In Vineeta and Arvind Kanoria’s bookNeel‘, Krishna comes to life through art. Lord Vishnu-incarnate who many say walked the Earth thousands of years ago and lived a complicated and enigmatic life – an astute politician driven by a desire to teach’dharma‘ to the world – was portrayed as a mischievous boy leading his extraordinary life in Vrindavan and Gokul: milking cows, fighting the mythical multi-headed serpent Kalia, dancing with gopisetc
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Vineeta looked visibly excited on the phone as she talked about her book, which was conceptualized shortly after her grandson ‘Neil’ was born. “My husband and I read a lot and we are interested in art and philosophy. Our grandson’s name is ‘Neil’, and it’s also the color blue (‘neel‘ in Hindi). We thought of doing something about Krishna. Every time we go abroad, [we see] so many beautiful books; [but there are] not so many Indian art books,” she told this outlet.
While Neil was born in 2017, Neel was released “just before Covid, in 2020”.
On every page of this self-published book there are evocative illustrations – from a Jamini Roy to an MF Husain – detailing the various colorful and captivating episodes in the deity’s life. “It took a long time [to finish this book], because these are all images from museums and collectors. You need permission because you can’t just take them off the internet,” said Vineeta, a preschool and special education teacher.
When the Kanorias decided to write this book, they had an age group in mind – it was aimed at Neil and children his age. The couple first started working on the skeleton of the book, deciding which specific events from Lord Krishna’s life they wanted to include. “I found illustrations based on the stories. For example, I didn’t want to go into death and all that with [demons like] Bakasur and Putana. And I didn’t want to include ‘cheer-haran‘ [chapter from Mahabharat] or show him running away with clothes. We made a list of things we wanted to talk about, then found works that were accessible and those that could move us.
The writing part lasted almost a year, as they tried to get the children interested in exploring the world of art, through various works of art present in the book: from a miniature painting to a patua. “I extended it from three to four-year-olds – which was my original plan – to children up to seven or eight years old.”
Artwork details and credits for each painting are mentioned on the last page of this glossy hardcover, along with engaging tasks after each episode – promising to keep the kids busy at home, especially in the present day.
“In special education, we believe in multi-sensory teaching. If someone reads it to you, it’s auditory and there’s a visual element to it – something a child can do with their hands and legs,” she said, adding that decisions on the details The aesthetics of the book – including its typeface – were taken by Arvind.
“I wrote the book with Krishna as my friend in mind,” the author said, explaining why he is shown as a small child engaging with a girl and a boy in the illustrations. “In the book, he’s a boy, or a man, an ordinary person. I wanted to make him accessible, like an older brother. For me, it was more about Indian art than mythology. I could have make animals and birds, but the association with the word ‘neel‘ was here. Moreover, Krishna is beautifully depicted in Indian art.
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