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  • Writer's pictureTulika Publishers

Guest post by Ashok Rajagopalan: Behind the scenes

Ashok Rajagopalan talks about how emotions, modes and colours all came together in his inspired illustration of Out in the Moonlight...


Perumal Murugan is a name that needs no introduction, and Out in the Moonlight is a story that needs no illustration. Unless it is to be published as a picture book for young readers, of course. I happily jumped at the chance when the editors at Tulika asked me to illustrate it.


I read the story first. First, as a fan of the writing, for sheer pleasure. Set in the author’s native village in Thiruchengode, the story was an honest and natural narration of a rural mother’s day, or rather, night. It was an invitation to share her experience. No gimmicks, no message, no plot twists, or stylistic manipulation of any kind. More Bharathiar than Kamban. The simplicity, however, had its own power and poetry. And the illustrator’s job was to complement it. Not try to impress the reader, but add to the reading experience. Just like the text.

As you know, an illustration has two basic purposes: to give visual information and to make the page appealing. A good illustration goes much beyond this. That is when emotion becomes an ingredient. The feelings portrayed in the picture, and more importantly, the emotions the reader experiences. But it all starts with the feelings experienced by the illustrator.


I am good at portraying emotions. I may not be good at drawing bicycles, for example, but I am good at depicting the emotions of my characters. So, I sent the good editors a few samples. The good editors promptly rejected them. They didn’t want my default treatment, which I am good at. They wanted me to try an impressionistic style. To better match the author’s voice.


Like a good student taken to task by his teacher, I did my homework. Videos, news articles, images, etc. The best videos of the farms and fields of Thiruchengode were from real estate firms! I read the book in which this story first appeared, in Tamil – Thondra Thunai. And that finally got me into the mode, or mood.


It not only got me into inspired mode, but also furnished clear details. The dog mentioned is a patti dog, a native breed of sheep dog. So I drew that character faithfully. The baby was described as nice and plump, so I drew the baby that way.

The mother is the super-heroine of the story. I drew her with as much love as a son would. I took particular delight in designing her sarees. To show relative prosperity, I replaced the glass bangles in the flashback with gold ones in the present. Her facial expressions were subtle; she was no drama queen. At least that’s how I thought she would be, and portrayed her like that. My pictures did not just illustrate – they celebrated the text.


The editors liked the new style of illustration very much. I hope the author likes the pictures too. You know, we illustrators are greedy for love. We want our pictures liked by not only the editors, but the author, and the readers too. And their parents!


Out in the Moonlight took me six months to illustrate. I take this opportunity to thank Tulika Publishers for the project and their patience.



In Out in the Moonlight, Perumal Murugan evocatively narrates a vignette from his childhood.

Mood-filled pictures by Ashok Rajagopalan bring alive a nightscape redolent with anticipation and danger.


Pre-order here!

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