The Colour Book is mesmerizing. It invites you into a here-now, gone-now world that you dipped into happily as a child but which may have evaded you as a greying adult. A heady mix of poetry and science, The Colour Book evokes long-buried memories of the colours you once discovered. When did you know yellow was yellow? What does green remind you of? For Pietromarchi, colour can be experienced with all senses, not just seen through the eyes. Colour isn’t static. It changes, it has character, it is a red dragon, a brown snail, a black lion (my favourite of the lot)…it has many moods, too. A blue dawn is peaceful, but how do you make it an Angry Blue Dawn?
Pietromarchi includes autobiographical elements in the narrative, encouraging her readers, too, to travel back in time to capture those moments of magic when they discovered how colours work. The colour dance, as she calls this journey, is bound to be a personal one and while the author makes suggestions on how you can go about it, she also makes it clear that she is only a guide. Moving forward, it will be the reader’s own dance, in the reader’s own choreography. There are activity suggestions, too, that an enthusiastic reader can take up—painting, cutting, pasting, exploring textures…’idea pouches’, as she calls them.
The book has the basics—what colours you should mix to get a certain shade, how do you lighten a certain colour or darken it, the names of the different hues of a colour…it’s all there. But its real success is in its quiet freeing of the mind, its ability to ignite the imagination and dream of ‘impossible colours’ as the author puts it. It’s hard to determine an age-group for this book and indeed, the publisher has not put a label on it. And rightly so, one feels. Will all children enjoy this book? No. Will all adults enjoy this book? No. But there will be children and adults who will enjoy it in different ways—for a very young child, it could simply be the lovely range of colours on the beautifully laid out pages. For a young child, it could be the imaginative characters that bring the book alive. For an older child, it could be the promise of many busy afternoons with paint, scissors, gum and happy mess-making. For an adult, it could be the re-discovery of a joy that she once knew but has forgotten.
Written and illustrated by Amrita Das, Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit is an auto-biographical slice-of-life narrative that records a moment of epiphany that the author has about her own life and the world around her. Engrossed in observing her fellow traveller on a train to Chennai, young Amrita finds herself sympathizing with the girl’s obvious poverty and her life ahead which surely cannot be rosy. We must have all, at some point or the other, played this guessing game when observing people around us. What stories of sorrow lie behind those deadened eyes? Why is this mother of three looking so hassled? Is the man there married? On most occasions, it’s hard to find out if our guess is right because the journey ends before strangers can become friends and divulge such personal details to each other. Similarly, Amrita, too, is unable to know too much about her taciturn fellow traveller and all she can do is occupy herself by guessing her story.
Amrita comes from a village where girls and boys are never allowed to forget the fact that they are girls and boys—her girlhood was over far too soon and she wonders what freedom means and where her destiny lies. As we read further, we realize that much of the anxiety that Amrita shows towards the other traveller stems from her own fears of the future. When she wants to record her experiences, she notes that her first instinct is to paint an idyllic picture of her past. But she knows that such a representation wouldn’t be honest. She, too, has had her share of hardship, growing up in a patriarchal society. Depressed by her thoughts, Amrita’s mood suddenly changes when she sees a girl with only one foot selling fruits and taking care of her family. Hope emerges when she sees the confidence with which this girl, to whom life has dealt such miserable cards, is managing her life. It is only a small peek, a barely-there moment and yet, it is sufficient to uplift her mood.
With short yet evocative text on each page and large double-spread illustrations, the book is a visual treat. The intricate artwork, painted in the Mithila tradition of folk art, captures Amrita’s imaginative mind and its fantasies beautifully. It would make a good read for young adults and those older though it definitely doesn’t have charismatic vampires in it!
Sowmya Rajendran is a children’s writer based in Pune.