There are many books on Indian art and artists. However, how many of these actually introduce Indian art to children? How many of paint a vibrant picture of the bustling art heritage of India? Indeed, one could do with many more books on Indian art, specifically written for children. Prince with a Paintbrush- The Story of Raja Ravi Varma by Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan fits into this much-coveted niche.
A fascinating introduction to the life and works of Raja Ravi Varma, this picture book, published by Red Panda, Westland demystifies Indian art for children. Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan deftly weaves a gripping tale of the painter who is often known as the father of modern Indian art. Rayika Sen’s illustrations coupled with photographic reproductions of the paintings make the book vibrant.
It is not always simple to talk about art with children. However, a good storyteller skillfully merges art concepts and ideas with storytelling. This is exactly what Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan does. The book starts off with a classroom scenario where a young girl gets introduced to the works of the famous painter Raja Ravi Varma. At the moment, all she knows is his name. However, she will soon discover more about his life.
The book is about this discovery, where the girl and her mother find out more about Raja Ravi Varma. The book has parallel narratives. On one hand, the reader reads about the journey and the evolution of the artist right from his childhood in Kerela, to his trysts with royalty and ventures into print in Bombay. On the other hand, there is the parallel narrative of the girl who learns about him. Her thoughts, her witty deductions and her understanding the painter in the context of her times is what will make the modern child-reader connect to the story.
I think that the book beautifully brings out how Raja Ravi Varma developed his own unique style. How he depicts the mélange of western techniques and Indian subjects and aesthetics is well brought out in the book. Towards the end, there is a short information section that gives relevant factual snippets about him.
However, most endearing is the story of his evolution. The reader also gets a chance to see a good number of his paintings which further helps them connect with the story. Prince with a Paintbrush- The Story of Raja Ravi Varma by Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan is a wonderfully illustrated and narrated biography that will open the doors of the modern Indian art world to children in a fun and accessible manner.