Scripting a new chapter by brushing past obstacles: Man behind TN school textbooks design

In his school days, he was deeply moved by a painting of Bharathiyar that ignited his creative spirit.
Kathir Arumugam. (Photo | P Ravikumar)
Kathir Arumugam. (Photo | P Ravikumar)

CHENNAI: As a dyslexic child, it was a lesson that Kathir Arumugam had to master before anything else -- the art of brushing past obstacles thrown your way with masterstrokes that leave everlasting impressions. Opportunities are bound to present themselves; recognition will come your way in time, says the self-assured, 38-yearold from Arachalur village in Erode district, who, along with a team of artists, cherished an opportunity in 2018 to breathe new life into the textbooks of Tamil Nadu. “The Tamil Nadu Textbook Association entrusted me with the responsibility of designing, or redesigning, textbooks for Classes 1 to 10. After thorough research, my team and I handpicked designs most suitable for honing the learning curve,” reminisces Kathir.

The textbooks flaunt sketches of butterflies, bird feathers, leaves, scattered sutras, and Tamil and English characters. Moreover, the innovative cover designs of books spanning subjects such as Tamil, English, Mathematics, Science, Physics, Chemistry, and Statistics have captured the attention of not just the students and teachers, but the general public too. There is nothing more gratifying for Kathir than seeing the children of his village browse through the textbooks he designed. It overwhelms me with immense joy, says Kathir. In his childhood, Kathir sought inspiration even in palm leaves. In his school days, he was deeply moved by a painting of Bharathiyar that ignited his creative spirit. Down the long road of artistic expression, Kathir fostered creativity by sculpting in clay and inscriptions marked on bicycles, grocery stores, and phone booths.

On the canvas of life, he explored themes both in Tamil and English, experimenting, with gel pen, and gradually transitioning to paint brushes. Kathir dropped out of school due to financial constraints when he was in Class 9. Survival was the buzzword from then. Soon enough, he secured a job as an office boy at a private design firm in Erode. It was an introduction to modern design software technologies for Kathir. He moved to Chennai and landed a job as a designer for the publishing house Uyirmai and began designing books for renowned literature writers and crafting logos for various companies and publishing houses. Kathir ensured his artistic individuality does not get muddled up in the middle-of-the-road affairs.

Perseverance paid off, and Kathir seized the day to step up his career. He started regularly posting his works on social media platforms. Apart from the 2018 textbook project, Kathir designed the book, Keezhadi: Sangam Era City Civilization on the Banks of the Vaigai River, published by the Department of Archaeology. Kathir established his own company, Cuckoo Images, in Chennai. Kathir extends his gratitude to T Udhayachandran who assigned the Cuckoo Images with the task of crafting the archaeological display boards put on display at the Keezhadi Museum. Kathir and his team spent about 60 days to make the display boards. In time, the narrow crevasse between the art and the artist closed in.

(Edited by Jacob B Jacob)

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