Story by Chatura Rao
Illustrations by Ruchi Mhasane
Publisher: Tulika Books
Waiting for Mommy is wonderful Korean picture book illustrated by Dong-Sung Kim. One of the loveliest and touching books that I have experienced about a kid waiting for his mother at a bus/tram stop. I was bowled over by those illustrations(a sample of a page from that book is here) and always wondered if I will ever come across a picture book from India that conveys its point in a subtle manner, with muted colors and simplicity in illustration. I finally found one such book with similar illustrations in Nabiya.
The story of Nabiya is simple. She is introduced to the world of stories by her new English teacher and she is enthralled. Her teacher realizes the power of books and the effect it can have on a child. Nothing extra-ordinary. I call such books as self-referential books - A book that talks about other books and power of books. The Library and The Library Lion are more such self-referential picture books. The tough part of a self-referential picture book is to attract both a book lover and a newbie. A book lover loves anything that talks about a library or other books, but attracting a newbie with a story about a book is tricky. Here is where Nabiya scores - it leaves enough trails for a newbie to discover that there is a lot in the world of books to discover and to immerse into it.
Illustrations shine through out. The illustration in the opening page of a group of kids playing in a small muddy ground with the rain having left its mark and the giant multi-storey buildings growing in the background is awesome. We are almost instantly attracted by the girl with two pony tails and bald-headed boy trying to hit the ball. The book ticks a few important boxes immediately with more girls playing football than boys and the girl yelling to the boy to hit the ball the other way ("wrong goal post! do not hit a self goal please!" - was the hidden meaning). A slight quibble here though - The illustration indicates that the wind is blowing from right side of the page to left side; but the Nabiya's hair alone seems to blow the wrong way!
There are so many small nuances that I enjoyed - The fact that when Nabiya smiles and she has dimples that appear like happy commas; the illustration of black or blue water drums that we used to keep in our bathrooms to store water; the subtle beauty of a kohli; the beautiful dress that Nabiya wears on Eid; the hiddent truth about our cities and folks like Nabiya's father(a plumber) who keep it running for the rest of us; the complete absence of the father in the book; the almost realistic 3-dimensional illustration of a paper puppet being held by a 2-dimensional illustration of Nabiya; the anxiety of the mother about Nabiya going out and playing in her new dress on Eid; the shy-ness of Nabiya who slips out of the house even when her favourite teachers comes to her; the illustration indicating that the lanes in the area where Nabiya lives are so narrow that a man and his buffalo cannot walk together(the author's words! - lovely isn't it?); the green colour ribbons that the girls of the school wear; or the mysterious bald headed Ganjoo.
After finishing the book, I wished that the book was a wee bit longer. Most Indian publishers prefer to have pictures books with only 24 pages. This is one of times where I felt that 24 pages does not do enough for this story. I wished for those extra 8 pages - the standard 32 pages that most Western world picture books have. At times, it appeared that there were quite a few details that were packed into a single page. The extra 8 pages would have made a great difference and converted this book into a even better one.
A lovely book with introduces us to the possibilities of where Indian picture books can go. If this book is any indication, we are looking at some exciting Indian picture books in future.