At first read, Priya Kuriyan’s comic book interpretation of three popular stories by Ruskin Bond impacted me in the strangest way. It made me hop, skip and jump to my wall-high packed bookshelf. Seemingly at random, I pulled out books, gently laying each on my bed (which doubles as my favourite reading spot). The spread embraced assorted titles – Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle, illustrated by Chris Riddell; Anushka Ravishankar’s Tiger on a Tree, illustrated by Pulak Biswas; Maurice Sendak’s self-illustrated Where the Wild Things Are; The Feluda Mysteries by Satyajit Ray, scripted by Subhadra Sen Gupta, artwork by Tapas Guha; The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam; Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, with pictures by Lauren Child; Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, illustrated by Quentin Blake.
It took me five rounded minutes to rationalize why I had picked out these books in particular. Because, in each case, the story and the visuals were perfectly in sync. Like the harmony of waves lapping at the shore, or the sweet-salty-spicy blend that makes aam panna sing of Indian summers.
Over the years, as editions of Bond’s work poured into the market, I recall thinking: why can’t Indian publishers find an illustrator who understands the inner pulse of this quirky writer? Why can’t the artist wander into the cubbyholes of his mind to bring alive his hill stories, teeming with (in Gerald Durrell’s phrase) “birds, beasts and relatives”?
Against this backdrop, I applaud the leap of faith that Red Turtle’s editor has taken in commissioning this take on Bond when his readership already loves him unconditionally. Need proof? In 1998, we know that Bond became the only Indian finalist ever for the Hans Christian Andersen award, popularly considered the Nobel for children’s writing. Recently, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, at least a dozen children and adults alike prefaced their questions to the Bond they admire with, “I/we love you, Ruskin Bond.” That’s besides creating illustrated cards and posters to welcome him with.
When Red Turtle turned three of Bond’s most-loved stories over to brilliant illustrator and long-time Bond fan Priya Kuriyan for a shy at a comic book, it probably made her delve into her storehouse of surplus courage and creativity. Could the lauded stories be altered thus to fit our time and shrinking attention spans? Each of the chosen stories is both timeless and unforgettable: Monkey Trouble, Eye of the Eagle, and A Special Tree.
With every page I turned in this comic book, I discovered how much Bond and Kuriyan have in common. A gift for creating the perfect mood. An eye for whimsy and the odd angle. A way of celebrating the endearing eccentric. An ear turned to individual voices. Even unusual ways of making the mundane magical. It probably helped that Kuriyan was a Bond fan even as a child. In a recent interview with The Asian Age, she recalls the experience of creating these pages:
“It is quite something to be able to illustrate the same stories that you read as a child. His books take you to much simpler times… I was a bit nervous at first because that meant cutting out a lot of text and replacing that with visuals. But despite being a writer with such vast experience, I think he completely trusts the illustrator to do what they think is best and works. That is very rare and generous.”
Bond’s generosity, teamed with Kuriyan’s sparkling imagination and mastery of nuanced watercolours, shaped this gift to Indian readers. This book is perfect for adults who want a lazy comic adventure, or a twinkling revisit to a familiar story. It is just as appropriate for young readers who enjoy being read aloud to, who are likely to whoop with delight as these evergreen family tales come alive in way that is familiar yet different.
The manic family scene that trails a pet monkey on the rampage against a backdrop of buntings and bananas sets the perfect mood on the cover. It draws us into an irresistible world that we find, settle into, and grow to love deeper with every read. Perhaps this comic adventure is another declaration of love to Ruskin Bond, now eighty-plus, from Kuriyan, Red Turtle and every single reader he has charmed over decades.
By Aditi De
Author: Ruskin Bond
Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan
Rupa Publications, 2016
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Comic