Here's a typical case of necessity being the mother of invention. For 12 years, Priti Paul, who heads the 43,000-strong Apeejay Surrendra Group, searched in vain for the ideal alphabet book for children but found they lacked an Indian flavour. So, she thought why not write one and illustrate it in the manner of billboard art?
"Over the course of the last 12 years, while I have been discovering and reading children's books to my boys, it became apparent to me that the books being used to teach Indian children English were the same as used by my generation and generations before.
"I questioned why Indian children are growing up learning English with an imagery that identifies with British India and post-colonial times," Paul told IANS in an interview.
"I thought, while we were living in a uniquely 'Make in India' moment and the English alphabet could reflect objects and experiences that Indian kids could identify with, I perceived the dearth of a beautifully illustrated children's book with an Indian background and cultural references that our children could relate to."
The upshot? "ABC Desi" (Apeejay Press/pp 60/Rs 5,999-hardcover; Rs 150 soft cover), a perfect medium to teach little Indian children the English alphabet using a uniquely Indian vocabulary and set of images and style of rendering.
The book caters to both the high-end coffee table segment and the mass market, a rare instance of this happening in India.
"ABC Desi has metamorphosed from my rooted Indian values to create a unique learning for children, and a whimsical yet precious object for the lover of all things Indian and beautiful," explained Paul, whose group has interests in the tea, hospitality, shipping, retail and real estate sectors and has also diversified into knowledge parks.
She said the billboard art form was chosen for the illustrations as it was a genre that all Indians could easily identify with, bridging the rural-urban and north-south divide.
"By using this form of painting, I hope to root the alphabets firmly in an Indian imagery. In addition, I hope to continue to support the work of the artists and to bring to a larger and global audience the drama, beauty and uniqueness of their work.
I hope the book and this art form continues to resonate the Make in India stamp," said Paul, who schooled at Kolkata's Loreto House and then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for her undergraduate studies in architecture and economics, followed by a Masters in Design Studies from Harvard. She also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Architecture from Britain's Architectural Association School of Architecture.
Noting that billboard artists skillfully recreate scenes, objects and portraiture from photographs and magazines, bringing the magic of Bollywood and the sycophancy of Indian politics to the masses on the street, Paul added: "Often, Western themes are given a unique cultural stamp, resulting in pieces that are a mix of humour and irony, among the rich visual chaos of the bustling Indian streetscape."
Thus, the book's "vibrant graphics and their boundless colour palettes also serve as a window to fantasy and escapist entertainment" said the author, who is also the owner of Oxford Book Store.
What of the future?
"I am working on the translation of an important book into Hindi and it will be ready in a couple of weeks and launched later in the year. We have 10 years of the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival coming up and 100 years of the Oxford Book Store. There's much to look forward to."
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