Alone in the Forest
Gita Wolf, Andrea Anastasio & Bhajju Shyam
Ages- 4 upwards
Musa, a young boy, confronts his fear of the dark and the forest in this story. How terror grips him, letting his mind plays games and how he overcomes fear, is what the story explores.The book is illustrated by Bhajju Shyam. Belonging to the Gond ( a forest dweller) tribe, the art is drawn from Bhajju’s childhood.
Vivid, detailed Gond illustrations, sunny when needed and dark and ominous in turn, transport us to an eerie forest. What all lurks in the dark, when your imagination runs amok! Resolution and calm there is, of course, as expected , but the artist’s expression is lyrical and refreshing.
If you love folk art, buy this book. If you have a kid, who is afraid of anything, you should read this book with him.
Meet Bhajju Shyam , the famous Gond Artist
Bhajju- I never set out to be an artist, my mother painted the walls of our home and she would ask me to help her paint the parts she couldn’t reach. In my teens, I left my village, Patangarh and went to Bhopal in search of work. I learnt under my uncle, Jangarh Singh Shyam, the most brilliant of Gond artists. He encouraged me to venture on my own.
Currently, I am based in Bhopal with my family, I am glad my daughter shows interest and is learning art from me, when time permits.
ST- How was this book, Alone in the Forest, different from your first book?
Bhajju- I have worked on books only with Tara. Initially it took longer. Now we interact, spend time with them , get to learn about usage of colour, a bit different than in the traditional context. I enjoy the interaction and the process. We are like family now. I count on their advice when I have professional offers I am not sure of.
ST- The scene where the boy waits inside the tree trunk with his hair merging with the dark- it has a unique appeal and even the boar between the boy's eyes or the cow which holds the village...how did these particular visual compositions come about?
Bhajju- Often in the forest, with Karai/ Taja/ Harra trees and more, there would be fires and some trees would turn hollow, yet survive. When I drew upon this memory, the team agreed. Also the boy peeking from behind the tree was not working out too well!
We say ‘darr baith gayaa‘ ( fear sits firm) which I tried to express with the boar on the boy's forehead. Even the ‘lakdi ka jaal’ ( wooden net) was to depict how caught he was in his fear.
We revere the cow as Gow maata- ( divine cow) and with her presence there is calm and a promise of rescue. Fear vanishes.
ST- You are an exponent of the Gond style. What other style of art appeals to you ?
Bhajju- Gond is the style of my ancestors and it speaks to me and has a higher connect with the stories I grew up with. The Mermaid book had magical fish which helped me visualize the story.
I like Warli- the browns and the white appeal. And I can understand what is being said. On the other hand I was doing some work at the Mumbai airport and could not understand the way the modern artists depicted a bird with just a line!
ST- Can admirers of your work buy original art from your book ?
Bhajju- Original art from the book is with Tara, but not for sale. They do have limited edition silkscreen prints from The London Jungle Book on sale at Book Building in Chennai .
Bhajju’s first international exposure came in 1998 when he was part of a group exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Since then his work has been shown in the UK, Germany, Holland and Russia. His best-known work, The London Jungle Book, is a visual travelogue of his 2002 visit to London.
Following this, Bhajju contributed several paintings to The Night Life of Trees, a screen printed collection of Gond images of trees and the spirits which, in Gond belief, each of them possess. Bhajju has co-edited a compendium of Gond art Signature: Patterns in Gond Art and been the sole artist behind two more visual picture books for Tara: The Flight of the Mermaid and That’s How I See Things.