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The Unflinching Matriarch: Priya Kuriyan’s Glorious Picture Book ‘Ammachi’s Glasses’

Ammachi’s Glasses by Priya Kuriyan, the ace visual storyteller is a wordless (but speaks volumes) picture book that will have you in turns laughing your head off and marveling at the degree of detail, both illustration and culture wise. Starring in the book are Priya’s feisty, get-on-with-it, never mind the obstacles ammachi or grandmother. Also featuring are Priya’s parents, Priya and array of animals, plants and household objects each a memorable character. Children love it and adults too, give it a shot – so will you!

Grandmothers are gentle, meek people who serve up a variety of delicacies. Right? Wrong! Anyone who has lived in close proximity with their grandmothers knows this is anything but. Grandmothers are colourful people who have their own unique fashion sense, don’t let their diminishing motor skills come in the way of their cooking or cleaning. Many grandmothers relentlessly make pickles, savouries, sweets and stitch up awesome clothes with stunning consistency. They are outspoken makers who rather than ever being a burden, keep their families on their toes and are the true heads of the household, whatever benign grandfathers may think of themselves as. Ammachi is one such power puff girl.

Attired in her Chatta-Mundu ( A white top and a white sarong or mundu worn as a set) and her Kavani, in this case, a cotton towel also known as a ‘thorth’ in Malyalam, Ammachi goes about her chores. Also prominent is her or Kunukku – a heavy gilt, circular gold ear-ring worn on the upper earlobes – that can be mistaken for doughnuts. Her dentures are a ubiquitous part of the book, resting in the glass of water, while Ammachi smiles her one-toothed grin.With her white facial hair on her chin and her beloved chappals, Ammachi cuts an adorable picture.

The parents can be spotted in the comfort wear of most Malayalee households. The father wears a baniyan (vest) and lungi (the colourful cousin of the more staid mund or white dhoti). Mother wears her nightie or salwar kameez, while grand-daughter is usually in Western clothes. The very traditional and the modern coexist happily in this picture book and makes it endearing. Also casually thrown in the picture book are VIP underwear, red brassieres, various hued panties, socks and towels in the bathroom or clothesline as they would be in every household.

In the kitchen, you can find the ‘mann chatti’ or earthern pot in which Ammachi makes her famous fish curry, the ‘cherava’ or coconut scraper to grate the delicious coconut, the backbone of a good fish curry. The vetkatthi or curved knife, which is especially useful for slicing coconut tops or cracking them in half. Sitting sedately in the kitchen are the ‘chakkas’ or jackfruits. The ‘bharani’s or porcelain jars in which salt is usually stored in large quantities and a Malyalam calendar also share the frame.

What has ammachi done now? Why are kaka and dog so amused? From Priya Kuriyan’s Ammachis Glasses

Father though reads ‘The Hindoo’, the preferred newspaper of the English educated, urban reader. The walls are decorated with pictures of other ammachis and appachans. The red-oxide floors make a colourful backdrop in certain spreads, while the green bathroom tiles or grassy pastures in some others. A picture of the ‘Last Supper’ a part of every Christian household can be seen too. The greens come in many colours, the deep coconut green and the lighter, brighter leaf green of mangoes, the greens of the grass, and ferns of tropical Kerala give the book a lush and open feel. The brown copra on the Malayalam newspaper, the mangoes, and chillies laid out to dry in the terrace, while Ammachi’senjoys her siesta in her armchair adds context and an excellent backdrop to the story. A key part of the supporting cast of Ammachi’s glasses is a cat, a dog, and a kaka or crow. The keen observer will spot the book Franz Kaka in Ammachi’s hands, a brilliant twist to Franza Kafka’s name.

The storyline details the many adventures or rather misadventures of Ammachi when her glasses go missing. But Ammachi is not one to let a small matter like missing glasses deter her from following her daily routine. Each misadventure makes for a laugh riot in this picture book. Does Ammachi find her missing glasses? Is order restored in the universe? Where are her missing glasses, anyway? Never a dull moment with darling Ammachi who is so clearly the heroine of this book.

Meen chatti with a strange looking ingredient!

It may seem a little odd to see this picturebook beyond a story of Ammachi’s glasses but after many readings of the book what came through was Kuriyan’s love of her grandmother. She has recreated a beautiful world in which Ammachi is queen. Though there is no overt telling of it (or anything else) her love for her grandmother is clear in the way she has captured her nuances so well, that we the readers begin to make Ammachi our own. Perhaps it is an ode, perhaps it isn’t but Ammachi is on her way to win yet many more hearts and bring cheer to all who know will now know her, thanks to her grand daughter’s imagination, creative storytelling and to fall in love with illustrations.

A shot from Ammachi’s Glasses signed by the author as only she can. Coveted!

You can buy the book Ammachi’s Glasses here.

Published by Tulika. Suitable for all ages.

You can read more about Priya Kuriyan and her work here: http://priyakuriyan.blogspot.in

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