Though a class in value education at school has been an experience for many, it does take a while to think about how it might have benefited you. But last year, when city-based Amit Suri had his seven-year-old talking about what he learnt in that class every day, he embarked on a collaborative project with 26 professionals from diverse fields of the arts — be it illustration, photography or poetry. It is this venture that has resulted in Words of Wonder – A to Z, a book published by Delhi-based Wonder House Books.
“When you have a seven-year-old talking to you about compassion, it can be very tricky and you’ve to probe further. So, I asked my son to tell me a story that describes it,” Suri tells us. This instance germinated in a simple idea: for each of the 26 letters of the English alphabet, there would be a virtue that corresponds to it (M for modesty or W for wisdom, for example) and each virtue would be accompanied by a quotation, artwork and short story that represents it. The book started to take shape when Suri decided to contact artists — most of whose works he knew via Instagram — and got a positive response to kick start the collaboration pro-bono.
“What appealed to me was how the idea came from the simplicity and purity of heart. It was a wonderful thought,” shares noted advertising and feature film photographer Amit Ashar. Other participating artists include Prashant Miranda, Priya Kuriyan, Archan Nair, Ruchi Bakshi Sharma, Allen Shaw, Rajesh Soni, Bijit Kundu, Anuj Sharma, Rajat Nagpal, Sunaina Gera, Devashish Makhija, Kriti Monga, Kavita Singh Kale, Sucharita S Suri, among others.
Once the first draft was ready, the book found its publisher — a move Suri never dreamt of. Now, royalties will be shared between contributors. The title, first envisioned as a coffee table book, now became something more. “Unlike other books, this wasn’t limited to a particular art segment. I am proud to say that it isn’t just a treat for the eyes but also food for the soul and mind. Initially, we were thinking of a paperback but then decided to go all in with a hardcover and make it a gifted collectible. Within 10 days, we sold 500 copies and are also finalising a distributor in the United States,” says Prashant Pathak, co-founder of Wonder House Books.
Ruchi Bakshi Sharma
Sharma, who had to make art on ’empathy’ — a mirror image of two women striking an emotional bond with one another — informs that the alphabetical words were assigned to artists based on a computer generator. But it was fascinating to see how it still resonated with each person individually. “I’ve known for many years that getting hold of empathy would mean the end of all sorrow. It didn’t take very long for me to make the artwork because it felt as if I had known it all along — like when someone asks you to write about your favourite colour and you can go on and on. I had so much to draw from already that I didn’t have to do the thinking, only the making,” she tells us. At the end of the book, artists also explain why they did what they did and that, Suri says, only gives greater insight into the artistic process.
Another aspect of the project that both Sharma and Ashar highlight is its universal appeal: while Sharma says that as an adult it is interesting to look back at the building blocks of language, Ashar says that it allows children to see things differently. “Children are often taught directly, not laterally — physics, chemistry and biology are the same for everyone. But no one’s going to teach you how a bird chirps, you’ll have to hear it. So, such works of art allow children to see things away from the obvious,” he asserts.
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