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Enchanting Read

Anjana Raghavan

By Anushka Ravishankar
Tara Books, Chennai, 2007, Rs. 395.00 & Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 11 November 2007

I've read To Market, To Market! greedily for the fourth time, absolutely delighted with the beautiful illustrations, but also because I couldn't really remember the text terribly well the first time around. To Market...is undoubtedly a wonderful work visually, but I found myself thinking, at various points, as I looked both at the illustrations and the text, that this is exactly the sort of exoticized image of 'India' that I am so afraid of seeing! The 'rural market' scenario, with the traditionally set stalls and wares are charming, but carry the same Malgudi whiff of unreality and reinforce a lot of the old stereotypes. The first bit of the story, when the little girl is thinking of all the things she could buy is informative and endearing, but as the scene progresses it becomes a very specific kind of market, and a specific kind of child; there is a dismissal, an invisibility of what this implies. To a reader who does not know 'India' (whatever that means!), it creates a homogenized idea of how life in the typical Indian village functions, and what a little Indian girl wants to do. I cannot deny that I enjoyed the book, especially the artwork, but there was an undeniable and rather sad sense of dissociation from this world, this India, that I have never been in, but that everyone presumes to know so well.   In the same breath, I think of Elephants Never Forget and, I love the book. I cannot think of anything that would make it a more wonderful and enchanting read. Art, in any book, especially a picture-heavy one, is something I still respond to exactly like a child. I love colours and funny faces, and the amazing way that simple, clean lines make the best illustrations. Purple, cream and black. That's really all it is, and it lights up the already delightful story just perfectly. As I read the story, I remember what it was like, how difficult that first day at school was, how much I wished I was one of the 'cool kids', but hung out with the outcastes because it is all I had. And then, when it finally came, the all important choice and I had a real chance, I took it. I was a buffalo, and a pretty happy one! I do hope I will be forgiven for being silly and sentimental about ...

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