How do you tell a story that aims to sensitise yet entertain? Two storybooks for children: Ritu Weds Chandni (Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House) by Ameya Narvankar and My Grandmother’s Masterpiece (Duckbill Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House) by Madhurima Vidyarthi and illustrated by Tanvi Bhat show us the way.
Ritu Weds Chandni
Written and illustrated by a Bengaluru-based multidisciplinary designer and visual artist, Ameya Narvankar, Ritu Weds Chandni was declared one of the 2021 Honour Books by the South Asia Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature committee.
Not only is this book wonderfully illustrated, thus adding to the drama and the joy, it is also written empathetically and critically. The story is relatively simpler but the message really has a far-reaching consequence. Little Ayesha is excited about her cousin Ritu didi getting married. She wants “to dance in her baraat all the way!” and why not, after all Ritu would be the first woman in their family to lead a baraat.
Though one wasn’t concerned that Ritu was marrying a person of the same sex, it was painful for them to bear society’s unthinkable reaction towards her marriage to Chandni. While some of Ritu’s neighbours started shutting “windows with a disapproving bang”, “others hurled harsh words at Ritu didi.”
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But no one foresaw what faced them. “Some stern-looking riders on horses blocking the path ahead” started raining down ice-cold water on the brides. When everyone lay helpless and hapless and both brides started crying and consoling each other, little Ayesha took centrestage and started dancing.
That moment of courage to express her joy because her sister was getting married can break you into tears. Of course, Ritu and Chandni were eternally grateful for Ayesha to have taken that step: of becoming an ally, of saying out loud that no matter what, I am with you and you have my support. Sometimes one doesn’t need anyone’s support, they just need to know that they’re loved, they’re valid, and they exist! And all these aspects come out beautifully well in this wonderfully charming book.
My Grandmother’s Masterpiece
Seeing the cover of this book, written by Madhurima Vidyarthi and illustrated by Tanvi Bhat, I was instantly moved: a grandmother and granddaughter sitting amidst a chaos of colours and brushes and paint tubes. The picture not only conveys warmth, but it also signifies a bond that’s too valuable in one’s formative years.
Nini and her Minima are inseparable, yet live lives unknown to one another. Such is the universe created by an endocrinologist, who always wanted to be a writer, Madhurima, to tell the story of a woman realising late in life that she must have listened to her heart and never given up painting. And Tanvi’s illustrations, which are deeply personal and complement the story in more ways than one, enhance the storytelling experience multi-folds.
In the opening chapter, Nini says that she doesn’t “know old people could be famous”. Her mother tells her to shut up, which she does quite often. While there are several things Nini can’t make sense of, she hears and registers everything religiously. For example, Baba said, “A bad workman blames his tools” when she was adamant to have the same pack of paints her colleague has used and won everyone’s hearts by drawing spectacularly well. But when Minima says, “You’re a very lucky girl to have so many nice things. When I was a girl, I liked to draw and paint, but no one brought me any paints or brushes or drawing things.”
Though Minima never outrightly rejected the idea to pursue painting again after getting married, the stereotypical heteropatriarchal familial setup must not have allowed her the space to do that. And Dada, her husband—the hetero-patriarch, mustn’t have been easy to be married to either, for the latter doesn’t respect her, even though like everyone else he must’ve known that his wife draws well.
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Anyway, Minima begins painting. Soon she even starts attending an art school and Dada kept saying that it is a “time waste” and a “rubbish” pursuit.
Once he says, “Why can’t you be your age? Is this the time to play Holi with colours and waste money on scribbles? Have you ever earned a single rupee in your life that you are wasting it so freely now?” And that’s what it all comes down to: money. As if all the care work and household chores Minima did could easily find a replacement without spending a single penny. It was unpaid work that Minima did for years, but her ungrateful husband, a reflection of most men in the Indian society, cannot care less.
But Minima does not reply for she must have been thinking about it, making money, to respond with her work. The drama reaches a crescendo when someone whom Nini calls Bald Head, impressed by Minima’s paintin,g expressed his desire to buy her work. And when Dada objects, Minima said, “Keep quiet!” Her fierce tone conveyed ownership of her work when she continued, “It’s my painting”, before turning “back to Bald Head, ‘Please sit down and explain why you want the picture.’”
Yet another story of courage and taking ownership of oneself in the larger setting to assert one’s desire, My Grandmother’s Masterpiece, like Ritu Weds Chandni, also deals with a sensitive issue without watering anything down to suit the needs of children.