Inside India Society

This Dehradun duo uses vibrant art to celebrate all things Uttarakhand

Tanya Kotnala and Tanya Singh at a school in Uttarakhand

Tanya Kotnala and Tanya Singh at a school in Uttarakhand

The walls are brightly coloured and plastered with portraits of all things Uttarakhand — women with enormous nose rings, men in topis , Himalayan quails, local dishes like kachnar ki sabzi (a delicacy made of Bauhinia flowers). It’s a single room but full of light and laughter.

I am at Bhuli, a Dehradun-based start up, which describes itself as ‘Design × Nutrition for social good,’ started by Tanya Kotnala and Tanya Singh, a designer and nutritionist, respectively.

As part of one of their most recent campaigns, the duo created posters for World Breastfeeding Week, which are now up on the walls of 19,000 anganwadi centres across Uttarakhand’s rugged landscape.

Colourful and attractive, and packed with useful information on nutrition, the posters, which also extend to social media, illustrate the importance of breastfeeding, detailing little things like the position of the mother’s pillow, the need for flexible work timings for lactating mothers, and how family members and colleagues can help mothers ‘breastfeed any time and anywhere’. The campaign also calls out unscientific practices such as the practice of feeding newborns honey or curd or water.


Visually, there are running themes: the characters all wear traditional clothes, jewellery and headgear and the landscape is recognisably local and rural. “This medium of communication is more effective than regular how-to manuals for a sensitive issue such as this,” says Kotnala. “It’s something your eyes can’t miss.”

“Children’s caregivers in rural Uttarakhand are often semi-literate. So to start a conversation with them on such a crucial subject, it made sense to have characters and mediums that they could relate to and are familiar with,” says Singh.

Bhuli means ‘little sister’ in Garhwali and Kotnala and Singh’s social enterprise wants to zoom in on the unmapped faces of Uttarakhand.

Bilingual messages

Bhuli’s social media pages are in English, but their posters and booklets are in Hindi. The team has also designed illustrated placards on anaemia for adolescent girls. The next campaign, they say, will be on the importance of hand hygiene and menstrual hygiene.

Kotnala and Singh say Bhuli is a ‘woman-centric’ page. In August 2017, when the Supreme Court struck down triple talaq, Bhuli celebrated the verdict with a sketch of Muslim women and girls in blue dresses raising their hands in victory.

One sketch at a time

But Bhuli does more than social campaigns. Its Instagram and Facebook pages have been unveiling the unexplored foods, arts and crafts of Uttarakhand, one sketch at a time. Take, for example, kandali ki saag, a dish made from stinging nettle, a speciality in the hill State. There’s no pahadi who’s not been stung by the nettle, known locally as bicchu ghaas or scorpion plant. It grows all over the hills and children are routinely threatened with bicchu ghaas if they don’t fall in line.


“But the stinging nettle is full of medicinal properties. A nettle dish is not only delicious, it helps treat several ailments. It’s routine food in Uttarakhand,” says Singh. “Uttarakhand is a storehouse of super foods, like amaranth seeds, buckwheat and barnyard millet. They are seasonal and full of flavour. They are very popular in the West now, but they have been part of our food culture for ages. We need to bring back our local delicacies,” she adds.

Food for thought

The Bhuli women make sure they sample bhaang ki chutney, jhangora ki kheer, lingad ki sabzi and makai ki kheer before posting the recipes online for their 16,000-strong following.

Bhuli also documents traditional attire: Kumaoni, Garhwali, Tharu, Bhotiya, Gorkha, Tibetan — using the folk art of Aipan.

From snow leopards and the Chipko movement to their beloved goddess Nanda Devi, Bhuli basically celebrates the region.

The Uttarakhand-based journalist explores the lives of those who walk the mountains.

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Printable version | Jul 6, 2022 12:15:15 am |