Since Madhuri Purandare won the Sahitya Akademi Bal Sahitya Puraskar in 2014 for her contribution to Marathi literature, I’ve been wanting to get a sense of her writing, as until that point I’d only been able to appreciate her distinctive style of illustration. Publisher Jyotsna Prakashan’s English translations of some of her most popular books give non-Marathi speakers the chance to do just that. This boxed set of six books (first published in Marathi in 2002) about different members of Radha’s family – Baba, Aai, Aaji, Nana, Cousins and Kaka – is a glimpse into family relationships from the perspective of a young girl.
There’s a gentle charm to the way that these books are written – in simple language and with a child-centric focus that captures the essence of joint family life. It’s a charm that’s mirrored by the lovingly painted illustrations, which are understated rather than showy, but wonderfully evocative, especially when it comes to the depiction of facial expressions, and interactions between characters. These are images which complement, rather than literally illustrate, the text, so they are full of supplementary stories and extra details, adding a great deal to the overall narrative.
These are not so much storybooks as they are character sketches, with snippets from everyday life used to give us a sense of personalities and relationships. The dynamic between Radha and each member of her family is beautifully teased out. Her closeness to her grandfather, who naps with her, feeds her, plays hide and seek and pushes her on the swings is particularly moving, as is the adoration with which the young girl views her mother. The dialogue come across authentically, and there are some particularly delightful snippets – such as the poem Nana sings to Radha to encourage her to eat.
I must admit that as a non-Marathi speaker I was sometimes a little confused by the names, which as you can tell by the book titles, are not translated into English. Even after looking up the meanings, the fact that some characters are referred to in two ways (for example, the mother as Aai and Meenai) was at first a little perplexing. Ditto Nana (a word I’ve always associated with maternal grandfather), who is actually Radha’s Aajoba, or father’s father. Aaji, the book about Radha’s grandmother, was for me the weakest of the series, perhaps because of its strong focus on the grandmother’s recollections of her own childhood, to the neglect of her present-day relationship with her granddaughter.
On the whole, though, it was gratifying to see the books giving a nuanced picture of family roles. The working mother, nurturing grandfather and hands-on father do much to reflect the increasingly fluid gender roles within families. That being said, there were certain aspects that jarred, most particularly the section about Nana and Radha ‘helping’ Meenai in the kitchen by chopping vegetables. Before we can truly get beyond gendered stereotypes, we have to abandon the assumption that any family member performing domestic chores is doing so to ‘help’ the mother of the household, as this carries the deeply held assumption that the maintenance of the household is the mother’s ultimate responsibility. The choice of words also jars occasionally, meaning that the text lacks the same elegance as the art – though this is quite possibly a case of something being lost in translation.
These quibbles aside, these are reasonably-priced, well-produced and beautifully illustrated books, which show a slice of India often neglected in picture books. It’s not hard to imagine parent and child snuggling up together to read these at bedtime, which is why they’d be a good addition to any home library.
By Maegan Dobson Sippy
Author & Illustrator: Madhuri Purandare
English (translated from Marathi)
Boxed set of 6 books, each 25 pages
Jyotsna Prakashan, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Picture Books