Pulak Biswas (1941-2013)

By Print

Vandana Bist remembers an extraordinary artist who brought cheer to millions of children with some brilliantly illustrated books for more than 30 years.

Pulak Biswas (1941-2013)

This is not an obituary – for you cannot write one for a person who lives on. Pulakda, as he was called by so many of us lives on in all the brilliant images that flowed from his pencils, brushes, ink pens and crow-quills. However, I did not always know him as Pulakda.

Mine was a happy childhood filled with trees, large open spaces, fresh air and storybooks. These books were filled with pictures of all sorts. Pictures that spoke, pictures that yelled, pictures that danced – maybe I had an extra keen eye for images for I could, most of the time and still can, recall the name of the person who’d made the pictures. The day I bought Mahagiri, a story of an elephant, Pulak Biswas made it the top of my list of favourite illustrators. The others like Mario Miranda, Pratap Mullick, Ram Waeerkar and Yusuf Lien held strong, but there was something magical in the lines that created Pulak Biswas’ images. And it was the curious strength of his lines that set him apart. Even as a child I could feel this – although now I can enunciate this in an artist’s lingo.

My first brush with Pulakda

A great artist is never bound within the constraints of one style, I feel. And so it was with Pulak-da, as I referred to him once I too became an illustrator. He was prolific in the true sense of the word and as a children’s books artist, every new book that he illustrated was a visual surprise and treat. Tall, lanky figures, round cherubic figures, carefully executed stucco backgrounds, colour wash backgrounds painted with earthy and careful abandon, very traditional compositions and completely avant-garde play of images – all were grist to Pulakda’s creative mill. He carried with him the earth, the textures and the visual beauty of West Bengal, the land he was born in 1941. And somewhere in all his work, in some measure, one can sense this.

Tiger on a Tree: the illustrations came first, then the story

Pulakda was, needless to say, “the grand old man of modern Indian illustration”, for not only did he leave behind a treasury of illustrations for children, his art broke stereotypes in the advertising sector as well, an area he had addressed for a number of years before he became an illustrator solely for children’s books. It is also well known that Pulakda painted a number of abstract watercolors in the later years of his life, something that probably gave him as much joy as his illustrations did.

I was lucky enough to know him when he was a visiting professor (of illustration) when I was studying in Delhi College of Art. We had only a couple of sessions with him and not enough time to really learn much. But that never bothered me for his work was more than enough to inspire me for a long time to come.

The day he passed on, I put up a post with Pulakda’s illustrations on my facebook page. The comments and responses were overwhelming. Most of those who responded were not artists or illustrators. They were people who had had these books as kids and had loved them… not knowing who the artist was! That was when it struck me fully – I was one of the privileged to have known both him and his art.

Some reactions on the FB page:

I will keep this really short. The first book illustrated by Pulak Biswas I received as a birthday gift from my Aunt was Hari and Other Elephants. I spent hours looking at the illustrations and soon was inside it, in Kerala. The splotches of colour, the deep blacks and blues seemingly carelessly slathered on, the bright sparks of orange and yellow, the towering elephants – he brought all of it alive. The unconventionality of his style, the braggadocio, invited me to study the pictures more closely, held my attention for a longer time, got my visual faculties and reasoning working. This is where I would like to add that a child ENJOYS visual puzzles, so don’t underestimate them and provide everything on a platter, in neat graphics. Pulak must have understood this very well. I learnt from him as a child, and continue to learn from his pictures, even today.

Manjari Chakravarti, artist and illustrator (Shantiniketan)

I had that book. Stories from the Panchatantra and loved it…

Rajani Thindiath  

My favourite, my daughter’s too. The books will pass on to grand children someday

Seema Srivastava

Loved these as a kid. Brought some here for my kids too

Swati Bansal

Wow! Now I am able to connect! RIP creator of the beautiful vivid pictures… some of the lasting memories of my childhood.

Rachna Ashok

Features Obituary , , , ,

Related Articles

Post Your Comments