Dreaming in Black and White

An illustrated novel explores Hinduism’s colourful mythology in monochrome

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John Jackson, the author of the recently released Brahma Dreaming, prefers to call his stories legends or folk tales than to classify them as mythology.“Mythology cannot be dismissed as something trivial.  Myths have their roots in what Jung called ‘the collective unconscious’. They are part of the human heritage and can teach us much about human behaviour.”

On a trek in the Himalayas, in 1978, Jackson encountered Hindus near the Indian border, at the foot of the Annapurna range, and Buddhists in the middle areas. “High up, in the final layer, there are animists, who see spirit in everything,” says Jackson, now 84, and a keen student of world religion.

The Milk Ocean“Mountain people are excellent storytellers. I was fascinated by their legends and myths, passed on by itinerant storytellers who told them for a bowl of soup and a crust of bread in the villages they travelled to.” After the trek, the London-based polymath writer, lawyer, campaigner and founder of JJ Books, Jackson, spent 35 years researching Indian and Nepalese mythology, including the Mahabharata.

His encounters with wandering storytellers, and extensive research on ancient Mesopotamia, the breeding ground of many of the world’s religions, culminated in the creation of Brahma Dreaming. The 248-page illustrated book re-imagines some of Hinduism’s foundational myths using rich yet simple storytelling paired with black and white artwork by Italian illustrator Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini.

Tales Of CreationThe story opens with Brahma, who, in the Tales of Creation, dreams the world into being. The focus later shifts to Vishnu and Shiva in the Tales of Preservation and Tales of Destruction. Jackson’s take is not a significant departure from Hindu mythology as we know it. Yet, it does not glorify characters to godly proportions. “The idea was to create a book that would use words and imagery to draw the reader into these timeless stories. It can well be seen as a successor of the mountain storytellers’ of erstwhile times.”

Terrazzini has taken some creative liberties with the imagery, depicting mythological figures in ways one may not be used to. There’s a lanky Shiva with a roaring tiger on his back and a lovelorn goddess Sati in a sweeping gown and floral head wreath. Another chapter depicts Ganesha effortlessly balancing a ridiculously large head on a human body while he rides atop a gigantic rat.

bd2“Using pure black and white, and, in a sense, being limited by such a choice, helped me to be expressive and free in my imagery,” says Terrazzini, who usually works with watercolours. “These stories, with their dark and surreal nature, served to benefit from this.” Not always adhering to traditional iconography, her versions of Hindu deities personify the characters, if not make them more approachable.

The hardcover, cloth-bound Brahma Dreaming is, as much as anything, an exploration of the imagination. “I hope the book will appeal to the imaginative and intuitive child that lives in all of us, whether we are 10 or 110,” says Jackson.

Published in Man’s World (MW) in October 2013

A Play of Light

DSC_0370I  came across an interesting TEDTalk by Alexa Mead titled, Your Body is My Canvas, in which she shares her journey as an artist. When she was younger, Mead was fascinated by shadows, and often found herself painting over them. Much like creating a permanent shadow.

Over time, she began highlighting not just the shadows she saw but also the light that fell upon objects and beings. In essence, she was actually painting what she saw — on friends, objects and surfaces.  In the TEDTalk video,  Mead is first seen painting a backdrop. She then paints over her subject (a man) to match the textures of the background. When viewed from a distance, or as a photograph, the entire creation appears two dimensional. Simply put, Mead transforms a 3D object and its environment into a two-dimensional creation that looks much like a painting. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before, and really got me thinking about my own fascination for light and shadows.

I was left inspired after watching this video. Mostly every TEDTalk leaves me this way. But this time around, it gave me a gentle nudge to step out of my comfort zone to write a blog post after what might seem like eons. And, this brings me back to my love for light, and mostly, the way it transmogrifies as the day turns into night.

A sunbeam piercing a dust-filled room. A shadow created by natural light. Silhouettes of objects, forms and structures. Most interesting is the fact that these figures, shapes, rainbow hues and symmetrical forms are created by a natural source, reminding you, ever so often, of the small, simple and organic pleasures of life.

Ripples in the water during a blissful sunset
Silhouettes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I shot the photographs (above) just before sunset near Vadivali Lake in Kamshet, a little town that’s a couple of hours out of Mumbai. As soon

as the sun began to set, everything around us – trees, shrubs, flowers, cows and dogs – took on a silhouetted effect. When the sun was at its lowest, nestled between the silhouetted hills, the lake took on a purple-hued rippled effect. It’s really quiet in Kamshet, and if you’re looking to get away from the madness of the concrete jungle, this might just be the place.

Light and shadows at the Hawa Mahal

When I think of light and shadows as strong elements, I can’t help but think of Rajasthan, particularly when I visited Jaipur a few years ago. Hawa Mahal in Jaipur (pictured above) is a photographer’s paradise. Light enters the erstwhile home of Maharana Sawai Pratap Singh through hundreds of tiny windows that also bring in generous gushes of wind. The windows allowed the women of the house to get glimpses of life outside their home.

Shadow and light symmetry

It was on one of the terraces that I, yet again, spotted a sharp play of light and shadow. A perfectly symmetrical shadow intersects the adjoining wall makes it seem like I was in the right place at the right time.