I also found an early Doonesbury, drawn when G B Trudeau accompanied the US president to China in the ’70s. You can always walk into a store and buy a book, or even – in the case of these rare cartoon books – order one online. But to stumble upon a rare book unexpectedly, at an obscure exhibition, gives you a giddy, joyous tingle all over! Sighhh… This must be what the poets call sheer, serendipitous bliss…


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mario and the Secret of the Undying Memory

I have this crystal-clear memory of my Class 1 English text book. Which is quite something, given the large-holed-sieve that usually passes for my brain. It’s just that the images were so vivid and beautiful. They were drawn by the artist-illustrator Mario Miranda. The book was nothing fancy; it was just was a simple two-colour job (which means it had black, white and one other bright colour that the artist had to use intelligently so that readers wouldn’t miss the fantastic-though-expensive effects of multi-colour). And it had the wonderfully weird story of Dhondu and the Rotten Eggs, which, as you can see, is still emblazoned in my mind simply because Mario’s Dhondu was so delightful.

Mario’s figures were rounded, squat and goggle-eyed. His lines – thick and yet amazingly fluid – created human figures that were paunchy, solid, and decorated with small, exquisitely-funny flourishes. The irony was gentle and inclusive of us as children. All of it was memorable and enjoyable not because of the text, but because of Mario’s jewel-bright visuals! I wish I knew art better, so that I could discuss his work more eruditely. All I can do now is speak of the sheer joy his work brought.

As I grew up, so, surprisingly, did Mario. His figures grew longer, darker, more serious. It felt almost as if his style was evolving with me – which of course wasn’t true. It’s just that his lines were so distinctive that no matter how his treatment changed, you could always tell it was him. It felt good to have at least one artist whose work could be recognized without having to squint at the signature.

The truly amazing thing about Mario’s work is just that: no matter what he’s drawing, his style remains distinctive, though the treatments – and therefore the end results – vary. So whether it’s the delightful mural at Café Mondegar, with its joyfully hilarious caricatures; or a restrained, poetic, scrupulously-drawn series of tiles on
Goa; or a book on Paris with stipled, dark, meditative sketches on the city’s alleys and cafés; or a children’s book, with its transparent and endearing figures – you can always tell a Mario!

PS: We've been unusually and uncomfortably busy - which is why we haven't posted in so long! Sorry!