Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Serendipity is a nice thing

Honestly, it is! Sampurna got us two really lovely treasures in the last fortnight. One was Down by the bay… which is adorable and delightful, and has given baby n a new love for nonsense… the book has lyrics which are easy to remember and especially, are easy to add on to! It goes Down by the bay where the watermelons grow, back to my home I dare not go / For if I do, my mother will say: have you ever seen llamas eating their pajamas, down by the bay? The last bit gets goofier and goofier till you’re tempted to think up your own most nonsensical collocation. It was found, Sampurna says, at a book sale in Hyderabad, and was one of those things you buy and think you’ll gift some kid, and then feel a bit possessive about as time passes and you feel that it’s starting to look good in your house! Well, I’m thrilled n got it, because we just love it!!

But the best find has been, I think, the other book that Sampurna got us when she visited one morning. A thin, not very colourful, rather moody looking picture book called Tuesday. Leafing through it quickly, I said something daft like, better not show it to n, she’s kind of prone to getting scared of dark stuff. Well, more fool me. Because as Sampurna and I started looking through the book more, not only did we get excited about it, but baby walked in and got all thrilled about the flying frogs too!*

Yes, Tuesday is a rather dark, bizarre-but-fun book about a night, one Tuesday, around 8 pm, when frogs, seated on lily pads took off and flew over small-town America. The whole treatment is one of sinister calm. Frame by frame the frogs lift off, startle some fish and a rather grim turtle, fly into a suburb, scare a dog, watch some tv, startle a late-night snacker, and then, with dawn, plop back into their bog and continue being quiet and grumpy. The next morning there’s this amazingly TV-like freeze-frame of a ‘crime’ scene. There’s an All-American ’tec rubbing his chin and examining some lily pads on the road, while the late-night snacker hysterically tells his tale to gawking reporters. And next Tuesday, at around 8 pm, the next lot of animals take off. They are flying pigs. End of book.

Thank god, whatever his reasons, Wiesner chose to draw frogs thru the books and not pigs. The pigs are funny, but the frogs are goofy, dreamy, mischievous, surreal, and a whole lot more!
What I loved about the book are two things: 1. every time you look at the book – and I mean this literally – you discover something new. Every time you show it to someone new, s/he discovers something else! Even the sense of the book takes its time unfolding itself. And the more you discover, the more your spine tingles with the geniosity of it all! Siiiigh. I think I’m in love. 2. With a subject like flying frogs, it's easy to go all twee. But Wiesner is realistic; grim, almost. And wonderfully moody. You'll read more about his reasons in an excerpt from his speech at the Caldecott awards. It’s delightfully insightful though a bit long. But your patience will be rewarded – especially if you’re in the book trade and interested in this sorta thing!

If you want to find out about Tuesday, click here, and to see the actual creative process here.
Moral of the story: Long live book fairs which sell slightly ratty books that seem - and only seem - not so exciting. Because that's where all the treasures are!

*In her book of poetry that came out in 2009, Sampurna had a surprise for us: a poem by her on n, and her love for this book. Here, after too long, it is!

For Nayana

Every Tuesday, the frogs fly off the pages of the book I meant for your parents.
And yet, you are the one who loves it the most, the epiphany of frogs as they fly.
Do you dream of them, larger than clouds or lily-pads, lighter than feathers?
With their eyes on the back of their heads, do they say hello, goodbye?

From Sampurna Chattarji's `The Fried Frog and Other Funny, Freaky, Foodie, Feisty Poems'

Once again, thank you, Shampoo!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The bearable dullness of being

I think it’s called the nesting urge, and I suspect it sets in at the beginning of pregnancy. It’s a state of mind where you become more inward-looking, more interested in yourself and the little being within, and less concerned with the outside… And it seems to go on endlessly! Two and a half years later, I still feel like I’m under the influence. Old friends who have known me as a free-spirited, restless sort, wonder who died and made me into a fat, contented hausfrau. New friends probably look at me and think, yeah well, she’s like that only… The truth is that right now there is a small funnel, about three feet high, which quietly draws away all my energy, and my interest in plays, parties, movies, and even the in the little nurturing I used to do of myself! Only work is allowed to sneak in now and then.

But the same urge – nesting, protecting one’s young – has also made me a believer in gratitude. If a day doesn’t have any disasters in it – cuts, head-bangs, major illnesses – I’m grateful. If we can throw in an outing or some beetroot-paint fun or some paper mashing, that makes me happy. I’m also aware, suddenly, of how totally privileged we really are. We have a house which (for now at least) the government can't throw us out of overnight, rendering us Homeless; there’s fresh, reasonably clean water for my baby to drink and frolic in; if she’s ill, we can afford good treatment – no one will stick needles into her without our express approval (for what it’s worth); we can afford to buy her clothes, blankets and things to keep her warm; we can feed her good, healthy food; we have access to a good education for her. If a day is dull, if nothing scary happens, that is good!

With such a nest-focussed life, where dull = good, people wonder how I don’t drop off the planet out of boredom. And truth be told, I do feel like skipping off the sphere sometimes, but most days it’s illuminating to sit down and be such a part of someone else’s universe… Soon she’ll be older, bigger, will have friends to meet and worlds to discover on her own. She’ll shrug me off and then I’ll creep back slowly into the open, blinking at the sun, feeling positively Neanderthal and wondering what to do with myself. And perhaps trying to re-discover the spirit I lost. So it goes and so it goes. Looks like all clich├ęs have a grain of truth after all!

Saturday, February 03, 2007


It's here, it's here! My copy of Bloom County - Five years of basic naughtiness!!!! Can I describe my joy? Ok, think of delirium tremens, multiply with delight, add some pure, old-fashioned snow-white greed, and lots and lots of joy... that just about begins to sum up what I'm feeling like. (How much do I love Bloom County? See post.) Mike, purveyor of fine nonsense, you shouldn't have! :D