A duet with the birds

The Jungle Radio: Bird Songs of India, Devangana Dash, Puffin India  

It’s the brightly coloured little transistor radio that catches my eye first in the colourful cover of The Jungle Radio (Puffin). A second look and I’m trying to see how many species of birds I can identify from the illustrations. Devangana Dash’s début picture book is about bird sounds and the designer and illustrator explains that she “absorbs the world around me through images. So it was only natural to me to use visuals as my medium of storytelling.” She also believes that a picture book is for both kids and adults and that “a story told through pictures transcends time and space in so many ways. You’ll pick up an illustration or a picture years later and interpret it very differently. It always has new stories to tell.” Since it was about birds, she ensured that the images allowed identification of the birds.

Seeing the world through images Devangana Dash

Seeing the world through images Devangana Dash   | Photo Credit: Parag Chitale

The birds featured in the book range from flamingoes and the Indian Pitta to the cuckoo, magpie robin, purple moorhen and the Indian Nightjar. Devangana mentions that she had selected 30 species and “ensured that they covered most of the Indian Subcontinent in terms of where they are usually spotted or migrate to. Apart from the geographical and ecological classifications, the prime factor in selection was the sounds! The birds feature in the story because of their unique calls — song birds who are duet or group singers, some talking birds and mimics of other sounds, and also those that have a distinctly loud and harsh voice!”

It was challenging to convert the sounds into words. She referred to audio clips and recordings of bird songs and call so that “I could accurately translate bird sounds into words, and still maintain the rhythmic, sing-song quality of the text.” The tricky ones were those with a variety of calls. In the final look, “each hand-painted illustration of the bird is supported by a ‘sound word’, which is designed in big, colourful letters that can be easily read aloud by a child.”

A reader rather late
  • As a child, all I did was draw and paint! I would mostly play outdoors but, when at home, I would just paint and wasn’t a patient reader. I vividly recall some stories I read: Peter Pan, Heidi, The Secret Garden, Matilda.
  • I discovered my favourties much later — Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstien, Dr Seuss, Eric Carle — and the contemporary children’s authors who are my favourites now. I absolutely love hoarding picture books. You will see me more at the children’s section of a bookstore; I wish I'd done more of that as a child!
  • Now I am mostly inclined towards non-fiction on culture and philosophy, graphic novels and recently reading some inspiring biographies too. Since I work on cover designs as a full-time book designer, I end up reading some amount of fiction.
  • In the contemporaries, my favourite authors and illustrators are Alain De Botton, Elizabeth Gilbert, Oliver Jeffers, Coralie Bickford Smith, Amruta Patil, Prabha Mallya, Mari Andrew and many more.

It also helped that Devangana was a birder herself, “a loyal audience to those visiting my balcony everyday — parakeets, babblers, sunbirds, kites, woodpeckers and many more.” Her formal introduction to birdwatching came in college when she visited the Bandipur National Park and later Manglajodi, near Chilika Lake. Does she have any favourites? “Difficult to pick one,” she says and lists some: Indian Pitta, which her classmate was researching and they ended up rescuing one. “It looks extremely powerless and shy but migrates large distances.” The Eurasian Hoopoe, which she labels an “international rockstar” given how it features in stories and folklore across Europe, Africa and Asia. Also flamingoes, “whom I adore because they are so pleasing to the eyes with their healthy, lush pink and sleek coat-hanger necks.”

Going forward, Devangana plans to do more writing and illustrating, since the process of creating her first book “taught me so much about my work and my own self. I have some ideas and I need to flesh them out to know what to do with them. Hopefully I will be able give them life soon.”

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 6:05:10 AM |

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