Dadaji’s Paintbrush

h1 August 18th, 2022 by jules


“Once, in a tiny village in India, there was a boy who loved to paint.
He lived with his grandfather in an old house full of paintings.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


 

Dadaji’s Paintbrush (Levine Querido, August 2022), which comes from Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Ruchi Mhasane, is the open-hearted and tender — oh, the tenderness — intergenerational story of a boy and his grandfather in India. And it’s a thing of beauty.

A boy lives in a small village in India with his grandfather. The boy loves to paint, and his world is filled with art: Grandfather’s house is an old one, “full of paintings.” The two play with art as the boy grows; they paint with “marigolds, betel leaves, and coconut shells,” among other things. Sometimes, the grandfather invites the neighborhood children to join in the art-making. The boy loves his grandfather. Deeply. “They didn’t have much,” we read, “but they had each other.”

“Don’t ever leave me,” the boy tells him. “I won’t,” says this grandfather in response. But “one day, he did.”

The death and the grief it brings is too much for the boy — here, the book’s warm and velvety palette darkens — and he puts away his grandfather’s tools, including his “best paintbrush.” Acknowleding the toll that sorrow can have on a person’s body, Sirdeshpande writes that they boy’s chest aches, in fact, when he even looks at it. Eventually, he locks all the paintings away too. Sirdeshpande never rushes things; the book’s pacing honors the boy’s struggles.

But a girl appears at his door one day, wanting to learn how to paint: “Please teach me how … Like your dadaji taught my mummy.” The boy, now older, resists at first but eventually warms to the idea. Memories of his grandfather and the manner in which they played and worked together come back to him. He smiles for the first time in a long time, even entering the locked room full of art with the girl at his side:

If they looked closely, in the background of every painting, they could see little splodges of paint. Sometimes made with fingers, sometimes with brushes made of sticks, reeds, and flowers. Together, the boy and his grandfather had turned every one of them into something wonderful. All it took was time and attention.

(Once again, I think of that perfect line of dialogue in the film Lady Bird: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”)

The boy and girl paint together and, we read, the boy “has been painting ever since.” Soon, there are children in the home again, painting and playing, which mirrors the boy’s own experience with his grandfather.

Making space for memories; the passage of time; and, most importantly, art — they all have helped take the edge off of the boy’s acute pain.

In a closing note, Sirdeshpande writes that the story was inspired by both her grandfather and father. She adds: “There’s so much in this book that I believe in. I believe that there are no mistakes in art and that every single one of us should just feel free to play and create. I believe that little things bring so much happiness. …”

Mhasane’s soft illustrations, which capture light and shadows in especially evocative ways, enhance the gentle themes of this exquisite story, but never do they veer into excessive sentimentality. Oh! And be sure to remove the dust jacket for a surprise.

Here are some spreads. …

 



 


Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety


 


“Sometimes, the village children peep through the window to watch.
Sometimes they paint, they laugh, and the boy makes paper boats for them
to float away down the street in the monsoon rain.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


 


(Click cover to enlarge)


 

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DADAJI’S PAINTBRUSH. Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Rashmi Sirdeshpande. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Ruchi Mhasane and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Levine Querido.





One comment to “Dadaji’s Paintbrush

  1. Oh, the devastation in the single sentence, “one day, he did.” This looks like a lovely book, with lovely, dreamy illustrations – an especially effective meditation on grief and moving past it when he gets a chance to share not just what he knows but his memory with someone new.


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