How did this collaboration with Joelle begin?
After I had finished the story, we searched for about a year for the right illustrator. There were some very fine illustrators, but the worlds they conjured up didn’t feel like the one I had imagined in words. Just as it began to feel a bit hopeless, Judith Oriol of the French Book Office suggested Joëlle Jolivet’s work to me, adding she thought my writing could find a reflection in her visuals. She was right: I found her depiction of animals, in particular, riveting.
What prompted you to write a children’s book, especially as your body of work so far has been so different?
You are right, I had resisted writing prose for a long time, whether for adults or children. But this felt neither like prose nor like a children’s book. I wrote it as part of the script of DESH, Akram Khan’s dance production. It was pure luck that Anita Roy, (from Zubaan Books) saw a children’s book in it, and that she convinced me to finish the story. Left to myself, it was quite improbable that I’d have done anything with it.
The material for the book is adapted from a dance-drama. What were the challenges in converting that into a children’s book?
The biggest challenge was finding an illustrator who’d be equally enthusiastic about it, who’d enjoy the extremely visual script.
What sort of message do children take away from this book?
I didn’t want to moralise in the story, but I do hope that there is a strong sense for our need to be respectful to the earth, to time and its cycles, to the needs of other species — if not for anything else, then because our own survival depends on it.
What sort of art form have you used in the illustrations for the book?
I’ve used the direct colour technique, like in screen printing or lithography. The different colours are first drawn separately with India ink on tracing paper and then assembled on the computer. This technique allows colours that are purer, more intense.
Where did you find the inspiration to do the illustrations on a topic such as this?
I did a lot of research on Internet, having never been to either Bangladesh or West Bengal. I found traditional forms of painting like pathachitra, which inspired me a lot. I also looked at a lot of regional iconography. My imagination is also fueled considerably by actual, existing details.
Did you use your printmaking
technique of Linocutting in the making of this book?
No, for once, I moved away from from Linocutting and it was a liberating experience to use pencils, to retrieve the wrist movements, the spontaneity of drawing.
What is your favourite piece of illustration in the book and why?
The last page of the book: the one where the demon-tiger shakes and shakes and shakes, and transforms in our eyes.
The Honey Hunter is published by Zubaan Books, in collaboration with Institut Français en Inde, the Alliance Française de Madras and the Prakriti Foundation.