Reading should be a tactile pastime

Known as one of the most original names in contemporary Indian publishing, Indian author Gita Wolf is a clear advocate of the traditional arts in each of her handcrafted books.

The 57-year-old co-founder of Tara Books in Chennai has written more than 20 books for adults and children, including her latest title Do!, winner of the prestigious Bologna Ragazzi New Horizons Award in 2010.

My Paper spoke to the visionary writer, who was here to hold an art workshop as part of Read! Singapore on Friday and Saturday, about handmaking books and why it remains important, especially in today's digital world.

What goes into the process of handmaking a book?

We have 20 people in our handmade printing workshop, who each play a role in creating these cherished items.

Each page (of a book) is an original as we print them by hand on a silk-screen, before binding them by hand - a process that involves punching holes with a mallet and a nail, before stitching the forms together.

Even the paper used is handmade from a mixture of cotton-cloth waste and tree bark, rice husk, or grass.

What is the value of making each book by hand?

In today's world, there is so much that is now virtual - things that you cannot touch or feel or smell.

The handmaking process (of making a book) gives one the opportunity to see, feel and touch. This is important as I feel that we are losing it in so many ways.

The texture, colour and smell of our handmade books bring the senses back into the experience of reading.

Why are most of your books centred on traditional art forms?

A traditional art form provides you with a different way of rendering and this is important as it provides variety.

We use many styles of illustration, with the Warli style of painting being one of them. The Warli style, developed by an indigenous East Indian tribe called the Warlis, is very iconic; it is simple yet expressive at the same time.

Some may find your book illustrations to be stylised. How exactly do children relate to them?

From our experience, children relate very well to our book illustrations. It is important to expose them to different kinds of art.

The Warli art workshop, for instance, which I've conducted in many parts of the world, such as Italy, Mexico and India, has always been warmly received by children.

It provides them with the chance to explore different ways and styles of drawing and expression, and be creative. Children have always loved the workshop because the art is simple yet expressive.

In fact, there are many stylised illustrations in mainstream fiction as well, such as Disney, and children are used to them.


As one of the shortlisted titles for Read! Singapore this year, Gita Wolf's story The Very Hungry Lion is found in Asian Folktales, a compilation book that can be borrowed from all public libraries except library@esplanade and library@chinatown.

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