Jamal Kochangadi /Author

Does a story warrant illustrations? In reality, does it not diminish uninhibited communion between the storyteller and the reader? As a journalist, even as I depend on the services of artists for visualization of stories, I pose these questions to myself occasionally. The abstract images broadcasted by the writer between the lines is projected on to the reader’s mind space only after they mutate on the reader’s aesthetic realm formed by his or her personal experiences and acquired knowledge. The intervention amounts to interference by a visual artist in which the abstract gets visualized and by which a certain dimension of the reading gets hijacked through the artist’s interpretation. This regulates the writer’s right to independently engage with the reader on his turf. The story thus does not transfer in its purest form but reaches the reader with the help of an intermediary.

Though many writers agree with this in theory, they themselves expressly ask for illustrations. Some writers fancy specific illustrators working on their material. Illustration art which in the beginning found its way into magazines as a commercial ingredient now seems to work for books as well. The nature of illustrations in magazines is tied to the magazine’s orientation. The objective is to ease any dullness caused by the monotony of print, rendering the pages attractive.

However, salient traits of individual styles developed by certain artists have elevated illustration from a supplementary art. By no means colourful and with minimal blank ink strokes, they reflect the complexities in characters and capture countless emotions underlying different situations. M.V. Devan, A.S. Nair and Namboothiri blazed a trail and Chandrashekharan has gone a long way ahead on that road by evolving his own signature style. To my knowledge, he has been in this trade for approximately a quarter century. An embodiment of virtuosity, maturity and aesthetic grace acquired through this long period characterize the illustrations of Chandrashekharan or Chans as he is popularly known.

As a professional, the duty of the illustrator is to complete certain things left unsaid by the writer. Here, ‘certain things’ is underscored. The artist need not complete everything left unsaid. It drains the story of the power of suggestion. All secrets are not meant to be revealed. The quest of the reader becomes meaningful when the work still retains a mysterious aura for further discovery including but not limited to universal truths. If the illustrator proceeds to describe and delineate the story, it will be at the writer’s peril (Can’t wrap my head around the view that illustration is a form of reinvention. Developing illustrations based on a story is essentially a complimentary exercise. There are also those who publish abstract paintings alongside stories. They can very well exist independently even if featured separately with in the publication. What we witness here is line art transforming into a distinct art form from being a tributary previously).

However, the artist should employ a style that suits the story. Writers vary in their style. An individual writer himself may alter his or her approach from story to story. Following the lead, the illustrator is bound to adopt appropriate strategies. I have felt that Chandrashekharan’s strength lies in his multifaceted skill set. More often than not he goes beneath the exterior to capture the mood. On occasions, he succeeds with the slightest of strokes. Although, such nimble strokes do not satisfy him all the time. He would play with light and shade to achieve a certain emotional state. He does not overlook this just because it is a photographic tool. Film and theatre have appropriated it to best use today. Lines can only draw the exterior outline and guide the eyes. They are inept at transporting the reader to deeper realms as envisioned by the writer. It is here that shadow and light present a massive opportunity. Perhaps, it is because of this quality that one intensely relates with his representation of the sad and introverted. I feel that a major share of his work deals with society’s underdogs in agonizing circumstances.

A scene from Irving Stone’s “Lust for Life” comes to my mind: “As he looked at her, Vincent felt that he never saw a woman as beautiful as she was. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.”

Chandrashekharan’s illustration for this testifies to his superior skill in atmospherics and character formation. At a distance stood van Gogh painting his canvas. Key sat leaning against the wall, her legs outstretched. Her daughter Yan taking baby steps. Van Gogh’s gaze fixed on Key as he continues to draw. Kay’s portrait is nothing but a spitting image of the novelist’s imaginary.

Let us revisit another novel: “I felt great affection for all those strangers who enjoyed without misgivings and realized that that the ecstatic state transcended them from the little things of life.” (Bahuvachanam Novel-N Prabhakaran-Chapter 10-Deshabhimani weekly 1997 April 13, 19.).

To visualize this colourful booze party, Chandrashekharan resorted to a lean technique. A man squatting, another man leaning backwards, the back side of a man holding an alcoholic beverage. Just like moving ripples in water, he brought the youth into life with zig zag strokes.

T.V. Kochubava was giving his novelette for publication and he said to me: “Please don’t give this to just any illustrator…” because the narrative centres around an exchange between dead souls and Ustad, a god man. Just look at the illustrations for ‘Upajanmam’, you will be amazed to learn how Chandrashekharan surmounted this challenge.

He drew geometric shapes to illustrate two couples whose lives took on parallel trajectories (Vazhikal Avasanikkunilla – Deshabhimani weekly, 1996 Dec. 29).

Chandrashekharan has a special gift for visualizing crowds in their distinct diversity. In one such instance, he emotively depicts the Brahmin community of an upper caste village in their traditional panache and sacred white thread. (Cherayum Moorkkanaahallam – T K Shankaranarayanan, Deshabhimani weekly, 1996 Sept 15 -21).

For portrayals of humourous narratives, Chans resorts to caricature or cartoon. (Katha Jeevitham Thane-VP Manoharan, Deshabhimani weekly. 1996- Sept. 22).

I was only referring to some of his several approaches that I noticed when browsing through different issues of Deshabhimani. His illustrations for Bengali and Telugu novels transport us to the villages of Bengal and Andhra. A professional illustrator’s style emerges out of the style demanded of him by the story and the characters. It is precisely because of his versatility that encompassed illustration, cartoon, caricature and painting as separate techniques available always on call that Ronald Searle came to be hailed as the greatest of illustrators. Chandrashekharan has exactly this to offer.