Saturday, September 07, 2013

In honor of Pulak Biswas

One of India’s senior and most versatile children’s illustrators, Pulak Biswas, is no more. He breathed his last in Delhi, on August 29, 2013. He could be considered “a pioneer” in his field - in the early eighties, at the famous cartoonist Shankar’s suggestion, he joined Children’s Book Trust, leaving behind a job in the advertising field. He received formal training at Kolkatta’s Government College of Art, Homsey College in London and Rietvald Academy in Amsterdam. In addition to many solo and group exhibitions that he held in India and Europe, it was his work in the field of children’s books illustrations that made him popular all over the world. “Also a successful painter, he considers children's book illustration his dream vocation,” reads his biography on

Bangalore based author and illustrator, Vishakha Chanchani, vividly recalls a workshop she attended with him, many years ago, “Biswas was among the few who view 'illustration' on par with art and consider artists’ individual works as unique - neither really lesser or higher.”

This is indeed a very significant insight. Today, while the Indian children’s picture book market is buzzing with many more players in addition to the governmental organization National Book Trust and the above mentioned CBT that came into being in the mid nineteen fifties, there is a growing concern about quality. Many factors come into play when parents select books for their children and “visual appeal” is certainly one of them. Few illustrators, including Biswas, never shy away from portraying India and Indians as they are while many others “bow down” to commercial pressures and do not hesitate to follow a safer path to commercial success with bright distracting colours or even alien details (for example the facial features of characters or the dresses they wear).

It is difficult to say what particular style Biswas followed best as he seemed to cover the entire spectrum during his career. From the simple yet powerful line drawings that went into one of his earliest works, Mulk Raj Anand’s “A Day in the Life of Maya of Mohenjo-Daro” published by NBT (won Honorary Mention BIB in 1969) he seemed to be at ease with the 1990s colourful and folksy “Hen Sparrow Turns Purple” by Tara Publishers (winning the Grand Prix at the Biennale of Illustrations, Bratislava). According to, “Designed as a scroll, and silk-screened by hand on handmade paper, this …visual and tactile a cheerful adaptation of a traditional folk tale, inspired by medieval Indian art and narrative traditions.”

Similarly, his 1999 “Tiger on a Tree”(written by Anushka Ravishankar, published by Tara Books, won the Biennial of Illustration Bratislava, and in 2005 was listed in the American Library Association’s List of Notable Books) was illustrated using only orange paint and black strokes, giving it a "batik" like feel, according to one of its reviewers at

Given the important role children’s books play such in their development and love for the world around them and literature alike, good illustrators and authors are like teachers and parents who nurture them. India has lost a gem of an illustrator and no newspaper even covered the news. It is sad, since we are living in times where “sensational” sells over humane. Rest in peace, Pulak Biswas. May your works be enjoyed by generations to come, Sir!

Saffron Tree thanks our guest contributor Rachna Maneesh Dhir for this invaluable piece on Pulak Biswas.
Image Source:

(This article is based on information gathered from various web sites. An interview with Pulak Biswas can be found at


Arundhati said...

I have Tiger on a Tree and Catch that Crocodile! next to me. Done so beautifully with black, white and just one other colour. The expressions of the wrestler, the policeman, the elderly doctor, the village folk, the body language of the tiger ... the pictures seem to speak

Unknown said...

Love all Pulak Biswas illustrations. Each is a work of art

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