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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Young Lit | Bright stars

Tara Books, the Chennai-based publishing company that rolls out beautifully produced illustrated books for children, adolescents and adults, has two more bright stars in its firmament.

Hope Is a Girl Selling Fruit and Sultana’s Dream are both drawn in the folk-art styles that Tara has helped popularize and reinvent. Each is lovely to look at—a most unsurprising detail for anybody who has laid hands on a publication from the Chennai-based publisher that has, since 1994, been rolling out keepsakes that wrap social messages of tolerance, literacy, feminism, freedom and diversity in eye-catching art (even Tara’s children’s titles are for well-behaved young ones who don’t treat books like footballs and for adults who wish they had had such books when they were younger).

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Artwork from ‘Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit’

The picture book emerged out of a process of collaboration, as do many of the publisher’s titles, says V. Geetha, an editor at Tara Books. Das wrote in Hindi, and was translated into English. “Amrita wanted to do something close to her experience, but she also had to find images to work with," explains Geetha. “In the event, with her mentor Santhosh Kumar Das, an eminent Mithila painter, she came up with a set of images and a narrative—we read it, suggested she rework some of her images, do a couple more, because the story had to work as a book. Each page had to lead to the other, both in terms of art and tale. Finally, our designer Rathna Ramanathan came up with the perfect design for this: Each spread would open as a painting, and Amrita’s text would read like a caption."

Sultana’s Dream is more magic than realist—a first-person narrative of a world in which men are in seclusion and women are in charge. It’s the illustrated version of a fantastical story written in 1905 by Bengali feminist Rokheya Sakhawat Hossain. “The design is slightly altered, we have the images in a different colour and this is a soft-cover edition," Geetha says. “We also have a Tamil edition that has just gone to press."

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Illustrations from ‘Sultana’s Dream’

The uncluttered panels in black, white and blue reveal a utopia with elements of science fiction. The narrator nods off to sleep, is woken up by a woman whom she initially takes to be an old acquaintance, and led by the hand to Ladyland, where she meets “more than a hundred women" but “not a single man". The men are “in their proper places, where they should be", she is told—indoors. The perfectly appointed Ladyland is doing brilliantly without the menfolk—it is free of crime, disease and war, extraordinarily neat and powered by solar energy and rainwater harvesting.

Sultana’s Dream was illustrated by Gond artist Durga Bai in a fortnight, Geetha says. “The text was paraphrased for her in Hindi, sent through a researcher who read it out to her," she says. “We had also suggested what we would like illustrated, and Durga went on to make her own choices as well—and as you see there is great energy and sophistication in the way she goes about fearlessly recreating a utopian world."

The yarn reaches wondrously giddying heights as the narrator takes a spin in a helicopter and meets Ladyland’s queen, who receives her “cordially without any ceremony". Although the story is over a century old, it’s never too late to dream.

Hope Is a Girl Selling Fruit ( 400) and Sultana’s Dream ( 180) are both available at

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Updated: 10 May 2014, 12:06 AM IST
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