Waterlife is a handmade book, written and created by an Indian author. It is a beautiful little treasure; not just for children, but for adults too. And what perfect timing, in the run-up to the holidays.
Developed and published by an independent Indian publisher, Tara Books, it tells a story about the sea and magical fish through Mithila art.The publisher is very special: it is a collective of dedicated writers, designers and artists who work together on the books. Their books give a voice to marginalized artists and literature that might not otherwise be published.
First noted in Brain Pickings, the books are crafted by local artisans in their fair trade workshop in Chennai. They are hand-bound and each page is screen-printed by hand using traditional Indian dyes on handmade paper. It comes in a limited edition of 3,000 hand-numbered copies.
Rambharos Jha is the artist who created Waterlife. He grew up on the banks of the Ganga River, and so has always been fascinated with water and water life. In the book he developed his own ideas of how these sea creatures would look. He writes a playful text that combines childhood memory and folk legend.
This was his first drawing for the book. He was very nervous that it would not be accepted by readers across the world. He said:
It gave me great pleasure to imagine the fish as this, as human, perhaps because I had just become a parent myself with the birth of my son. I began using blue, green and orange colours in my work to express this deeply felt joy.
About this wonderful octopus he says:
I have tried to capture the ocean in lines; its restless movement, the ebb and flow of its tides... So the lines stream in different directions, curving, circling and reaching out.
Waterlife features Mithila art, a vibrant and delicate form of folk painting from Bihar in eastern India. Mithila art was originally painted on the walls of houses during festival season, but in the late 1970s, it moved to paper. Traditional Mithila painting "comes from a time when things were so different, from an agricultural society, a society where time moved slowly and according to rituals that were carefully kept. The art was a ritual art painted on the walls and on the floor to celebrate and commemorate important life occasions."