Hambreelmai’s Loom takes us to North-East India, to the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, with its simple but delightful retelling of a popular Mishmi folktale about the origins of Mishmi cloth. Several variations of this folktale exist (with one referring to a fish named 'Hambru' even), and all of them, just like this one, highlight the importance weaving and fabric in the culture and tradition of the Mishmi people.
In Hambreelmai’s Loom, Sheipung the porcupine is woken up one day by a strange sound... tak tak sum, tak tak sum. He goes to investigate and finds Hambreelmai, the very first weaver, working at her loom and making beautifully-patterned cloth with colorful designs inspired by the sights around her. The beauty of the sky and the clouds, the trees and the flowers, the waves in the river... all of them find place in her fabric. As the birds and the fish nearby gather around to admire Hambreelmai’s work, Sheipung gets excited and tries to frighten the animals away. Sheipung then tries to get his hands on some of the cloth, albeit unsuccessfully and with very interesting consequences. This enchanting folktale from Arunachal Pradesh ends with the reader getting to know how the Mishmi people learnt to weave the beautiful textiles that the region is known for.
The book weaves (pun intended) narrative and illustrations seamlessly. Padma Shri Mamang Dai’s simple but evocative style makes for delightful reading and has the right mix of descriptive text and onomatopoeic refrain that is sure to keep young readers (five plus, as suggested by the publisher) entertained. The language flows effortlessly and the evocative descriptions of Hambreelmai’s cloth paint a beautiful picture in the reader’s mind.
Kalyani Ganapathy’s illustrations are both vibrant and eye-catching, mixing textures and forms interestingly. Her palette brings out the distinct ‘red, black, brown and blue’ colors of the traditional Mishmi textiles of Arunachal Pradesh vividly. The use of handcrafted motifs and patterns gives the illustrations an authentic feel. Even though some spreads look busy at first glance, a closer look reveals how well the various elements come together. The spread that shows Sheipung shaking off his quills is a real visual treat.
The book, the first one to be published in the Mishmi language according to the publisher, makes for a nice sit-down-and-read-it-for-a-while book with plenty of visual engagement for readers younger than the intended age-group too. Highly recommended!
Shyam Madhavan Sarada aka Greystroke is a self-taught artist, who has been drawing ever since he can remember. He has been a writer, illustrator, cartoonist and art director for several children's magazines and books. When he isn't doing all this, he takes photographs and makes films.