“You went to school too?” “You were little once?” “You told a lie?” When we become parents, we reflexively continue the grand oral tradition of storytelling, often dredging up memories of our own childhood to illustrate a point or demonstrate a moral.
Sushmita Mazumdar takes these nostalgic journeys one step further – by crafting tangible, physical reminders of our experiences in the form of lovely handcrafted books that are a throwback to a pre-industrial age, when words were painstakingly written and treasured all the more, before Gutenberg revolutionized the medium and made possible the mass market distribution of print.
When Sushmita arrived in the US several years ago, she found herself in the familiar dilemma of not having a visa to work. She enrolled as a docent at the Smithsonian and received training in Asian art history. “I became comfortable communicating stories from different cultures to an American audience,” she recalls.
Sushmita quit her job when she became a parent, and exercised her narrative skills in story-time sessions with her children. “I started writing stories about my childhood and with my background as a graphic designer it was a natural progression to turn them into little books,” says Sushmita.
Once Sushmita has come up with the story, she works on a format. Then she designs the pages, picks up paper and other materials, puts the words and artwork together and assembles the pages into a book.
“I made my first few books and showed them to my friends, who loved the idea. At my children’s school, I started conducting workshops to help kids come up with their own creations,” says Sushmita. Children learn about the Chinese method of books on scrolls and the Arabic tradition of writing from left to right. She also conducts workshops in museums and libraries.
Her son Arijit, now 7, is often her muse. “How come you drink tea when all the other moms drink coffee?” he once asked her. From that query came “Cha o’clock”, one of Sushmita’s newest books.
Each book is a work of art and a labor of love. Sushmita now gets commissions from all over the country to make keepsake books, helping to keep memories intact. Each commission begins with a long consultation, as she and the client come to an agreement on the vision behind the book.
One client suggested miniature books. The result was “Homework” , a book in the form of tiny flashcards that fit into a matchbox! For the recent presidential inauguration, Sushmita designed books in the shape of amulets, based on the concept of prayer wheels from Ladakh. The owners of the amulet would put in their dreams and aspirations in the amulets, which are small enough to be worn.
“I encourage everyone to make a book, even if it is just one book for your child,” says the craftsman. “As immigrants we have such a diversity of stories to tell about our different cultures. I remember my child’ surprise when she asked, ‘You went out in a storm to get mangoes even though you were told not to?’”
Sushmita Mazumdar will be visiting the Bay Area in the last week of June to conduct a fund raising workshop for the India Literacy Project. Parent and child teams will design and create their own books, with proceeds going to mothers and children in India. Keep checking this site for details on the upcoming event.
To create your own keepsake go to www.handmadestorybooks.com