Lakshmi Devnath’s graphic biography of Swati Tirunal is all about the life and music of the monarch

“My passion is Carnatic music. And I am a voracious reader. So I was always puzzled as to why there was so little reading material on the subject that caters to different age groups, especially children,” says Lakshmi Devnath.

Although there was plenty of material on science, literature and arts, there was hardly anything on Carnatic music that was appealing to children. Most of the books on Carnatic music were either pedantic or pedagogic, not something that children would want to read. Lakshmi decided to change that by designing and writing graphic biographies on Carnatic legends.

“Instead of complaining about children being ignorant or disinterested in their heritage, we must design reading material that attracts them. So, after a great deal of research, the first graphic biography on M.S. Subbulakshmi was conceptualised in 2011,” says Lakshmi. It was the first in a series that she calls Pictures of Melody. In the meantime, she wrote An Incurable Romantic, the authorised biography of Lalgudi.

She also wrote on GNB, Madurai Mani Iyer and T. Brinda in the Pictures of Melody series. The latest is on Swati Tirunal. “I have been fascinated by the royal composer and his life and achievements. Since it is his bi-centennial, I thought it would be the right time to release such a work. Each work entails a lot of research and reading and this was no different. By the time I finished, there were about 400 pages of material. I had to condense that into 24 pages,” says Lakshmi.

Several rounds of discussions with the artist Ajay Krishnan followed in which Lakshmi had to ensure that the frames did justice to the period and the culture in which the story unfolds. “Once the script was written, I had to rework it to suit the graphic version and see that the script and the illustrations were in tandem and told the story smoothly,” she says.

She is all thanks to Achuthsankar S. Nair, who helped her with research and work. She says this is perhaps the first of its kind when pictures have been complemented with photographs. Thus the book on Swati has photographs of the room he composed in and so on.

“The first 12 pages are on his lineage and his achievements as the ruler. The next 12 pages are about his music. I have also touched upon the controversy surrounding his work and life and rebutted it by highlighting facts,” she says.

Lakshmi is now busy at work on another book on Carnatic music – this time for pre-teens. She plans to write it like a novel, with a mother telling her precocious daughter the story of Carnatic music. “There are several characters and even a dog who wants to listen to Amma’s stories. I plan to bring that out in three volumes – one each on the ancient, medieval and modern period. I might also start working on a graphic biography of the Trinity, beginning with Tygaraja,” she says.

The book Swati Tirunal will be released on April 9 at the Department of Music, behind Women’s College, Vazhuthacaud. A poster of Swati Tirunal along with his signature will be given with the book. “Why not, if we can have poster of film stars and rock musicians, why not of our own music stars?” Indeed.

The book is distributed by Swathi Soft Solutions.