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TLF 2019 – Interview with Author-Illustrator Ashok Rajagopalan

Every week through the Tamil Language Month celebrations, EliPuli will be interviewing one illustrator to find out more about their work and experiences. Why you ask? Because they bring to life the picture books that our little ones love so much! Your child may not be at the age to read words yet, but what draws their attention anyway are the vivid images on the page and these illustrations lay the seed towards passionate readers in the future! EliPuli would like to give thanks to them for the amazing work that they do. Tamil has not enjoyed a very wide range of well illustrated picture books, so it is important to celebrate the artists who are helping us on our journey as parents and educators to make reading in Tamil fun, enjoyable and mesmerizing!



An author and illustrator who needs very little introduction, Ashok Rajagopalan is quite the rare gem. Humble and ever kind and helpful, it’s hard to tell how much he’s accomplished when you speak to him at the onset. But don’t let that fool you. He is ever creating art and adding more accolades to his belt! A wiki search will tell you that he has more than 500 books to his name – but that was stats from 2009! So you can guess the maths now that we’re in 2019 and he’s still busy working on multiple projects all at the same time.


For the parents who are reading, the first image that will pop into your mind at this author-illustrator’s name is probably… Gajapati Kulapati! We don’t blame you, we LOVE the series and are so grateful that Tulika offers it in Tamil for our kiddos! You’ll definitely enjoy the below interview by that showcases the journey this beloved elephant has taken through its three books (and of course, tells us more about the creator!) EliPuli’s interview starts below the video.


Ashok Rajagopalan’s interview with


If you had to choose a nursery rhyme to illustrate, what would you choose and why?

Having illustrated so many nursery rhymes over the years, I would write a new rhyme and illustrate it. I have drawn countless Humpty Dumpties, Miss Muffets and Black Sheep!



How do you find inspiration when you start a new project? What is your process and how much research is involved?

I have just written a mid-grade novel about devas and asuras fighting over the nectar of immortality. It was not exactly commissioned, but when the publisher expressed interest in seeing funny spin-offs of mythology, it was inspiration enough. No research was needed, since I was always interested in mythology, not just Indian, but also Norse, Roman, Greek and Egyptian.


I am at work on a series on dinosaurs now. It was commissioned, which meant that it was a task and the basic idea was not inspired but given as a task. I did research on dinos, but what was difficult was thinking up a unique angle on a popular subject. You think of something with dinos, it has been done before. You think of naming your T-rex Trix or Tracy; it’s been done. So I had to sweat on that.



Do you have a secret hotline you can call where kids help you with expert feedback on your characters and art design? 😀 How do you decide if your creation will speak to the young reader?

I do, a hotline to the inner recesses of my memory! Seriously.The child Ashok will help the grown-up Ashok with feedback. I write primarily for that reader, whose tastes seem to match those of today’s young readers. I write funny stuff, and it looks like they laugh at the same things that I find funny.



A selection of Ashok’s children’s picture books published by Tulika. Images from



What was your childhood like? Was illustration always your passion?

Yes, it was. My childhood was spent in reams of paper: reading, writing, drawing, cutting, pasting, collecting … Drawing was what I was known for. That was what was special about me, and the only thing my parents could show off to the world. I was not great at studies or sports. There were always books and readers around me; there was no television then. There weren’t enough books; I read everything I could lay my hands on. One entertained oneself by creating entertainment. One could not help being creative.



What advice do you have for parents and children who feel strongly about a future in art but are worried about whether they would be good enough? What steps can they take to keep progressing?

A person will be good enough in an occupation if he or she has passion enough to undergo the discipline required and tolerate the tiresome components of that occupation. You see, a job in any art is a cool and fun job on the whole, but it is not entirely without pain, in the details. If your child’s passion is strong enough, it will show, be it sport or art or academics. If the child loses interest in one activity once it gets tough or boring, and keeps moving to another, please wait till she finds her true passion. It’s best if parents are patient and don’t force anything. It is fine if your child does not enter or win art competitions, for example. I have won only one prize in drawing in my life.



When you’re having a dull day is there something you like to draw that instantly cheers you up?

Smiling faces. I draw smiling faces mostly. But I am not always an artist; I am a reader too. Reading a Wodehouse cheers me up instantly.



What was the first thing you remember doodling as a child?

A stick figure of my father. It won a lot of appreciation in family circles because I had drawn the crescent-shaped scar my father had on his cheek, to distinguish this stick figure from other stick figures. I must have been three, I guess.



Ashok’s latest picture book for Pratham Books. Image from Pratham Books website



What was your experience like in drawing for The Tino, The Rhear And The Biger? Where did you get the idea for the story and did you run into roadblocks along the way in picturising the new animals?

The idea is not entirely original; I had illustrated, a decade ago, a story where zoo animals hang up their skins before going to bed. I had no problems but fun, picturising the new animals! Because the story was wacky, I drew goggly eyes for the characters, instead of trying to make them cute, as I normally do. The project was pure pleasure from start to finish and went like the breeze.



We asked our little readers: if you could join any two animals to make a new one, what animal would you create and why? What is your answer to this question?

I guess one can’t cook up a purely original animal by merging two. We have griffins, yalis, dragons, mermaids, makaras and mock-turtles to name a few, in fiction and myth. Mother Nature herself has animals like the okapi and duck-billed platypus. I can have fun by mixing a whale with an elephant, but I am sure someone would have thought of it before.



Announcing the winners of the book giveaway… DRUM ROLL….

Congratulations Arjun (TigerDeer, age 5), Arielle (Cheetah-Chimpanzee, age 2) and Methra (CatBear, age 3)!



Click on the following links to follow Ashok Rajagopalan’s work:

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