When my colleague Manisha and I reached the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Center, New Delhi, the place was buzzing with activity, people were busy putting the final touches to the exhibits; there was smell of paint, paper, fabrics, adhesives in the air and a noise of drills, hammers and people talking everywhere in the hall. As the time approached closer to 6.30 in the evening, activities rose to a level of all time high and then within next ten minutes or so everything calmed down as if the crescendo of a musical piece had just been over.
We waited there along with five children from one of the Pratham Learning Centers and their two accompanying teachers quietly in a corner for the guests of honour to arrive. In the meantime, right where you walked in to the foyer of the gallery, a sales counter had come up and we caught first glimpses of our own My Mother spread across the table and glittering away in her bright colours! We all smiled big. The entire gallery was full of people in no time and by the time the guests arrived, that open space looked like a pond full of people.
Dr. Karan Singh, president of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Sheila Dixit, Chief Minister of Delhi appeared there suddenly and in no time I heard Jaya Jaitly, president of the Dastkari Haat Samiti greeting them and presenting them with souvenirs. I hurried towards the gathering along with two of the children and as we reached, Jaya invited the children over and asked them to present the guests with copies of our book. Children, Avinash and Bhoomi quickly went ahead and there they were with the three most distinguished persons of the evening! Avinash and Bhoomi presented a book each to Sheila Dixit and Dr. Karan Singh while Jaya Jaitly introduced Pratham Books very generously. She mentioned that Pratham Books was among the most prominent children’s publishers and that they have been publishing beautiful books for children at very affordable prices. She thanked Pratham Books for publishing this book in six Indian languages and there by taking some of the works of art to the children of India. It felt so good to be there and to be able to be a part.
Both Sheila Dixit and Dr. Karan Singh unwrapped and held copies of our latest book, My Mother for the audience and the cameras. The illustrator,Bahadur Chitrakar of West Bengal was present and of course was called over to the front. He could not stop smiling with pride. The guests flipped through the book and spoke with the children with no hurry. After a battery of photographs and release of the book, they began to move to look at the exhibition. The exhibition has a collection of works of arts and crafts that were produced during this project called Akshara which involved artists and artisans of India in a unique interaction with various languages and calligraphy. Bahadur Chitrakar has painted a series of illustration in Pattachitra style about a typical day in her mother’s life as seen from a child’s eyes. These highly interesting and bright coloured illustrations form the base of the story that has been written by Jaya Jaitly after curating Bahadur’s version of the story. Pratham Books turned this into a beautiful coffee table sized bilingual book where the English and one of the six languages out of Bangla, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Odia and Telugu form a pair together.
A number of artists and art lovers of Delhi were present and most of them were thrilled to buy a copy of the book right away. And why not? After all the book costs only rupees forty! Bahadur was so happy that he kept posing for pictures and it was an amazing sight to see most of the people walking around the gallery with copies of My Mother in their hands!