The Riyaaz Academy for Illustrators was seeded by the Parag Initiative as an effort to build a cadre of trained children’s illustrators who understand children and reading. The Academy aims to enable an understanding of children’s literature, build perspectives and train students to uncover the sub-text, digging deep into the text and identifying the underlying thoughts. During my recent visit to its Hoshangabad campus I got an opportunity to discover how Riyaaz students were approaching illustrations to poems and stories.  One exercise caught my attention – every student in the class had illustrated the poem Sau Pedon ke Naam.

Each illustration was unique, non-literal, giving us a peak into how the illustrator had approached the poem, understood it and wanted to convey it.  Multiple narratives and interpretations emerged and I spoke to a few to understand their points of view and what had inspired their illustration.

I have taken the perspective of Tree Blindness. The last para is poignant and depicts the relationship of decline of interconnectivity with nature. We can walk down the same road every day and not see the trees. We wouldn’t notice it if the trees were cut one day. There are so many people on earth but we do not notice them… Humans ignore each other and they ignore the tress similarly. The poem has so many layers to unfold. It was challenging to depict the crowd and the movement in the crowd. The faculty guided me in this. The illustration should be free but contained. At some places I had done too much and in the wrong places. So I did multiple variations before we were all satisfied – Barkha Chaudhary

My thought process while conceptualizing the art work majorly involved a very strong childhood memory of my grandfather and I building collection of coins, stamps and cards amongst other things. Having felt a deep rooted connection with it while reading the poem, I decided to give the illustration a similar direction. I worked on the assumption that the kid in the poem must have kept a journal and made drawings of the trees/leaves the grandfather talked about. Through the journal pages flying across the sheet, apart from creating a feel of melancholy and nostalgia, I have attempted to symbolize the loss of trees over the years and over generations — Saumya Shukla

When I read the poem I was thinking of the grandfather as an advocate for trees and a crusader. I imagined him saving all the seeds and leaves of trees for posterity and to pass on the knowledge to future generations. I imagined a truck where he kept all his treasures – seeds, leaves, roots of all the trees he knew — Anup

When I read the book it made me picture a rich vibrant rain forest. What I have illustrated is the top view of a dense forest. And I have also added water through the blue because of the element of rain and water and its relationship with trees. I also wanted to give a message of hope. Often texts and illustrations that talk about loss of tress and environmental risks can be dark.  But if we show people the beauty of how it can be maybe they will be inspired enough to preserve what is being lost – Kanupriya Kulshreshth

The poetry was a reality check that our generation does not know enough names of trees and made us aware of the loss of trees around us. Rather than picking up on the melancholic moods of the poetry I chose to take up rebel as a mechanism to show how tired the earth and the trees have become of human recklessness. Here the trees revolt against humans and teach humans a lesson. Multiple trees grow out of this hybrid tree and overthrow the concrete jungle that man has constructed. The mother tree contains all variety of foliage growing over each other, supporting each other and also growing out vertically, which is a marker that there is no space on earth for them to grow horizontally – Abira Bandhopadhyaya

My first interpretation of the poem was that the amount of input one puts in the same amount of output one receives in return. If you put in little effort the result will reflect that. I felt I should present the poem in an abstract way so that the reader has some space to interpret the illustrations as well. Not only the number of trees are getting depleted the variety is also decreasing. So I worked with the idea that the diversity of trees is also decreasing with the numbers. Towards the end of the poem the reader is hit with a nostalgic sad feeling. But after discussing with faculty I presented the illustration the other way round — as a hopeful approach towards where we want to head –more trees and more diversity — Sanika Deshpande

The multiple interpretations and narratives that Riyaaz students have come up with also reflects the core belief with which Riyaaz was set up – to free children’s illustrators of conventional thinking and push the boundaries of imagination. Also to treat children as consumers who are aware and can appreciate rich and layered illustrations. Riyaaz also looks at illustrations as enriching the text rather than translating it into pictures. Illustrations must support the text, move it forward, build contexts and push the reader to explore the sub-text, that which is not being said, but implied by the writer. The variety of mediums that the illustrators have used – water colour, pen, colour pencil, pastels – is also a sign of growth as they have pushed themselves to experiment with different mediums to build their narratives.

Sau Pedon ke Naam also proves that a richly layered text lends itself to multiple narratives and interpretations.  Great text leads to great illustrations if the unpacking is done with care. Barkha sums up the experience succulently. “I came out of this assignment with a new understanding of how to approach illustrations for literary pieces, especially poems.”

मैं तो बिल्ली हूँ

टिंटी कहती है कि वह एक बिल्ली है| पर उसकी माँ कहती है कि वह उसकी नन्ही सी बेटी है| टिंटी है कौन? यह कहानी इसी प्रश्न का जवाब ढूंढते हुए बचपन की मज़ेदार सोच और मासूम ख्यालों को दर्शाती है|…

Priyanka Singh Parag Reads 10 May 2019

Catch That Cat!

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Namrata Narasimhan 2017