Bamboo Banter: Q&A with Mita and Proiti
The author of Bulbuli's Bamboo, Mita Bordoloi spent her teenage years in Assam – where the story is based – at the edge of Kaziranga National Park, by the banks of the Brahmaputra river, around orchids her father collected avidly. She is passionate about environmental issues, flora and bamboo. In this tête-à-tête with Tulika Blog, she talks about her love for bamboo and how she does her bit to help save the environment.
Do you have any vivid memories of your teenage years in Assam?
One vivid bamboo memory from my teenage years would be when we would hike up the hill near our home in Kaziranga now called the Mihi Miri Tower. After reaching the top of the hill we would rest under swaying bamboo grove. The peace and quiet would be awesome, and then, we’d look down. From nearest to farthest would be the Highway 37, a strip of villages and our land, narrow Mora Diphlu River, and then the Kaziranga National Park. But from the hilltop we would have a panoramic bird’s eye view of the Park in the distance, with binoculars even better, and animals in great numbers. It would be as if the Park was bald because it would be after the Park’s annual ritual of burning the elephants grass in February or March.
Another memory is associated with the smell of flowers at our home in the oil-town of Digboi. My father once had the largest collection of orchids in the region. Our mali or gardener, a Gurkha gentelman from Nepal would rotate the blooming flowers from the garden to the porch, and the hanging orchids that were tied to hollowed fern tree barks with moss, would emit subtle scents in the veranda. We also had a hedge of gardenia and our rooms would be filled with thick bunches of it and the fragrance would linger in the interior of our house.
Why did you choose bamboo as the subject of your story?
I love bamboo and always gravitate towards it, so, the story came to me naturally. My obsession with bamboo is life-long as can be seen from the objects in the pictures and Bulbuli’s Bamboo represents that love.
Since you are passionate about environmental issues, and bamboo, can you tell us about any conservation efforts or green movements you are involved with?
I am a long-term member of World Wildlife Fund and also practice recycling at home. I try to buy green products that respect the Earth. I am appalled by the strewn plastic bags in the cities and villages of India and yearned for the days when bamboo, like banana, was the natural biodegradable and disposable product. Bulbuli’s Bamboo is a result of that yearning.
You write stories for both adults and children...what kind of topics do you write on for children?
I have written children’s books on wildlife, historical fiction as well as other topics such as festivals and travel.
Is the conservation/environment angle in your books something you consciously focus on while writing for children?
I don’t think I consciously focus on the conservation/environment angle when writing books for children. I am naturally drawn to such subjects because of my love for it.
Can we grow bamboo plants in our homes and/or gardens?
We can grow bamboo easily in our garden or even in a pot (see picture). In urban areas, growing bamboos in a pot is a better idea as it is an invasive plant.
What are you favourite bamboo objects? Is there any one object that has stayed with you since childhood?
I have many bamboo objects in my home (see pictures). My favorites are table mats, kitchen paraphernalia such as sieves, trays, strainers, cup-holders, mugs, and a miniature collage of fishing equipment I made more than twenty years ago. I also treasure two book marks in frames with its depictions of a lotus plant and a perched crane rendered with thin slivers of bamboo. It was a gift from Roland and Sabrina Michaud, the renowned French photographer/writer team, more than 30 years ago.
Can you share your favourite bamboo soup recipe with us?
Here is my favourite bamboo shoot soup recipe, the variations of which could be found in many Asian countries. One can either make it vegetarian or non-vegetarian by using vegetable or chicken broth and chicken pieces.
Caramelize some sliced onions by frying and set aside. Boil water with vegetable or chicken broth. Add mushrooms, greens and about two tablespoons of grated raw bamboo shoots, salt and pepper and let it simmer till the ingredients are cooked. Serve sprinkled with fried sliced onions and thin slits of raw ginger.
Illustrator Proiti Roy says the pictures for Bulbuli's Bamboo "came flowing because the story had such a beautiful flow." Her illustrations have delighted readers all over the world and are an absolute favourite with children. Among her several acclaimed books for Tulika are the award-winning What Shall I Make? and Ismat’s Eid. She says her childhood days in Shantiniketan were a source of inspiration for the character of Bulbuli.
How did you go about creating the beautiful illustrations for Bulbuli's Bamboo from the original text?
When the story came to me, I was expecting something quite different... maybe a story with a lot of information and facts about bamboos. But this was a story that was more about the life of a little girl with bamboo all around her.
While reading it, I could instantly see little Bulbuli and the bamboo orchard and a lot of green! The way the story was told, it made me visualize it in a certain way; to this end I tried several styles to get what we all thought would be the right feel.
As I went along, the pictures came flowing because the story had such a beautiful flow.
What medium did you use to create the pictures?
Black ink pen and watercolour.
Do you draw with pencil first or do you prefer using the computer?
Usually, I still prefer the conventional way of starting with pencil, then drawing with an ink pen, painting with water colour and then going back to the pen for the details and finishing touches. I would like to use digital tools in my work, partially at least, but somehow I keep going back to the old methods because I feel it just suits my work.
Who was your inspiration for Bulbuli?
My childhood. Days spent at my grandparents' house in Shantiniketan. The quiet afternoons on guava and mango trees, armed with a book and some tamarind pickle.
November 14, 2012