”There was a total lacuna when it came to books on Carnatic music for the young,” says Lakshmi Devnath, author of the Pictures of Melody book series.
What makes her series interesting is that she’s chosen the graphic novel format to narrate stories of the Carnatic music greats, starting with Madurai Mani Iyer and T Brinda.
In India, comic books or even graphic novels have focused largely on tales from our mythology or superheroes. Only recently have they opened up their horizons to feature personalities from different fields. Most of us encounter classical musicians only on stage or on television and rarely think about their lives — who they are offstage and what made them the persons they are. Part of the problem, of course, has been the dearth of stories or information for readers, young or old. Lakshmi Devnath, with her books, has set out to address this gap.
The easy vocabulary of the Pictures of Melody series augments the pictures in a manner that will appeal to all readers. Devnath’s storytelling, aided by Ajay Krishnan’s artwork, is filled with little details that reveal the meticulous research she’s done for these stories. Each book, in addition to an autographed photo of the featured artist, contains a note by a famous disciple of the musician. For instance, the book about T Brinda has Aruna Sairam, a popular performer, speaking about her guru. Similarly, Madurai Mani Iyer’s story is accompanied by an interview with T V Shankaranarayanan, his nephew and disciple.
The books explain the terms used in Carnatic music without being pedantic, so the lay reader or beginner picks up useful knowledge. For the more experienced rasika or music aficionado, it offers hitherto unknown nuggets of information, both historical and musical.
In featuring T Brinda, additionally the author has brought to fore many challenges that women in classical music have had to overcome to get their rightful place on and offstage. Even the casual reader discovers how Madurai Mani Iyer sang a poem composed by a friend following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. “It is gratifying to find out that these books are being read as bedtime stories to children,” adds Devnath.
To the question what next, Devnath responds, “An organisation in Karnataka has approached me to do a picture book on Chowdiah.”
By placing the musicians and their music in the context of their times, the books have enough and more to stimulate the interest of a wide range of readers in the country.
This article first appeared in the Sunday edition of Deccan Herald