Dheera's Workshop of Whimsy

Portfolio

 

              Always a slow reader with atrocious spelling, my overt interest in literary matters started only in my late thirties, when I started teaching at a nursery school in Bombay. Stories that had gathered in my system over the years, flowed forth in kaleidoscopic torrents, drowning the unsuspecting children in my class. Most of those first stories were sadly not written down. 

When my own children joined kindergarten, I wrote plays and poems for them. The level of my writing grew along with them. Elocution pieces in English and in Hindi, class plays, house plays and finally in Senior School, I wrote plays for their inter house competitions.

 

My first book, MY FRIEND SADHU SHIVA, happened during an attack of Malaria. A little idea stirred, a crisp notebook opened, and the words started to flow, in between bouts of raging fever and nausea. No illness has been more useful. I wrote for fifteen days without a break, until the malaria skulked away hurt and ignored. By the time I wobbled to my feet, the first draft of MY FRIEND SADHU SHIVA was complete.   

For someone as unlettered as I considered myself to be, writing to be read by anyone but my own family was implausible. But the Universe conspired and my first humble little book was born. Without any fanfare or indeed a publisher or distributor, this insignificant book, so special to me, was put out into the big bad world, by word of mouth and through the odd bookshop.

MY FRIEND SADHU SHIVA sold moderately well. It got reviewed by many happy readers and a press photographer was sent to terrorise me for a photograph. That was the unconventional start of my public writing journey. 

 

YOUR STORY was written on commission from the Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption and Child Welfare. It was a fascinating and challenging project which required a lot of research about adoption and when to tell your child that she was adopted. I illustrated the book in an amateur fashion with help from the charming June Mistri who tweaked each picture to make sense of it.

 

When the idea for MY GRANNY’S GREEK TALES formed in my head, I thought of Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, a family friend, someone I had never met. It was with many tummy flutters that I decided to visit him at his Cuffe Parade residence in Bombay. We lived four houses away. Uncle Mulk, he insisted I call him that, was in his 80's at the time and somewhat feeble. He turned his hearing ear towards me and his eyes twinkled when he heard my grandfather’s name. He said he owed our family a debt because my grandfather had lent him Rs.100/- so that he could flee to England, where he started his writing career. 

The wonderful old man, God bless him, wrote the introduction for my book and Rupa & Co. published MY GRANNY'S GREEK TALES in two slim volumes. 

 

FUN WITH ALPHABET STORIES proved beyond a doubt that nothing is impossible. Having taught at a nursery school for several years, I realized what a tedious process teaching phonetics can be. Thus was born Andy the Ant eater who liked apples, Callu the cat who was a cooli, Koko the kind Kangaroo who went to kindergarten and so on. Much later, when I thought of converting the characters into a book, I realized I had no illustrator.  I made some rough sketches on ordinary A4 paper, splashed water colours on them and presented the idea to Mr. Anil Gala of Navneet Publications. He bought it at once, on condition that I would do the illustrations myself. 

Thus began the most riveting chapter of my life so far. Drawing and painting was something I had always longed to do but my teachers in school had gently suggested that I take up tennis instead.

 I enrolled the help of an art teacher who probably regretted his decision from the very first day.  We never saw eye to eye on colour, form or content. We had many counseling sessions where he explained patiently and sometimes not so patiently that animals do not behave like humans and that leaves are green and rocks are brown. Eventually, after many months of total joy for me and unthinkable misery for him, all one hundred and eighty illustrations, including the book cover were ready. The books went under production. A series of six books, so unimaginable, yet true. Another miracle to add to my collection. These stories have brought joy to many children and made their learning simpler and happier. I get letters from happy teachers of smiling children and that makes my dream come true. These stories are also included in the talking library at the National Association for the Blind.

 

The lone non-fiction book for adults, FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT, came to me at a time when I was settling into a new phase of life. I had given up my job as the Assistant Directress at a polytechnic in Bombay, my children were gone, defining their fortune in America, the dog was full grown and trained and I didn’t feel very useful for the first time in my busy life.

My husband’s aunt, a voracious reader, suddenly started to lose her eyesight. It was in my quest to find her a talking library that I stumbled upon the National Association for the Blind, NAB, at Worli sea face.  I discovered soon enough that the well-stocked library had a dearth of fun fiction for the young. I chose interesting stories for children between the ages of 12-15 years and started to record them in my voice.

It was during this time that the Neelam Kanga Memorial fund at NAB completed 20 years of being and NAB decided to produce a book which profiled the life of 25 women achievers who had risen to great heights after going blind.  

When eventually I did decide to take on the book, the experience humbled me. It changed my perception. I looked at the world through the internal eyes of the blind, for the first time. These 25 indomitable ladies became my friends. They opened their hearts and let me get a glimpse into their lives of struggle and the overcoming of it. Some of them wept while telling the tale, others were wistful but none of them were bitter or angry, only deeply grateful. Another miracle. One which stands out in great relief with a halo around it. 

 

MAYA is a very special book for me. It has been in the writing for the last 15 years. Maybe because it is mostly autobiographical it took so long to cook and crisp.

 

MAYA was inspired by my lack of academic excellence and my long standing association with all things equestrian. It sprung from first-hand knowledge of how difficult life can be for a non achieving child in a world full of genius. The book is alive with unconventional characters like Fa Fa Koten the Indian witch, who lives in a jungle beside a ditch….and the little mudskipper, who is in love with Maya. Flower, Maya’s dream horse and the humans who make up the fabric of Maya’s delicate life, wait to be discovered.                                                                

      

 

NO DOGS PLEASE!  was written with a lump in my throat and a sad, doggie-missing heart.  We lost Spec, our goofy, droopy, frolicking, gentle dog, all of a sudden one November night. He was 12 years old and not at all sick. No Dogs... is a reminiscence of the growing years of my dear children along with our silly Dalmatian, Spec.

 

 

 

'OUCH!'…CRIED PLANET EARTH, was inspired by my horror at what Man is doing to out planet. It is a story about the adventure Tiki, a 12 year old boy, has at his farm, when he realises that Planet Earth is in trouble and the tiger is facing extinction. Back in Bombay, Tiki starts a movement against global warming. The book describes the role children can play in saving the Earth.

 

 

NIPPY, NIPPER AND OTHERS - A BOOK OF POEMS. This is a collection of poems for children. Meet Bhindi Singh, the sinner snake, and a grasshopper, whizzing through the garden like an emerald sound wave.A witch, who hates children, a basket ball playing pony, and Gangadin the cat, so thin and lean. It's a place where Kalu Bhalu, counts notes and Elephants fall in love with birds. 

 ANYONE CAN WRITE VOL I.  

Is the culmination of two years of hard work. I started this initiative to encourage children to write with freedom and creativity. Here is a collection of 55 pieces from different parts of India, written by young people who have worked on line with me for many months to make their writings as fine as they can. The authors vary in age (from 6 years old to 21!), confidence levels, fluency, but the one common factor that defines them is their devotion to the written word.

 

MY FATHER'S MAGIC BRIEFCASE

SONGS FOR ZEN

 

 Two ebooks written by Partap Sharma and illustrated by me.

When my dear friend, the late Partap Sharma, asked me to illustrate 2 books for his grandson, I smiled. 

I'm not an artist, I said.

But I love the illustrations in your Alphabet Story books, Partap said.

He was connected to his oxygen mask but his eyes twinkled and ideas flowed undisturbed.

I took on the project as a gift to my valiant, indomitable friend and decided to illustrate each stanza in two pages. The written page with a few sketches and strokes and a fully illustrated facing one.

While I immersed myself in warm splashes of watercolour bliss, Partap quietly got busy finding a platform for our work.

Sheriyar, of ideaindia, took on both books and posted them as ebooks for children on ideaindia.com. They are also available on amazon.com

My Father's Magic Briefcase, is a poem about the briefcase which contains all of life's requirements including sunshine and food.

Songs for Zen, was written by Partap, to teach his grandson to count and exercise.

 

 

 

SHORT STORIES FOR ADULTS. This is an unnamed collection of a dozen short stories, a couple of them novellas, all set in India. The stories are contemporary, diverse and reflective of the society we live in. They do not deal with issues, political or social. These stories are narrations about ordinary lives lived by real people.  Please check out my WRITING page for short synopses of each story.

 

PLAYS. A collection of a dozen plays, ranging from Std I to Std XII school level. The synopsis and description of each one is posted on my WRITING page. The plays are available on request.  

 

MOST OF MY BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE.  PLEASE VISIT MY WRITING PAGE FOR MORE INFORMATION.

             

KNITTED TOYS   

 

Fascination with knitting started with a ‘patch of love,’ knitted for the Sisters of Charity at Asha Daan. The patches, six inch square pieces of knitting are sewn together to make baby blankets, bed covers, table cloths or whatever else is required. The knitting is simple and can be done at free moments in the day. Many friends joined me and the collection of patches grew.

The first toy I knitted was a ghost, made from a multicoloured slightly extended square patch. The centre was gathered up and stuffed with rags, eyes and a smile were embroidered and the ghost was ready. Next I tried out a snake. That too thrilled me to bits and so it continued….

After a while my whimsical workshop started to get over crowded. The first recipient of my amateur toy making effort was the Welfare Society for Destitute Children in Bandra. I took along a basket full of 50 toys the next time I conducted a teacher training session with their teachers. The joy on the little faces of the children as they examined the merchandise encouraged me in my mission. I raided the wool shop and my study became a vibrant jungle of yarn. I draped it from the lights, the blinds and the backs of my chairs and then I got down to drawing the toys I would knit. Browsing the Internet for ideas had not struck me yet.

A friend offered to buy 30 toys and donated an enormous amount of money to the school for destitute children. My husband agreed to make cloth bags with handles for each toy.  And so it continues. The toys are sold and the proceeds donated to my charity. A whole batch of toys have been knitted for hospitals, schools, an orphanage, for the children of sex workers and for the mobile crèches. If any one is interested in JOINING ME, please do contact me. You could make a patch of love or a toy to make a child happy. Many more pictures are posted on the PHOTO GALLERY page.

 

NEW VENTURE - KNITTED BLANKETS

 

In addition to the toys, I have now started knitting blankets, with exciting, vibrant yarn. A whole new knitting page will be added soon, with many tips and knitting patterns.  

 

 

 

PAINTINGS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was looking for an art teacher through an advertisement at the J.J. School of Art in Bombay. I knew as soon as I spoke to Mr. Damle  on the phone that he was going to be THE ONE.

It was Mr. Damle with his whacky, unique, encouraging ways who prodded me into experimenting with mediums other than water colour. All I could paint when I started hesitantly on canvas with oil paints were churches. They became my obsession. Soon after, a trip to Italy and Vienna strengthened this strange compulsion. Structures of any kind appear on my canvas quite unbidden and a few of them are approved by my teacher.  Please go to the PHOTO GALLERY for a peek into my strange fixation.  

 

 

  

BOTTLE ART  

 

This was an off shoot of painting practice. A small idea germinated, I browsed the net and simultaneously discovered a wonderful little bottle market at Mohammed Ali Road, behind Crawford market in Bombay. Glass bottles are sold here by the dozen. I am still only experimenting but the outcome is so charming that now I dream of bottles with delicious glass stoppers, waiting to be painted!