It’s likely that there’s no parent in this world who has not spun a yarn for their child. Often reluctantly, sometimes with prescriptive intentions, on the odd occasion with great enthusiasm, most probably to coax a child to eat or to sleep. But not every story springing from these universal rituals can be committed to publication, and only very few become books. There are reasons for this as anybody involved in the business of children’s books would tell you.
Children’s books are not indulgences, no matter how many in the wider world think so. The best ones go through all the processes of quality control, nothing’s exempt: not design, not pictures, not colors, not punctuation, not language, and certainly not text. And while idea or ideas are central to a story, a story doesn’t become a book until it is grown into one with all the elements, including plot, narrative and structure, mixed into it with selective infusions of imagination.
The Journey is not a book. It is an idea, spun into a bedtime tale for a child that refuses to go to sleep. It is the exception, it is an indulgence. The image of a grain of wheat growing arms and legs to sprout into a plant is certainly vivid. In my view, that’s where the story lies. Someone else might pick something else. But as it is, it’s just words, words, words, an outpouring of naïve philosophical ruminations on life, death, the afterlife and service to humanity, rambling across illustrated pages through a distracted abstraction of thoughts. The story sounds as vague as the sentence preceding this one. Not complex, not confusing, just vague.
It seems ludicrous to comment on the illustrations as though they exist separate from the text in a picture book. They don’t, they wouldn’t – in an ideal world. Some of Kulkarni’s frames are quite charming, his cover evokes a peacock feather in the slant of the stalk, the curve of the lines, the small blobs of paint. Do the pictures tell a story on their own? Actually, yes. Even, perhaps, a far simpler story with far greater implications.
In the enthusiasm of reacting to the story, I omitted to provide the gist. It’s simply this: the story of a grain of wheat and its connection to the stars and, by extension, the universe.
By Sandhya Rao
Author: Swati Raje
Illustrator: Chandramohan Kulkarni
Jyotsna Prakashan and Bhaashaa Foundation, 2014
Subject Category: Fantasy/Adventure