Friday, March 09, 2007

Motifs with a motive

Illustrator Sonali Biswas tells AMRITA TALWAR about her work for Geeta Dharmarajan's latest children's book
(Metroplus, The Hindu, February 8, 2007)

Over 400 million people in villages, towns and cities depend on the river Ganga for their daily needs. Instead of protecting the river, people pollute it by dumping sewage and chemicals, create soil erosion and endanger the water species. While environmentalists try to put two and two together to undo this, author Geeta Dharmarajan has come up with a simple solution: she along with illustrator Sonali Biswas has used the tool of katha (story). In "Ma Ganga and the Razai Box", brought out by Geeta's publishing house Katha, she has not only narrated the problem but has offered a solution too. She feels that stories reach out to people and can change their outlook towards things.

This is the story of Yasho, a young girl who saved her village by softening Ganga's fury the same way as Lord Shiva did. Ancient myth tells us that Shiva took the weight of the mighty Ganga on his head and allowed the water to come out slowly through his locks, which prevented the river's force from destroying the earth. In the same way young Yasho planted trees, and their roots, which resemble Shiva's matted locks, helped in arresting soil erosion.
Says Sonali, "After reading the script I realised that the illustrations had to be well-researched. I consulted books, magazines and the Internet. I visited the hill state of Uttaranchal to work out the details and depict the village folk."

The various illustrations such as Shiva's matted locks, roots of the trees, Yasho's portrait, Ma Ganga and the Razai box are beautiful and symbolic. Sonali has drawn the sketches on rice paper and used the hues of green, blue, brown and earthy colours. Her motifs for "Razai Box", carvings on the door have been derived from Uttaranchal folk art. For Shiva's illustration Sonali was inspired by the sculpture of Shiva in the Elephanta caves.

The favourite

But her favourite illustration is the razai box. For that, Sonali created a box and decorated it with a motif used in Kumaoni floor paintings.

"I associated it with wooden boxes in which we put our quilts. After that I checked out various Kumaoni paintings and created a motif. It was ritualistic and a symbol of hills," says Sonali.

Sonali has been illustrating for children for over a decade. She is the recipient of the Chitra Katha Award 2003 for Outstanding Illustrations for "One Lonely Unicorn". She has also received the Runner-Up award from Noma Concours for Children's Book Illustrations in 2000 and an Honourable Mention at the Biennial of Asian Illustrators, Japan in 2002.

"Illustrating for children is all about colours, fun, font and clarity. Drawings should be emotive, creative but not too confusing. I get a lot of satisfaction when I illustrate for children. I feel my paintings can breathe."

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