CHENNAI: Another brand-new day, and yet another hour of endlessly scrolling down the murky barrel of banana bread, fitness videos and screenshots of Zoom calls, that is Instagram. Yes, we get it; you have friends! But every once in a while, your eyes catch something, breaking the infamous social media cycle of brief glimpse, double-tap and scrolling on. And this time around, I stop at a vivid brick-red watercolour illustration of Kannagi, the fiery icon from Silappathikaram. Making it all the better is the accompanying calligraphic lettering narrating her story in a few crisp lines.
The first in a six-part series titled Vibha Surya x Rashmi Guhan, from calligrapher Rashmi Guhan and illustrator Vibha Suryanarayanan, the duo delve into Indian history to dig out characters — some forgotten, some misunderstood. “Taking a cue from when I was a child and devoured stories from Amar Chitra Katha and the epics, I decided to return to them with this series. Calligraphy has always been my creative avenue, and with this, I can combine the two,” explains Rashmi. Looking for an ethnic-touch beyond just the character origins, the collaboration came through with Vibha’s striking illustration style complimenting the pristine calligraphy.
What might seem like a gargantuan task of choosing characters from rich Indian histories and storylines replete with them, Vibha and Rashmi seem to be crystal-clear on precisely who they want. As Rashmi’s fascination with the Mughal period shines through with her choice of Noor Jahan, Vibha makes her pick from the Mahabharata. “I had to pick Karna! His selfless sacrifice, loyalty to his king and friend, and the helpless situation he finds himself in made us decide to portray him, immediately. I would also say Kannagi, since the composition came out really well,” says the Chennai-based illustrator.
Aimed not just at adding a splash of colour to the Instagram timeline, the pair intends to spark a nostalgic interest and make it an educational moment all at the same time. “Kids nowadays either have their own phones or are peeping into their mother’s screens, so why not give them something fun to learn and look at as well,” adds Rashmi on a happy note. With many engaging with the illustrations and lettering, be it prompting questions or picking a side between Arjuna and Karna, the series seems to be also fulfilling its ulterior motive — sparking a conversation and keeping people connected.
Both have their hands full during the lockdown — with Vibha working on food illustrations having just completed the 36 Days of Type, an Instagram challenge, and Rashmi, aside from her calligraphy, also giving her followers a sneak-peek into her ever-growing reading list. Despite it, they assure us that a children’s illustration book might be in the works,