Every page of Big Rain (Tulika) is drenched in rain. The picture book, that’s being launched tomorrow, has been written by Gayathri Bashi and is illustrated by TR Rajesh. It’s based on the floods that hit Kerala in August last year.
A Malayali herself, Gayathri lives in Seattle. “At the time, I was physically very far away from there and after watching the news and hearing stories from my family, I was very distressed,” she writes, in an email interview.
Mother of a three-year-old, Gayathri wanted to explain the situation to her son. Big Rain , is her way of doing this. With Rajesh’s evocative sketches, the book takes its young readers (it is targeted at children aged four and above) through the dark days, when people and livelihoods were wiped away. But Gayathri also tells a story of hope, urging her readers to take care of their forests and rivers. In her words, she “simply walks the reader through the arc of how a natural disaster happens”, using pictures to “anchor the child in the story”.
Did Gayathri feel that the subject was too dark for children? “We tend to assume that ‘difficult’ topics cannot or should not be addressed in children’s books,” she says, adding that her son’s “engaged reaction” to the book cemented her belief that there are very few things that are beyond the understanding of a child if approached in a relatable way.”
The author was mulling over the idea of writing a book on the environment ever since the floods happened. “The sad reality is that natural disasters are going to keep happening, and as the parent of a young child I’m acutely aware of how the planet that he is going to inherit is at such a dangerous tipping point,” she says. The only way, according to her, to get children to care for our planet is “if they recognise and acknowledge what will happen if we continue on this destructive path we’ve set ourselves on”.
Gayathri is a self-taught illustrator. She illustrated for Minu and Her Hair, her first book for Tulika. The picture book, according to her, is “such a powerful, yet underrated, medium”. She feels strongly about diversity in the medium. “This stems from a personal place of growing up with children’s books that we seldom saw ourselves in,” she explains. But it’s important that children’s “realities are reflected in the type of books that they read — be it seeing a dark-skinned girl or a thatha in a veshti ”.
Ask her if becoming a mother helped her tune-in better with the way children’s minds work, and Gayathri says no. She feels that it is more important that children’s authors have the “sensibility of a child” and respect them.
She adds, “Many picture book creators whose works I have incredible respect for are not parents themselves, but have an insight into children that is very genuine.”
Gayathri spent a considerable part of her life in Chennai — she studied and worked here. She’s presently illustrating and writing a picture book and hopes to do more in the future. She adds, “Let’s hope the offspring is cooperative!”
Big Rain will be launched at Tulika Bookstore, Alwarpet, at 11 am tomorrow. Gayathri will be talking to children about floods through her book. Entry is free, and is open for children aged four and above.
To register, SMS 9840909228.