Dadasaheb Phalke

Recently, I received my copy of a book I’d illustrated for Pratham books. It’s a pictorial biography of Dadasaheb Phalke.

I’m proud of this for two reasons. Firstly, I’m glad it’s Pratham because I’m one with their mission of ‘a book in every child’s hands’. Secondly, I’m happy that someone considered writing about Dadasaheb Phalke, so that children know about the man who set the ball, nah, film-reel rolling in India.

These are some of the inner pages of the book which is aimed at level 4 readers, meaning children who have achieved a certain fluency in reading and writing.

My favourite piece from this book is the scene from Raja Harischandra. A point to note is that the saree clad women look like men because that’s what they were. No women acted in this movie.

And Coffee it is Again

This is another one from my current obsession with coffee art.


Smells like Coffee


I’d done this before, many years ago, but the attempt was quite poor. So now, determined to get it right, I tried using coffee to paint again and here is the result.

Coffee transforms really well on watercolour paper. It mixes well with water, and works exactly how watercolors do. Besides, it keeps my mood upbeat throughout the process with its fabulous aroma.:)

For this piece, I teamed coffee with another unlikeliest culinary ingredient – yes that is turmeric. Very Indian, very yellow. I didn’t like the way turmeric felt on paper, because I found it too grainy. It does leave a nice yellow stain that is nearly impossible to lift. Perhaps a finer ground turmeric or a filtered version of the powder would work. But it’s nice to think that both the pigments came from natural sources. I only used black paint to do the contrast areas in the picture. Now I am wondering about natural pigments, and I want to know more about how ancient art was created using these organic pigments.

I used a picture of my husband for this piece. I felt that the strong light and shadows would render well with coffee. Initially intended as trial scrap, it turned out fine enough for me to preserve it forever, especially for you Srijoy.

Faith’s Form

The Timelessness of Being

image I pray, I sing, I cry,
before the one who chooses not to hear.

Coins clinking, conch shells screaming!

I offer jasmine and roses,
to the one who chooses not to smell.

Fragrance wafting, incense burning!

I perform rituals, one too many,
for the one who chooses not to see.

Prayers piling, eyes weeping!

I bring sweets made in honour,
of the one who chooses not to taste.

Ants crawling, mouths watering!

I chase an image in my dreams,
of the one who chooses not to yield.

Still hoping, forever pining!

Mumbai Mirror  published this photograph on September 1, 2013 (India on Instagram). The shot was hurriedly taken near Dadar station’s booking counter, trying to make it in time for a train to Neral station.

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Simon in the Woods (Lord of the Flies)


In 2013, Orient BlackSwan Publishing, erstwhile Orient Longman India, asked me to illustrate an annotated version of William Golding’s tragic classic Lord of the Flies.  Unfortunately, I was not acquainted with the story and never read it as part of my school or college literature studies. The title hovered somewhere around my peripheral memory. Drawing from mere excerpts would not have done justice to a good classic. I had little time to read the book, so I chose to research online and stumbled upon the movie. It was a quick breeze and served my purpose well. That is not to say you can miss reading such a poignant tale of human depravity and conflict. It’s gory, ruthless and terribly harsh on one’s sensibility. LOTF is about a group of young boys marooned on a tropical island who go on to form a social structure of their own. In the face of adversity, survival takes precedence over all else, turning the boys into heartless savages. This book is definitely on my long pending list.

Speaking of the artwork here, I was assigned four specific areas in the book to create two-coloured, pen and ink with watercolour illustrations. I decided to skip watercolour for a more high-contrast, old-world style of sketching. This piece is my personal favourite. It shows Simon, a very sensitive but sickly boy, exploring the forest on his own. His character is beautifully described in the book – perhaps the only one who is free of depravity in the entire story. Graphic, gory details were forbidden because it was targeted at 10th graders. That was a challenge for a book whose various covers show a rotting pig’s head on a stick, which serves as a symbol throughout. I kept to the requirements though, and much as I’d have liked to work on certain other parts of the book, I enjoyed putting these four illustrations together. I can only hope that this book sees the light of day.


My Interview with Mymcbooks on View from a Zoo

Here’s the link

Mymcbooks Interviews Illustrator Sunayana Nair Kanjilal.VFAZ

White Summer


With summer approaching fast, I thought I’d upload a painting that reminds me forever of a white summer in 2007 – it was dreamlike, washed out in brilliant light and etched in my memory for reasons known only to my heart.

By now I’m a pro at painting from photos taken by my husband – my earlier posts are proof of that. I wish I could put up those photos but that’s for another kind, because I do not want your attention diverted to the original thing – selfish I am. My blog is about imitation. It’s about painting. Photography, though a form of imitation, does not fit in this space.

The piece that I share with you here is a watercolour painting. I simply love the medium. I like it that I can finish an 8×10 watercolour piece within a day. It’s like churning out tasty one pot meals – easy.

The painting shows a tourist in Mumbai photographing two white horses with one of those handy cams that you no longer see in use these days. 2007 was not long ago and yet a thing such as a handy cam seems so obsolete today. In the photograph, the caretaker’s torso is visible between the two horses with his head comically hidden behind the horse in the front. I readily omitted him due to aesthetic reasons, or it would have looked like the caretaker had a horse’s head. This is the Mumbai University campus, or somewhere around it, where you see many Victorias (a remnant of the colonial days) moving about. No longer what they used to be, these horse carriages have drawn a lot of flak lately for ill-treated and malnourished horses. Protests have been held in as far as Europe to stop the torture against these beautiful animals. And why not? They need not suffer the whims and fancies of humans.

I like the top bun and bohemian outfit of this tourist. That was a joy to paint, not to mention the faces of those beautiful white horses and the greenery in the background.

This is from Mumbai, to all the tourists who come to our chaotic city. Welcome!



Sikkim, in the north-eastern region of India, is heaven in April. I remember how, after my wedding, we took to the hills of Gangtok and Pelling. The flowers were in abundance; it was springtime. Orchids, fuchsias and beautiful roses grew in the wild and it was hard to put a price on such abundance there, what with the same sold for a fortune in a city like Bombay.

I made this watercolour painting on canvas, of all things. Yes, a framed and primed canvas – the kind that you find in hobby and craft stores. Most people express their surprise at the fact that I used watercolours on canvas instead of on paper, but it wasn’t difficult at all, perhaps because it was a well-treated and primed canvas. The painting has no damage marks yet (it’s been 3 years) so I guess it’s not such a bad idea to use watercolours on canvas.

So I painted this one from a photo taken in Sikkim, where a little boy sat down to rest after climbing trees to pluck a few orchids. As I clicked his photo from our vehicle, he became a tad conscious and tried to hide his orchids, perhaps for no good reason than to hide one’s recently coveted prized possession.

I dedicate this painting to the hard-working hill people of Sikkim, their beautiful babies, furry dogs and abundant natural wealth.

Antiolinists and Non-existent Worlds

For a while now, I’ve wanted to become a children’s book illustrator. A child’s world is boundless. As we grow into adults, our imagination is bound by the outside world – the real world. It’s sad how, as adults, we shrink our thoughts down to facts, numbers, quantified details and the mundane. It’s sad to be in the real world sometimes. Pay attention to what children say, and, although at first you may fail to fathom logic in their stories, you realise that they are far more creative and imaginative than adults. They perceive things through their true form, backed by their vivid imagination and memory, not through some projected image that is learnt by experience and teaching in a rigorous school of thought and training. When they write, they write without inhibition, when they paint, they paint from the heart. Later, as they grow up, they stop being their natural selves on account of some external conditioning. Social conditioning is such. It kills the self and trains us to become the clone of an ideal.

Fortunately, for an adult like me, who is constantly amused by adult social interactions and opinionated conversations, I sometimes find my recourse in children’s books. I will never get back the experiences I’ve had as a child, but at least I can recreate my childhood by indulging in a bit of fantasy through art.

The initial mulling over this illustration brought me some random images – a big red mushroom (I’ve always been fascinated with giant mushrooms), an ant taking shelter from the rain, and some foliage. A lot of Alice in Wonderland images floated about in my head. They were impressions from all the illustrated children’s books I grew up on. I didn’t know what else could come into the picture. The draft illustration was initially done on my phone. In the final version, I let the ant remain, but changed it’s posture and apparel. Then, I thought of doing away with the rain. The illustration was still in it’s nascent stages, when I was sort of thinking aloud in front of my husband, and suddenly exclaimed, “The ant plays a violin!”. So that was it. The ant had to play a violin under a huge red mushroom, never mind if it didn’t make sense. Bah! As though stuff like ‘The World Wars’ made any sense ever in the adult world! My husband aptly titled the sketch ‘Antiolinist’.

So I had two of the ant’s spindly legs holding the violin and the fiddle stick. Another leg (arm for that matter) holds the music sheet. The ant is well-dressed, although a little wanting in cover on the lower torso. It stands poised on two strong feet, replete with shiny boots and pulled-up socks. The eyes are large and deep.  I did the illustration with a pencil, darkened it with a microtip pen and then coloured it over with rust and brown coloured pencils. Some say the illustration tells a story. What do you feel?

Dance like Colleena

Very often, dance has mesmerized me the way music does. Watching Odissi makes me sway gently in tandem with the dancer’s wave-like motions. I like the fluidity of this dance form as much as the elegant outfit and jewellery. If you are watching a live performance, try slowing down the shutter speed of your camera and you will see graceful curves and waves created by the dancer – just like the waves of the sea dancing gently on the fringes of a beach, perhaps in Puri.

Danseuse Colleena Shakti is by far the most graceful Odissi dancer among her contemporaries. Although not Indian, her features do not clash with Indian costumes, which makes one focus on her evocative performance. Her physique is lithe and she looks like a goddess in her dance costumes. Her passion comes across beautifully on stage…and of course, I love it that she chooses her outfits so well. I have never been too fond of garish gold jewellery, always preferring the more low-profile white metal. Perhaps that’s why, Odissi, with it’s minimalist filigreed-silver jewellery and head-dress made of sola (a type of indian reed) and jasmine, appeals to me more than Bharatanatyam, with it’s heavy gold temple jewellery.

I had challenged myself to paint a danseuse (specifically an Odissi dancer) in silk, floral and silver finery. Colleena’s photos immediately caught my fancy and this sketch was made from one of her online profiles. Here’s a link to Colleena Shakti’s biography and work.

I sketched the entire figure with a pencil and then darkened it with a black microtip pen. The filling was done with watercolours. It took around two days to finish the fine details on the saree costume, especially the jewellery. What I liked so much about this photo, apart from the dancer’s gorgeous features, was the rich red costume. Although the face is not captured accurately, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of creating this piece. I do hope you enjoy viewing it as much too.