I am a lot like Gulgul: Writer and illustrator Ashok Rajagopalan on life, quirky writing and humour

Surprisingly, Ashok Rajagopalan tells us that The Adventures of Gulgul series was never planned as a series initially. But now that it is, we are grateful because we are enjoying it thoroughly...
Gulgul in Jungalu | (Pic: Talking Cub)
Gulgul in Jungalu | (Pic: Talking Cub)

After the bizarre Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, it won't be an exaggeration to say that Hatch Patch takes the cake when it comes to wacky characters. We were introduced to it in the book Gulgul in Jungalu from The Adventures of Gulgul series humorously written and thoughtfully illustrated by Ashok Rajagopalan. Though Hatch Patch is nowhere as eccentric as Lewis Caroll's character, it has its own quirks. It is yellow in colour, has polka dots on the far-too-long-to-be-normal tusk and stripes on the trunk. Well-versed in puns, Hatch Patch is also very helpful. "In hindsight, I actually did have Alice in Wonderland in mind when I drew it," says Rajagopalan. And with that, he has our complete attention.

Rajagopalan's titular character Gulgul and her family are on their way home when their space car crash lands on an eerie planet where they come across Hatch Patch. And from then on, Gulgul longs to get home. Oh, didn't we mention that the story is based in space? "I wanted to pen a proper space fantasy for children which is why I based this book in space," says the jovial writer. Coming back to the yellow elephant, he says, "Hatch Patch is a mishmash of different animals, something that could easily spring from an imagination of a child. Plus, I am from Kerala and we love elephants," he proclaims heartily. It comes as no surprise then that he thinks exactly as a child when he writes.

Gulgul is another creature altogether. No, we don't mean that she is an anomaly as a human, but she surely can be ever-so-slightly annoying. We were surprised when the children's writer, who is also known by his blogging pseudonym Kenny Wordsmith, told us that the character is quite autobiographical actually. "Just like Gulgul, I feel like there is no place like home. I hate travelling and if I do travel, I long to get back to my own bed, my chair and so on," says the home bird and adds, "I believe that every writer leaves a few autobiographical elements in their characters."

Ashok Rajagopalan | (Pic: Talking Cub)

But with Hatch Patch, the Chennai-based writer proves that it is his mastery over illustrating animals that has got him this far. Remember his bestselling novel series Gajapati Kulapati, where elephants first appeared in his story? He takes us by surprise again when he says though he has always been comfortable in the shoes of an illustrator, he never had the confidence to write. But his crisp and confident sentences and conversational dialogues, something he credits PG Wodehouse for, don’t give that away at all. "I would start to think of a fictitious English teacher correcting my mistakes in a gruelling exam," he admits while bursting into laughter. But the editors at Tulika Books, the publishing company, would egg him on to wield his pen. Even the story of Gajapati Kulapati was first orally narrated by Rajagopalan and published much later. Last year, he released his fourth book in the Gajapati Kulapati series and it has made him a happier man.

As far as illustrations go, every story plays out like a motion picture in Rajagopalan's head. "I remain faithful to the story while trying to add to it with my illustrations," says the voracious reader who is currently devouring a book by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.
Coming back to The Adventures of Gulgul series, published by Talking Cub (children's imprint of  Speaking Tiger), he says that he wants the real world to be as peaceful and pleasant as the places he depicts in his books. "In Gajapati Kulapati, everyone is so kind to the elephant. Even Gulgul is a kind girl, though she can be a pest at times," he says with a smile. Another aspect about Gulgul in Jungalu that strikes us is how on Hatch Patch's planet, no one is allowed to cut trees or mine metals. And here we see Rajagopalan's personal philosophy shine through nice and bright.  

Quirky characters from literature -
- The Little Prince from The Little Prince - He is not only wise but an astronaut-cum-gardener-cum-prophet? That's as quirky as it gets
- Allan Karlsson from The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared - This man surely knows how to find adventure
- Holly Golightly from Breakfast At Tiffany's - Elusive, mysterious and troubled, Holly's character is arresting
- Holden Caulfield from The Catcher In The Rye - Not quirky but definitely slightly annoying and pretty weird

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