If you were born in India before say 1985, you wouldn’t require any introduction to the aerated soft drink called ‘Gold Spot’. Before the international soda companies came (back) to India in the early 90s, we mostly had options of three cool drinks: Thumps-up (cola), Limca (lime) and Gold Spot (orange flavored). In 1983 as a promotional campaign for Gold Spot, the company distributed Walt Disney Jungle Book comic against a collection of their bottle crowns. I was too young to read ‘The Jungle Book’, but was old enough to get caught up in the cap-collection mania with my friends. Result – my own precious copy of the comic book. Honestly speaking, the children’s books or comic books were generally not very beautifully printed then, and this superiorly printed Jungle book was a thrill to flip through. Baloo, Mowgli, Bagheera and even Shere Khan (the villain) became my close friends. I copied their pictures into my sketchbooks for innumerable times, which I am sure so many other budding young artists must have also been doing at that time. :-)
Eventually I came to know about Rudyard Kipling, his legendary Jungle Book, and ‘his India’. This was knowledge of the grown-up age and I could not very well correlate it with my copy of the colorful comic book. But sometime in 1994 while I was ambling down a road, I noticed a small, dusty blue, hard bound book in a tiny shop – the original Jungle Book version of 1919! It took me less than 30 seconds to close the deal, the guy had asked for just Rs. 5 for it! Thus I walked away with the original Jungle Book. After that I kept both of my Jungle Books together (I still do). I like to look at their artworks, compare the styles and basically just enjoy having them. The stories in the original blue book are indeed very fascinating and the illustrations are simply marvelous. Some of these are paintings printed in halftone and some are classic line drawings (perhaps etchings?) by illustrator W.H. Drake done in 1893. The comic version has stylish black inking and is full of colors and cuteness.
I collected several books after that, varying on subjects, belonging to diverse timelines, from comic books to biographies. I feel all of these have some importance, some contribution in my process of becoming an artist. They are very much like memories, each book affecting and influencing my thinking in a singular manner. The Jungle Books have also been a part of this process, two different manifestations of Kipling’s story, impressing first upon my childhood and later on my youth.
A few years back, during one of my visits to the US, a colleague asked curiously (these kind of questions are now becoming rare though) “So you mean you have never been to any jungles for hunting in India?” I said “No! The jungle was introduced to me only by Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book”. :-)