I just love the serendipity of the book fair – where you never know what treasure you might find. Or might not, for that matter! We found the sweetest little book at the Mumbai International Book Fair last week. We went because the guys who have the oddest books – small-time Kutchhi distributors Amit hobnobbs with - were going to be there. We scoured their throw-away boxes and found lots of little treasures. (The other find there was the
One book we found was a 1938 edition of The Story of Ferdinand written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson (yes, the same Lawson who wrote and drew Ben and Me - see below). It’s a deceptively simple and sweet story of a gentle, pacifist bull who is dragged into the bull-fighting ring – amidst much fanfare of the Banderilleros (whose job it is to stick long sharp pins on the bull to make him angry) and the Picadores (who do much the same job seated on horses) and last of all, the Matador with his gorgeous cape and sword. They are all terrified of Ferdinand who, as it turns out, only sits in the middle of the ring and sniffs the air which is full of the perfume of the flowers that the women spectators are wearing in their hair. Despite their best attempts, Ferdinand refuses to fight and is finally carted home, leaving behind a weeping Matador (who hasn’t been able to show off his beautiful cape, you see).
The book was variously considered pro-democracy by Hitler, and pro-Communism by Americans. To me, it’s almost fantastically dreamlike – I wish such pacifist protests worked; that states would listen to their people’s desire for peace and livelihood above all… Ferdinand has the most delightfully minimal drawings by Lawson – the pages are almost spare and stark somehow. Totally unlike the fun and exuberance of his work in Ben and Me. It’s different, but I think it's just as gorgeous!