Anika Naeem had just had a baby and was grappling with the overwhelming changes that motherhood brings. Currently a sushi chef in Mauritius, Anika, a Pakistani woman, recalls that Indu Harikumar’s adult colouring book, “Beauty Needs Space” was what kept her going. “It was cathartic filling in those designs,” Anika confesses. “It was a life saver!”
Images from Indu Harikumar's "Beauty Needs Space"
Colouring is a popular and pleasurable activity that most children love. However, it’s one of the many wonderful things about childhood that we relinquish as we grow up. Increasingly, though, many adults are taking the journey back and rediscovering the joy and peace that splashing with colours can bring.
Art is therapeutic
The intriguing title for her book, “Beauty Needs Space” comes from a comment made by a young man she was seeing when she was in Vienna. “I shied away from eating my cake,” Indu smiles. She was worried about putting on weight. However, her date exclaimed, “But beauty needs space!” and the comment stuck in her mind.
Indu felt that it was the perfect title for her book – which has the theme of “positivity and mindfulness." She says it came from her personal journey of rewiring her negative thinking through art, which helped her move away from fear and feel safer.
Subadra Kalyanaraman, a Chennai-based artist, speaks of an 85-year-old grandmother who picked up her adult colouring book “Shakuntala and her Magic Box”. Subadra says, “She told me that it helped her distract her mind from issues that were bothering her and fight loneliness. She even tore off a page and got it laminated!”
Subadra, too, believes in the potential of art to heal and bring about positive change. “A mother told me that she sits with her daughter and the two of them colour the book together, spending close to five hours on it! I feel good being part of their bond. Another person told me that they gifted the book to a terminally ill parent to help the person retain motor skills. Art can be healing in many ways.”
How the books grew on social media
Subadra is a self-taught artist who also works as a management consultant. What started off as a hobby, making paintings and gift items for friends and family, became a more serious occupation when she realized that people liked her work and appreciated it.
“Shakuntala” came after Subadra’s visit to Singapore where she saw many adult colouring books. Her husband, Balaji, the popular blogger ‘Local Tea Party’, encouraged her to do one herself.
Subadra had earlier worked on a set of four posters depicting women doing different things, blending the modern with the traditional Madhubani style. “One of the posters was that of a female rock band,” Subadra says. When she put up her work on Facebook, a lot of people responded to the visuals. So when the idea for “Shakuntala” took root in their mind, the couple decided to take off from the posters.
A coloured image from "Shakuntala and her Magic Box"
“Shakuntala” has a short storyline penned by Balaji. The visuals by Subadra show a woman celebrating music, allowing it to wash over herself to such an extent that her environment responds to the stimulus.
Like Subadra, Indu too got support and encouragement from social media when she started work on “Beauty Needs Space”. She declares that she loves the internet and all the opportunities that it brings. “It’s a very democratic medium that lets me experiment,” Indu says.
When she first started putting up visuals on social media, she wasn’t thinking of doing a book. Many of the colouring panels were drawn with the positive messages that she often told herself to rewire her negative thinking.
Indu says, “The book grew on social media. Even when the first media report appeared about the book I wasn't sure if it would go to print. Since there was a lot of interest and the theme resonated with a lot of the readers, I decided to go ahead.”
Creation and co-creation
Indu left enough space in her drawings because she wanted the buyers to add their own elements to the designs. "I only wanted people to colour and enjoy themselves while they were doing it but some really took the book to a completely new level,” she comments.
Anika Naeem was one such person. She laughs with delight when told that Indu cited her example for someone who took “Beauty Needs Space” higher. Anika and Indu have never met.
Coloured pages with verses inscribed by Anika Naeem.
“Beauty Needs Space” meant so much to Anika that she added Urdu verses from a poem called “Sitaron say agay jahan aur bhee hair” (Other worlds lie beyond the stars) by Allama Iqbal to the designs and sent it to Indu. The poem is popular among Pakistani artists, classical and contemporary. Anika says, “Indu is Indian and I’m Pakistani. Cheesy, but I wanted a mix of our countries in that piece!”
Another of Indu’s internet projects, “Tinder Tales” is quite popular too. The series is about people’s experiences with the dating app. Indu had been toying with the idea of talking freely about sex and relationships through art and her curiosity about Tinder inspired her to combine the two. Did she fear any backlash when she started such an ‘explicit’ project?
Indu ruminates, “I think I have grown with the project. I had no idea what I was getting into, so I had no fear of backlash. I must add that I did choose a very safe style initially because I wanted more people to engage but over time, given the trust people have shown in me, I also shifted from safe illustration style to a more explicit one. “
She says that she initially felt shame and fear but that the response has been “frightfully positive” - it has given her the courage and confidence to keep going.
Though the Indian market for adult colouring books is small – both Indu and Subadra self-published, printed and sold a few hundred copies of each of their titles – publishers like Penguin Random House (PRH) and HarperCollins, among others, are exploring opportunities.
Penguin has brought out Devdutt Pattanaik’s “Jaya” and “Sita” as adult colouring books, with the popular author’s illustrations. Another book, with the theme of a Mughal garden, “Bagh-e-Bahar” is also out.
Adult colouring books of “A Game of Thrones” series and Mills & Boon books published by HarperCollins are available in the Indian market and there are more international titles in the pipeline.