The way I see it, this story is full of symbolic touchstones—visual elements with layers of meaning that are not always obvious, or even accessible, to the reader. For my illustration, instead of choosing a specific scene, I decided to depict some items that are placed on the narrator as if she were a doll herself—the scarf, the jewels, the purses—in an attempt to turn her into a symbol of her husband’s power and wealth. In contrast, I wanted to show the kathputli as a symbol of a narrative that is out of anyone’s control. In the background, the leaves of the neem tree dominate all narratives.
As soon as I read the story, I started to research for visual references of kathputli and of Sindh in general. I thought the illustration would best serve the story if it helped get the reader in the right mindplace by providing them with some aesthetic reference. At first, I thought of illustrating the scene when the narrator’s son finds a braid on a tree—an event we only hear about, but so haunting that the scene that stayed in my mind the most after I finished reading. But then I realized I wanted more than anything to draw the kathputli and to make the illustration as heavy with symbols as the story felt to me.
I was also excited to explore the colors and movement of the dolls, and the general idea for the composition of the art came to me very quickly before I’d even started sketching, which is unusual. You’ll notice there’s little difference between the sketch and the final product. The only alteration is that I also wanted to draw the haunting braid caught on the tree branches along with the purses, but I later decided against it.