It was an early morning for me today, a cloudy August Monday morning and a holiday. I am not an early riser but on the few early mornings, like this one, I usually love to take a stroll outside in the garden. I have had a strange ache in my ankles for the past week that has prevented me to bimble around. So I took myself out to the balcony for a breath of cool and fresh morning air. And sat on the chowpayah.
This time of the year, with rains and too much heat, my terrace garden’s usually high on cactii and succulents. So I went about them showing them so love, noticing how my blue agave had grown so beautiful.
That’s when I felt a little hungry. I had skipped dinner last night. But it was too early for a full breakfast and I wanted something light. I found some orange juice in the refrigerator and punched it lightly with a small amount of rose syrup. There was also some cream bun, with a sprinkle of roasted sesame seeds to add that munch, lying in the kitchen cupboard and I helped myself.
On my way back to the balcony the bookshelf beckoned me. I picked up a book and went and sat on the chowpayah again. My day was just beginning.
The book I picked up was a Russian children’s illustration book. If you know me you, already by now, know how I love children’s books, especially illustrated ones. It was a big, orange hardbound book with a huge illustration on the front cover and an unusual title. The title read “Cardboard Clock Square” and was authored by Leonid Yakhnin.
Russian Children’s books were such a trend in the 70s and 80s and well into the 90s in India. Bookshops hoarded them and international books and publishers usually meant those either from Russia or from England.
The front page looked exciting to me for two reasons. First, because it seemed to be such a busy space. Colourful and a variety of fonts jumbled up so beautifully within its leafy margins. It was so playful just like the small dancing clown in the middle of it all.
And secondly, because of a name scribbled in pencil and somehow fitted into whatever small white space was available. It was a child’s handwriting. One that was never mine. But the naughtiest I’ve ever come across. A small boy who lived with us in the same home for over a decade. Someone who I loved and love so dearly. He had made my book his own. Like a lot others! Scribbling and colouring into a lot of my stuff! Nothing out of the way! Just the usual! A whole rush of fond memories flooded in. That little boy is a teenager now with a deep interest in literature.
A little more magic happened when I turned over to the page of contents. I had almost forgotten the book was a gift. From an aunt who was an absolute favourite and who I always treated like an elder sister. And a second wave of beautiful memories flooded in. I always thought how pretty she was, dark-skinned, black curls, big eyes, an impeccable smile, agile, graceful but funny and oh so loving! All those times that as a child I spent with her at her place seems just like yesterday now.
Time passes by. Swiftly. In a jiffy, whole eras seem to turn into bygones.
Sometimes even before you get to savour them.
And I say to myself all over again live, live, live!
Well then with the turning of another page, the story in the book started to unfold, the illustrations started to come alive, and I was taken into its own whirlwind!
Yakhnin’s book tells a wonderful story about Brim, the Hatter, (And somehow, all Hatters remind me of the one Mad Hatter that Carroll brought to life. On this note, Yakhnin also did a little-known translation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice with a set of thoroughly interesting surreal illustrations. You could click on the link and read more about it in the respective blog.) Legging, the Robber, whose family profession has been robbing for three generations now, a Cardboard Clock Square and its cardboard inhabitants. It is a tale of how one afternoon the Hatter built a cardboard clock square and how Legging, the Robber came to be its tyrant king ever pulling the strings of one and all about the town he claims his.
The Cardboard Clock Square is inhabited by people like
the forgetful Baker and his boy, Molasses,
Scissors, the Barber,
Flute, the Clown,
the Candy-Wrapper girl, Waffles, looking for work with her chocolate pup
Legging, the King of the Cardboard City, now wants to eat the chocolate pup, now imprisons Flute, the Clown in the Soap Cellar. Some Cardboard citizens are afraid of him, some want to be on the safe side, some want to get a better view of him.
Though we all know how Legging loves to chomp on cheese and catch a daytime nap after a full stomach, and how he is dead scared of the dark and constantly afraid of being attacked, he continued to be mean and tyrannical. So the Cardboard people realized and shouted
“Kings can also be robbers. And sometimes robbers become kings!“
They helped Flute, the Clown escape the cellar and send him to fetch Brim, the Hatter from town!
The Hatter and the Clown arrive to find King Legging in the Cardboard Clock Square holding the strings of all the Cardboard people when Waffles, the Candy-Wrap Girl bravely revolt! And all the Cardboard people revolt with her.
Brim, the Hatter threatened to beat Legging and hurried him out of the town. The Hatter then had all the people gather around and tied the ends of strings of each one’s hands and heads together.
And he said,
“Now your heads and your hands will work together. If your head says you’re to work, your hands will obey. If your hands are working, your head will be working, too. Now nobody will ever make you do something you don’t want to do. And I know you will all be happy.“
For Brim, the Hatter has a motto:
“Freedom” . “Kindness” . “Skill“.
Here are photos from a few pages, in random order, from the book!
The book turned out to be such a treasure! The strong use of the symbolic colour red right throughout the book, the many other symbols in the story, the well-drawn out characters, especially the dictator robber and how the people together topple his tyranny and with the help of the Hatter’s motto work towards building a better society.
By the time I finished the book it was around ten in the morning. I had gobbled up my breakfast in between. The clouds vanished from the sky and the sun was peeping. However as I write this blog post a heavy downpour is in full play beyond the window.
And am still wondering if I am doing my bit towards building a better society.
Celebrating another year of Indian Independence, yet all of us, surrounded by varied forms of autocratic absolutism, are still struggling hard to understand the meaning of and implement the principle of freedom better in our lives. We are still struggling to establish a good way of life for all of us.
Let us be brave and raise our voices against all forms of wrongdoing. Let us fight for ourselves and each other. And let us do so together, hand in hand.
In Kindness. For Freedom. With Skill.