The sun leaps out roaring like a tiger waking up the forest, rising over the hills that seem like two snoring rhinos. The forest is a gigantic alligator and the breeze, a swarm of butterflies. What form will the forest take next? Artist and illustrator Sudarshan Shaw’s first children’s book ‘When A Forest Wakes Up’ is a story inspired from animism, an age-old belief of the Gond tribe of Central India, where everything from the sun to the rocks are living as we are. Published by Partham Books, this beautiful tale of a day in a forest is illustrated by Sudharshan in his characteristic style of integrating Indian traditional art with a contemporary twist. “The basic idea of the book is ‘breaking definitions’,” says Sudarshan. “ Children viewthe world very openly. When they look at the clouds, they conjure up myriad images behind those moving puffs in the sky. They believe in magic. As we grow up, we lose our capability to see beyond what we believe in. Children believe in what they see. With this book, I hope for them to see the world differently, to let their imaginations run wild, ” says Sudarshan known for illustrating wildlife conservation stories from different States in his art works.
The book progresses from dawn to dusk in a forest setting with delightfully presented illustrations of animals and their behavioural characteristics during that time of the day. While the roaring tiger and snoring rhinos represent the sunrise time in the wild, the forest comes alive with colours and movements of animals and birds as the day progresses and the dark sleepy night that spreads its wings like an ow. “For this book, I have used various artistic styles like Kalamkari, Pattachitra and Gond, blended together to create a vision. The colour palette was chosen according to the time of the day in the forest. The book is open to multiple interpretations. You will probably see a new perspective every time you read it,” says Sudarshan.
Written by Sudarshan, the prose of the book has a quirky rhythm. “The idea was to have the text follow a lyrical pattern matching the artworks. Children love simple rhythm,” he says. Growing up in Bhubaneswar in Odisha and travelling through the interiors of Odisha and West Bengal during his childhood, Sudarshan says the rich artistic culture of both States left a profound impression on him. “Every corner of Odisha has a beautiful tale of conservation to share. These experiences influenced me,” says the artist. During his final year of graduation from NIFT in New Delhi, he was working on a project on Phad painting of Rajasthan and travelled to Ranthambore where he learnt the art of integrating wildlife and traditional art forms. In the recent past Sudarshan’s works on maps of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal portraying the biodiversity of the region in traditional regional art forms became popular for their sheer beauty as well as dramatic presentation of information. The artist, who has been working on projects for the forest departments of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh and NGOs across India, is presently busy completing his personal artwork series called ‘My Picture of Divinity’, which he wants to publish as a book. “Nine out of 12 artworks on this series are ready. This is a work very close to my heart as it shares stories of conservation from the diverse topographic terrains of the Himalayas as well as Odisha. For instance, one is the magnificent story of Arribada which sees the congregation of Olive Ridleys every year and the science behind this phenomenon,” he says.