Manisha Gera Baswani’s interview with artist A Ramachandran introduces us to his views on what makes a great book for children.
Throughout the world, children’s literature has the quality of make-believe. But strangely enough, the illustrations fail to create an imagery of their own. These illustrations are mere literal translations of the stories into visuals. This is because the pictorial concept of beauty in the western tradition of illustration glorifies the world as one sees it around us.
Just as in our folk and tribal traditions, illustrations for children’s books should have more suggestive qualities in their pictorial form. Thus a picture would be a separate entity in itself, with remote suggestions to the text, thereby enabling a child to imagine various possibilities from a single motif.
The traditional society, as part of a religious structure, created a series of rituals based on magical perceptions. Unlike the modern one, this society never lost its freshness and innocence. The folk tales and songs, epics and classics, which were handed down through the generations until recent times, embodied this world. The rituals and festivals were spectacles of incredible fantasy in which everyone participated.
We are replacing them with technological media like television and cinema. These media enforce passive and vicarious enjoyment rather than active participation in social events. Thus we destroy the capacity of the child to dream and imagine delightful nonsense.
As I see it, the new generation of children are torn away from nature, society and sometimes even family, in case both parents are working full time. Also, we are teaching our children to have a rational outlook from their very early years, thus systematically destroying their capacity to perceive, dream and imagine.
Good quality children’s books, on the other hand, will help a child find his way back to the collective consciousness of myths and legends, lullabies and songs, images and pictures. They will allow the child to create a world of make-believe and delightful nonsense.