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Beloved nursery rhymes get an Indian makeover

A new series of board books for children reimagines quintessential rhymes in an Indian context 

‘My Indian Baby Books’ published by Juggernaut Books, illustrated by Kavita Arvind
‘My Indian Baby Books’ published by Juggernaut Books, illustrated by Kavita Arvind

Most of us grew up with very western images in nursery rhymes—a big manor with a tiny blond baby asleep in the cot and stars twinkling outside, or a little girl in polka-dotted dress, perched upon a little rock in a pristine English countryside eating her curds and whey. But now you have a new series of baby board books, which reimagines these rhymes in an Indian context. 

So, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star features a little girl, Sara, who is waiting to spot the moon in the sky. “I want to be the first to tell my mom, dad and friends that tomorrow is Eid and all the fun can begin.” She suddenly comes across a winking star and with that her adventures begin. 

For illustrator Kavita Arvind, the process of ideation was an exciting one. “When Chiki Sarkar [co-founder, Juggernaut Books] and I started speaking about this project, I wondered how do you even contextualise what are quintessential English nursery rhymes,” she says. “ForTwinkle Twinkle Little Star, the idea of Eid was Chiki's.” Sarkar had this image of a little girl, who would run up the terrace to look at the moon. From thereon, ideas for the other books flowed organically. 

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Arvind embarked on rigorous research on a quest for motifs and visuals that were truly Indian. Take, for instance, the teapot in I am a Little Teapot, which features entwined tendrils and flowers, which is reminiscent of the floral patterns in Mughal miniatures. “For One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, I thought of a little Sikh boy, tying his shoe laces and going out to play. I would develop these little characters and decide what the context would be,” elaborates Arvind. 

The only book she struggled with was Incy Wincy Spider. She wondered what could be an Indian equivalent to drain pipes and spouts. So, she came up with the idea of the water pump. “A lot of times, images from urban India are so generic, which you would find anywhere in the world. But in towns outside of the metros, you would find things like the pump, which are so typically Indian,” says Arvind. 

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She has drawn from her personal experiences too. Having grown up in Mumbai, she started taking the BEST bus very early on, when she was in Grade VII. So, the book on Wheels on the Bus, features an amalgamation of characters that she saw while growing up—fishmongers, a lady selling gajra, office clerks, hassled mums, and more. In every book, there are a lot of parallel narratives happening, and there is a lot for the little ones to look at. A lot of Arvind's friends, who are expats, are terribly excited, “as they feel there are very few stories about brown children for kids this age,” says Arvind. ”Also, a lot of children's books make very generic animals. For these books, I was particular that animals should be endemic to India. So, for Rock-a-Bye Baby, I have chosen the Bonnet macaque," she adds.  

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