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Art of the matter

Anjana Basu |


The first adult colouring book I had ever seen came into my hands, borne by the first courier who demanded a digital signature.

He held it out to me with a flourish and I must confess my hand shook a little while the aged parent came to ask what it was that had been delivered. When I told him about the digital signature, he wanted to know who the courier was but I frankly had not spared a thought for that. Ripping past the sellotape I brought out a paperback that spanned my palm.

Gond Art on the cover and the outlines of Gond Art inside waiting to be brought to life with deft strokes of what? Certainly not a paintbrush! The book would have to be flipped inside out to allow the brush leeway and water colour would demand inexorable dexterity in filling in the feathers of a Chachan bird or the roots of a Kaheli tree. It would have to be a very fine brush indeed, made of squirrel's hair or camel's hair or some such exotic material worthy of the pages, which could be guaranteed not to drip blotches of colour on the page. No, I dismissed the brush and considered colour pencils  easier to control certainly and most probably. Faber Castell since those were the only ones I could think of offhand the nephews had some, which could be borrowed by way of experiment.

Adult colouring books had caught on like wildfire in the West because they were effective stress busters or so some psychologist had declared. Ladies in silks could trip down their garden paths, arrange their pearls around their necks, sip Orange Pekoe from a transparent bone china cup and then address themselves to the delicate task of colouring.

The book demanded a Victorian or Edwardian concentration something best left to the disciplined generations of aunts  or perhaps it was because of this concentration that the stress disappeared.

Settling down to it demanded a series of rituals that were neither digital nor new age. Perhaps one would put a note on social media… so and so is feeling blessed while stroking the wavy hide of a Gond bullock with a French pastel. No, French pastels were far too thick, perhaps the Japanese had something.

The pages were postcards meant to be coloured and delicately plucked like petals in a garden and then scattered with loving messages on the back. Ina Puri has a foreword in the book; she suggests that rather than colour one should lose oneself in the myths of adivasi art that inspired the Gond artist stories he had grown up with and reproduced in infinite detail with colours that caught his fancy. No, they were not intended for ladies in tea gowns to flutter over though a Japanese Ukiyo-e geisha might have caught the trick with a wild swig of sake letting the colours of her kimono bleed onto the page. If chanting a mantra is relaxation, filling in a page of tessellated lines can be meditation when done over and over again especially when you're not looking at a lit screen.

Seriously a pocket-sized adult painting book now? Yes adults have more coordination than children do but it depends on the age. Bi-focals on the nose and a steady hand are demanded. And then at the end of it you have to steel your heart and part with the pages that you have so painstakingly filled in  leaving nothing behind but the cover.

Someone else will like those works of art that you have laboured over unless you just decide to leave them where they are, some coloured, some not coloured but a complete book of art that will remain to bring magic to your soul as the title suggests.

The snakes can flash through your dreams in purple and pink zig-zag lightning and the maroon and yellow birds nest in the golden antlers of the deer. Morning will bring the black and white reality of the everyday  though the artist's lines will continue tomesmerise with their rhythms. After all, urban storiesare told in black andwhite. The colour comes from the imagination.

The reviewer is a freelance contributor