Sunday, June 28, 2009

After many a ghisaai

If you passed by Chembur in the months from January to mid-May, you probably saw two people lying in a heap on the benches of diamond garden. If they looked exhausted and bitter and were muttering angrily at one another, that was probably me and Amit. We weren't going through a Giant Marital Crisis, though it sometimes did feel like that, but were working on wrapping up this book, this product of our two-year-toil which we now 'umbly present to you!

In case you're wondering, it's a book on the states of India - the 28 states and 7 union territories, to be precise. One doublespread, or two pages are devoted to each state. Each spread has a map, important facts on the state, and about 10 or 12 interesting things about it - covering aspects as vast as the history and geography of the state, its stories, its monuments, its dances, and its forests, national parks, biosphere reserves and endangered or special animals, if any. There are also about two to three indigenous art and craft forms which are described for each state. Each spread has about 12 illustrations by Amit, drawn and coloured by hand.

Our focus was basically to pique a reader's interest about this large and diverse country, to help them springboard into a deeper awareness of India. So we tried to stay off the beaten path as much as possible, tried to find and highlight issues that are rarely discussed in books on India for kids. Like the rebellions fought against the British by tribals in Central India prior to 1857. Or the story of how Islam, Judaism and Christianity reached Kerala. Or how Paithani saris of Maharashtra were often designed by Princess Niloufar, the daughter-in-law of the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Often we'd find this uber-cool fact, but not be able to back it up; or having backed it up, not be able to find a visual reference. If finding the information was tough, then letting go of some of it was even tougher. Picture this: on a spread with a map and about 12 to 13 nice, colourful drawings, plus a table of facts, how much room do you think text is going to get? So no colourful and scintillating metaphors, no extended descriptions, just the bare minimum prose, cut to a crisp.

Choosing what to put in was a huge struggle, and it meant some tough choices... Like, being a malayali, i felt that any TV commercial on Kerala would tell you about the Thrissur Pooram, but what about Edakkal caves and its neolithic carvings in the forests of Wayanad, that even I didn't know about? And what about the fact that that the Koodiyattam dance form, 2000 years old, was deemed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO? Not to forget Silent Valley or Sairandhiri Vanam, home to the lion-tailed macaque, saved from being made into a hydro-electricity project by conservationists?

So it was a continuous fight not just with ourselves, but also with the limitations of the software we were working with (the slightest text change, of an adn to an and would be enough to hide a word behind a drawing somewhere else on the spread) and the exhaustion we were feeling thanks to being so sleep-deprived.

Now, seeing this book in technicolour, it sort of makes us forget those months of exhaustion and bitter mutterings. Sort of like having a baby and forgetting those 9 wretched months of puking and gas. And labour.

So yes, please say Hello to our new baby and try to meet her at a bookstore or a Scholastic exhibition near you!

An interview with us by a student.
Read reviews here.