Monday, April 14, 2014

Aalayam Parties in April Part 3 : The Tale of two Dinner Parties

                          A feisty Mexican Fiesta! - by Deepa 
My fiesta table comes to life in vibrant colors!

Today we are back with The Tale of two dinners - this time a feisty Mexican Fiesta - that's right! Join  me as I tell you the story of this colorful intimate dinner that I hosted a few days ago.

But first, join me in wishing Supriya  a very Happy Birthday! 

Happy birthday Supriya - stay inspired and stay blessed!

April is her birthday month and so is my husband's! My husband turned 40 earlier in the month and of course, this called for a celebration! He asked for a quiet observance at home! But I knew that a congruous spree to honor his kind hearted, chivalrous, generous, hard working and fun loving spirit would take creativity and planning! And of course, I always have high expectations of myself and this being his 40th, I had to step it up a few notches.  For somebody that is always open to the idea of new possibilities - a weekend getaway to mark the milestone birthday seemed perfect. However, work and logistical difficulties made it impossible to go anywhere that weekend. And so, we decided on a quiet wingding at home with a home baked cake! Yes, wait till you see pictures of the ambrosial three layered, from- scratch strawberry cake that I baked! Anyway, a fiesta felt like a seemly tribute to his charismatic personality - confident, positive and full of life! 

Viva la Mexico! Our fiesta had many details - vibrant colors, delectable mexican food and spanish sign boards. The only thing that was missing was a live Mariachi band! 

My husband takes pride in his looks and sense of style. Timeless style appeals to him and he leads a stylish existence. He is truly 40 and Caliente! This quickly became the theme! I was challenged at first with all the little ideas in my head but slowly but surely it all came together and I was thrilled with the end result.

My li'l one's personal tribute to dad's 40th!

Here are the details of our fabulous fiesta:

Table setting: I chose Guatamelan striped place mats, fiesta salad plates  and a gorgeous Talavera plate from Pueblo for the centerpiece - I was not worried about the color overdose at all - it was entirely intentional!

Decor: I wanted to retain the theme and yet keep it classy. I decided not to do any tacky b'day banners. I used chalk boards and spanish signs for an elegant twist! Feliz Cumpleanos!

For the backdrop, I used a bright red Serape and it tied in nicely with the tablescape and anchored all the decorations 

Give your cakes personality with a cake banner!

Food : We whipped up a few easy dishes in our cantina - honey lime sweet potato and black bean tacos, veggie quesadillas, pico de gallo and some yummy guacamole!

Personal touches: We custom made a fiesta banner for the cake (well, there was a hidden  agenda behind this. I am a novice baker and icing is not really my forte and so, a cake banner was an easy alternative to announce his age!).  The banner was made from two striped straws (love 'em!) and some scrap paper - DIY crafts are a great way to get kids into the party spirit. I also personalized the gift wrap with some fun signs and and red pepper shaped cut outs to incorporate the Caliente theme - who says 40 year olds can't have fun!

Personalize your gift wrap!

Cake: Now, this was undoubtedly the best part of the day. I believe in meaningful celebrations and baking the cake made it a very personal and intimate experience for our family.

some butter, some cream but dollops and dollops of love - Happy b'day hon!

 I fondly remembered bonding over a box of strawberries on our first date many years ago and therefore came up with the idea for a strawberry cake. There was no way I could've managed baking an entire cake on my own given my limited baking skills and so, my dear husband lovingly volunteered to help  and what a romantic afternoon it turned out to be too! It was all about learning a new skill and making some fond memories together and it was perfect - the afternoon and the cake!

My husband's passion for life is something I inspire for. This colorful fiesta celebration reflects his mojo, positive energy and great attitude. He is always a joy to be around and this fun filled fiesta was perfect for his 40th!

 Mile stone birthdays are also a time for reflection - a time to look back and a time to look forward. I just added a little color and culture to it, that's all.

And there you have it dear readers - my rendition of a Mexican Fiesta!

Whether you want to try making chimichangas or thai pineapple curry for your next dinner party - I hope we've inspired you through our tale of two dinners incorporating world cuisine. With a little planning and imagination you can bring global cuisine right to your kitchen and serve it up in style! 

We love to bring you inspirational ideas to entertain. Hope you like our posts in the art of entertaining series, so far ? In case you missed posts from last year check out  this and this  
And I will be back with my last post for the month of April in a few- stay tuned!

inspiration credits: I have to mention my favorite online resource - hostess with the mostess


P.S: All images are from my home and taken by my husband and copyrighted to Aalayam. Please do not use without permission. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Aalayam parties in April! Part 2: The Tale of Two Dinner Parties

Hello my lovelies! We continue presenting to you Aalayam's interpretation of the fine art of entertaining. In this two part feature you will get to peek into the Tale of Two Dinner Parties, one from my home, and the other from Deepa's home. Considering April is such a special month for the both of us (wait wait, you will know why!), it's only ideal that we weave a tale or two out of our dinner parties this month!

So, here we are: 

The Tale of Two Dinner Parties - A Casual Asian Affair!
By Supriya

Fried Eggplant with red pepper and cilantro seasoning for appetizer

April is my Birthday month! And what better way to celebrate a birthday than with favorite food and cozy and intimate dinners with people we love? I am partying with friends in bits and parts, but the real party is happening in my home, cooking up a storm y'all, with my favorite Asian cuisine on the menu. 

Fresh spring rolls with soy sauce  set the stage

You see, when I got married seven years ago, I burnt my "chapatis" and over seasoned my curries, thanks to the luxury of never "having to cook". Independence, interest and lots of appreciative dinner guests, not to mention a foodie husband, made me realize my culinary potential. Miles to go before certain gastronomic zeniths are reached. However, I am enjoying my happy place right now, enjoying my passion and creative soul curry!

Cucumber jalapeno bites anyone?
My husband is busy preparing for an exam this week, so we are postponing our big birthday dinner party until after his exam is done. Besides, his birthday is next week, so we are clubbing our birthdays together and getting away with the kids. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to have a home cooked meal to pamper the studious hubby, while still serve it up with style right in my kitchen!

Yes, I used the breakfast bar! Dressed it up with golden weave place mats (thank you TJ MAxx!) and my fine china, and we have a in-house high style dining arrangement all ready to go!

Consider setting the bar table for an intimate dinner, Next time you are bringing out the fine china!

 I love dinner parties - casual or formal, because .....of the leftovers!!! For all the prep we do at home, the cooking, the seasoning and  we don't get to enjoy the food on the day of the party! 

But the next day, we have numerous options for lunches and dinners, and all day snacking!! 

Fried Rice - steaming and scrumptious!

That's the reason why I prepare more dishes than required for any party, just so that the guests have options, and I have leftovers!! And this casual do was a perfect opportunity to cook up a storm of my favorite Asian food, and still have tons of lunch and dinner options for the work week!

Cannot go wrong with Thai Pineapple Curry!

My husband and I put the kids to bed early and enjoyed a cozy evening with some lovely music, fine tea and home cooked Asian food! Right at our breakfast bar. I did not even have to set the "table!". Combining convenience with elegance cannot get better than this. 

Seal the deal with  Sticky Mango Rice pudding with fresh cut mango!!

Thanks to supply chain and technology, my birthday was a virtual party spanning 4 continents! Hand written notes, pictures, gifts, wishes, flowers, cake and chocolate flowed in through the day. The best part was the midnight cuddling when my girls came to my room to sing " Happy Birthday Mommy".

And as always, I am glad to have brought the party over to Aalayam!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Aalayam parties in April! Part 1: Hosting the perfect kiddie party

Its April!!! And this month is all about Parties here at Aalayam. So bring out the cocktail glasses and the paper napkins - yes! We have something for people big and small, young and old!

Do you need to whip together a super fun soiree for your kids preschool play date? Or is that a Birthday Party? Planning a Baby Shower? Wondering what to whip up for a  quick and easy evening hor d'oeuvres with your neighborhood pals? Or is it an elaborate do where your boss AND his wife will sniff the wine vintage and give you (potential) brownie points for perfect cheese pairings? Fear not, We got you covered this April!!

We start with the perfect storm of kiddie parties, and run through the whole gamut of casual and formal entertaining for your inspiration boards. Here goes.

Hosting the perfect kiddie party
By Supriya

Follow the 3 step rule: Plan, Prepare & Rock the Party!!

1. The cardinal rule in party planning, especially if you are catering to high-strung (and easily bored) kids and their parents is - PLAN FOR EVERYTHING!!!!! ENTERTAINMENT, FOOD, DECOR, FUN AND FAVORS. Never wing it, and never undermine the power of planning (Plan A and Plan B, sometimes even Plan C), no matter what your husband, mother in law, and the overly concerned mail man say.

2. PICK A THEME (AND A LOCATION) - And stick to it as much as possible. It's fun, it keeps shopping and activities corraled and streamlined and it makes for lovely pictures. (hey, we live in the world of click-happy social media after all). I have personally orchestrated a Bumble Bee Baby Shower, Two Peas in a Pod  (My twin girls' first birthday!), Two Little Monkeys jumping on the Bed, Zoo, Princess and Pirates Dress up Party themes!! For me, the theme is primary, the location is secondary. PLEASE PLEASE stay away from the boxed and manufactured "Chuck E Cheese" parties as far as possible. If hosting a party in your home/backyard is not possible, pick a park, a local community center, gym, pottery studio, pool, beach or yard (most of these locations are free!).

I must confess, its fun for me pinteresting for ideas, talking to my sister and friends about what I should buy for favors, going shopping for sweet and eclectic items on eBay and Amazon, not to forget the trusty ole corner Dollar Store. And bringing it all together on the day of the party (Ok Ok - the night before!) And taking some SLR, and cell phone pictures before the guests arrive! Aaah.. cannot wait for my next party. Want some ideas girls?

3. DO NOT FORGET THE INVITES: It's all in the details ladies. So, have fun with your custom party invites. Once you pick your theme, going digital and creating your own invites can be really entertaining. Google theme images, use your most eye catching captions, pick your choice of program (Powerpoint, Picasa, Photoshop, Collage Maker, Shutterfly...heck, you could even doodle the invite up!). 

These custom invites can be a fantastic way to invite your friends and family for the party (of course), but can also make amazing keepsakes for the family albums. For me, invites are a must. They are a testimonial to the event that is being put together,and in the world of casual Facebook e-vites and instant message RSVPs, these digital invites act as a cool alternative to the tradition of sending printed invitations. Go Green Girls, But Do it in Style!!

4. DECOR & FUN : As in an party, once the theme, location and invites are taken care of, it is time to  start planning on how you will decorate, what kind of activities the kids will enjoy at the party, and what are the fun (also safe and useful) favors the kids will take home after the party. 

See, the theme makes it really easy to plan the above mentioned items. For the Bumble Bee Party, the kids drew on large  poster boards with colorful crayons and markers. All I had to do was create a art corner for the kids and stock it with supplies. Of course, there were some frisbees, jump ropes and balls for the non-artistic types to engage themselves with while the adults socialized and ate. 

For the Zoo party (which we hosted at the local zoo), we had an animal show, where the kids could touch and feel some animals, and the zoo keeper kept up a constant patter of the animal type, what it ate, where it lived and so on. The best part about that party was that all guests got invites to visit the Zoo. Can't beat that. It was covered in the cost of renting the Zoo party hall (for $250, it cannot get better than that!). 

Another sure fire way of keeping the kids entertained (and not jumping on your couch), is to hire a bounce house. For about $200- $300 for 4 hours, you could let the bounce house get the excess energy of all the kids out while you enjoy adult conversation and hor d'oeuvres. A crowd pleaser if there ever was one.

My most recent party - The Princess & Pirate Dress up theme party, I gave out tiaras, necklaces, princess/angel wings for the girls and eye patches and pirate hats for the boys. They could adorn themselves in these kiddie chotchkies and get ready for being captured on candid camera!!! And for that, scroll down to see, I hung a gold spray painted frame from the ceiling to make an impromptu photo booth!! Fun huh? :)

And not think that kiddie parties have to have kiddie music (no more "Wheels on the Bus" for us please). Feel free to tune into your favorite Pandora or Spotify club/dance station, and hook it up to your stereos to keep an up-beat tempo going on in the back ground for your party. Make sure there are no explicit lyrics though (you don't want your underage guests to start humming about lovely posteriors of the dancing ladies at the kiddie party!)

Its easy to stick to a color scheme based on your theme. STICK TO ONE OR TWO COLORS and repeat them throughout the decorating space (think balloons, silverware, napkins. even flowers). This is easy on the eye and it helps you keep the decor simple, yet eloquent!

5. OVERDO THE FOOD (PLEASE): This is imperative for me. And my friends, and guests will agree. Food is the glue that holds families and friendships together (at least where I live) and a party without good (or enough) food and drinks for both kids AND the grown-ups is a fail for me. 

I say this because, of late I have been  to quite a few kiddie birthday parties where there was ABSOLUTELY NO FOOD FOR THE GROWN-UPS! Not even coffee. I remember walking across the street to get myself a Starbucks Latte while my kids were eating cake at the their friend's party. Hmmm...Failed Expectation?

Having ranted that, make sure you have at least 2 sweet and  2 savory dishes (think chips and guacamole, popcorn, doughnuts, fresh fruit, cup cakes, brownies, bruschetta, samosas, cookies, apple cider, fruit juice, chocolate milk, coffee + birthday cake as your menu of options!) Do not forget to ask for allergies and food sensitivities as most often someone in your invite list will need a special consideration). 

Never fail to infuse the theme into the food if you can. It could be something as simple as sticking zoo animal themed cup cake picks on your store bought brownies, to baking elaborate two peas in a pod cupcakes replete with two peas represented by green M&Ms (Thank you Kat!!)

6. FAVORS!!! As you might have already guessed, Favors are the piece de resistance of any kiddie party. Giving away favors that are theme based, thoughtful and useful will take you far with the party karma gods. :)

Think kiddie masks, dress up accessories, books, school supplies, instant aim and shoot cameras (for $5, that was the best favor ever for a zoo themed party, where kids could visit the animals in the zoo and take pictures of the animals themselves after the party was over!)

The balloons (1 each at least) always go back home with each child. They love it when they can take home balloons. And the parents love it when they don't get annoying little whistles and blow horns, but sweet little books, or quirky little toys and puzzles, even dress up stuff the kids can positively be engaged in!! Trust me, I speak the words of experience! (Hooooooooooooooonk)

7. AND FINALLY - YOUR PARTY AIN'T OVER UNTIL YOU SEND A THANK YOU NOTE TO YOUR GUESTS. Yes, do not  sit down and relax until all the guests have a thank you note in their mail boxes or in their person. Consider (of course) incorporating your theme for the thank you notes as well. For the monkey themed party, I cut out yellow poster bananas and stuck lil monkeys on them to create custom thank you cards where my hand written message could go. Let your imagination run wild, and don't be afraid to borrow an idea (The internet is FULL of great ideas). The best part of an idea, is not the idea itself, but its elegant execution. So, give it your flair.

Another idea is to get your kids to paint something and make copies of it to "mass produce" your thank you notes! It always helps to write down what you got as gifts in the party from each of your friends and mention what a great gift it was (even if it was not!) if you are emailing them/ writing back to them after the gifts are opened!

It's not unusual that the parents sometimes get thank you gifts/favors themselves. eBay and Amazon are full of thematic and fun party favors (two peas in a pod, bumble bee, zoo etc) that the guests/parents could receive as a thank you for coming to your party!

To summarize, the more detail you put into your party, the more thought and personality you infuse into it, the more people will love it..the more you will be proud of yourself ! Its supremely easy to outsource everything these days (location, planning, activities, favors and food), but some home made, DIY thoughts and ideas will keep you and your kids warm when you look back at those old picture albums (Or Facebook!). 

I loved putting together this post as this brought back so many happy memories of party planning and execution for my girls and my friends !! I feel thankful that I got an opportunity to share these pictures here in Aalayam. PLEASE share your party ideas, and pictures. We would LOVE to peek into your famous parties!!

Do write to us at if you need some one to brainstorm with as you plan your next party. Supriya and Deepa at your service!


p.s. All photographs are from Supriya's home and lens and are copyrighted to Aalayam. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cherry Blossoms of Washington DC - more than just a spring time ritual!

It’s spring! The dainty Japanese Yoshino cherry blossoms that line the Tidal basin in East Potomac Park stand ready to bloom and paint the DC landscape a pretty pink. This is nature’s annual time limited (blooms last for less than 2 weeks) extravaganza and the blooming cherry blossoms are referred to as the nation’s biggest spring time celebration. This year peak bloom time is slated for the first week of April.

Do you like to travel? Then you should consider hitting the road or find some last minute deals to DC to watch nature put on a spectacular show! And if you can’t make it, you are in luck! I will take you around the Tidal Basin right here on Aalayam and share some impressive images of DC’s famed cherry blossoms that my husband managed to capture a few springs ago.

Let’s start with some historical background first-

In 1912, the people of Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees to the United States as a gift of friendship. First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. These two original trees are still standing today near the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street. Workmen planted the remainder of the trees around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park” ~ source
If history is your thing, here is where you can find out more.
It is the 102 anniversary of the gifting of these trees and in an event punctuated by parades, kite festivals, orchestra, dancers and drummers, the Nation’s capital pays tribute to the ethereal beauty of the fabled cherry blossoms and welcomes tourists to its door steps.

Now, if you hate crowds, this may not be the event for you. The cherry blossoms reportedly draw an average 1.5 million (!) visitors in the 2 week period that the exquisite blooms change color from pink to white.  You will encounter throngs of crowds at the Basin! The key to getting good photographs is to get there early and I mean early or else you will find yourself high tailing it back to the National Mall or your car. 
Peak bloom is defined as 70% of trees in bloom.
We stayed with a dear friend (a DC resident) of ours on this trip and she planned and executed our cherry blossom experience to perfection! She had us up and out of the house before daybreak when it was still dark! Bundled up in our winter woolies and armed with to-go breakfast, we beat the crowds and arrived at the Tidal Basin with one intention only – to photograph the cherry blossoms in the monument rich landscape at sunrise before the crowds got thick.  And despite our lofty tourist ambitions, my husband managed to capture some signature shots of the sun bathed Washington monuments in the backdrop of blooming clusters of  the flushed cherry blossoms.

And after your sunrise walk around the Tidal Basin, you can trudge through and explore the rest of the National Mall in the later part of the day. 

As a  home and architecture enthusiast my trip would be incomplete without a stop by the country’s world’s most famous address – The White House and we finished our day with an (environmentally friendly) walking tour of the remaining monuments in and around the National Mall.

These intricate flowers are a potent symbol of an abiding friendship between two nations.

The festival itself features several artists and performers to honor the spirit of nature, culture and community. So, make sure to include a few of these trademark events in your itinerary and get a glimpse into international cultures as well.

If you are a travel enthusiast then the DC Cherry Blossoms must definitely feature in your bucket list! And remember to sit back, relax and enjoy your time under a canopy of trees– for after all, the transience and the exquisite beauty of the blooms make it a one of a kind experience!

You can find out all about the festival here

This was by no means a DC travelogue but just an Aalayam tribute to the Cherry Blossom Festival. However, if this is your first trip to DC, be rest assured that DC is doable in a weekend. Do not be challenged by everything that DC offers its tourists but take your time to plan your monument and museum itinerary ahead of time. We of course, had the luxury of being hosted by a gracious and an extremely hospitable friend who mapped our itinerary and sent us out of the door with packed lunches and train tickets each morning! Thank you RM! 
This post is dedicated to you!
RM's home - a glimpse!
Dear readers, hope you like this edition of our travel segment. Aalayam is a lifestyle blog not limited to any one category. It is our earnest desire to bring our elite readers life enriching inspirations via feature posts on art, culture, travel, cuisine, décor and more and we hope to engage our readers in the process. If you would like to contribute as a guest author to any of the aforementioned sections, please write to Supriya or me (Deepa) at

Stay tuned for more from our travel segment this year – The seductive charm of the Wild Wild West (Arizona!) and a Fall tour through the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York will be featured later in the year.

p.s: All images in this post were taken by my husband and may not be reproduced without permission

Friday, March 14, 2014

Artist Feature: Doodling to Make a Difference!

"I am Supriya. I am a mom of two 4 year olds. I live in the USA and am constantly on the lookout for reading material that can impart the beauty of Indian colors, culture and influences to my Kids. My dad brought my kids the gorgeously illustrated story book "Color Color Kamini" as a gift when he visited us last year. And till date, I am unable to get over the sheer delight my kids experience when they see your illustrations in this book. Your illustrations are fresh. Breathtaking and Original! Looking at it, gave me an idea. Please hear me out. I am a blogger (and I did check out your blogs too!). I was wondering if I could feature you in Aalayam - a niche space for India inspired design, culture and cuisine ideas and for the people who keep it alive on a daily basis" 

This is an excerpt from the email I sent to Priya Kuriyan, whose email ID I found on her blog, that I looked up, when I was struck by inspiration to have a conversation with this talented illustrator whose drawings were coming alive every day, reminding me of my colorful childhood in textured India. Although I now lived thousands of miles away, I could still smell the fresh, wet earth of the forest where Color Color Kamini and her chameleon classmates lived. Such was the intoxicating storytelling of Priya’s illustrations. And I had to try and connect with her. 

I was delighted when I received an email back from her saying Yes!, She would love to be featured and she felt really special to hear that my kids enjoyed seeing her illustrations. So, that was the start of a “across the thousand miles” collaboration, a Q&A session that lent itself so naturally to taking a peek into who Priya Kuriyan really was, what drove her to draw so piquantly and what she was thinking when she doodled!

So, my Aalayam family, I present to you - Priya Kuriyan - one of us, yet uniquely prolific! It feels special that I was able to get nuanced and heart-felt responses to my questions from Priya, whom I have never met. I would say its a relationship built solely on mutual love for art and its interpretation.  So here goes!

Supriya (S): Priya, we all love the vibrant and verdant punctuation your art and illustrations makes in our and our kids lives. And we want to pick your brain to know more about it! First of all, what got you started illustrating??

Priya (P): I always liked drawing and reading as a child and was almost certain I would do something related to the arts once I grew up. Once I finished with school , I joined the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, (Gujarat) and I took up animation as my specialization. As most people know, animation is essentially another form of storytelling and is also something that involves an immense amount of hard work. Part of the process of making animation films, involves making conceptual art for it. It's the stage where you are just doodling and thinking of your story art , characters and the situations these characters could find themselves in. It was a stage I enjoyed immensely as I could create all kinds of really wacky illustrations in order to ideate for my stories without having to worry about the practicalities of how I would make my drawings move. 

I think my interest in illustration was really an outcome of that. It was, in a way, relaxing to illustrate for fun on the side while also doing animation - which at certain stages, can be physically and mentally quite demanding. I had also taken a short illustration course around that time. In my final year at design school , I sent some of the work I had done to Tulika books (Chennai) on a whim. They very kindly gave me my first break by assigning me this really endearing story called "I’m so Sleepy", written by Radhika Chadda. Seeing my work in print of course gave me a huge kick and I decided this was something I would really like to continue doing .

S: Where do you derive your daily inspiration from? Is it your education, and cultural readings? The creative recesses of your mind? Or does it just come from the heart?

P: I think most of my daily inspiration comes from observing day to day life keenly. I love watching the way people interact with each other. It might be something as simple as watching someone buy vegetables from the local grocer, or just taking an autorickshaw to some place, but if one looks closely enough, I feel there are always subtle details one can catch, that make seemingly mundane things very interesting. These gestures people make, their clothes, a house I might have noticed somewhere, ultimately do make their presence felt, by creeping into the work I do.

I try traveling to new places every time I get a chance to do so. Once again, it doesn't really matter to me if the place I'm traveling to is a tourist hot spot or just another town. I make it a point to carry my sketch book and camera around so that I can record things I see and not forget. I've always liked reading.

I was lucky to have had the chance to study in a design school like NID. I owe a lot to it as it's helped shape me as person . It exposed me to so many things I didn't even imagine I would be interested in. That place and the taught me how to think. For someone who had been fed on mainly a diet of American books and comics throughout childhood, it was revelatory experience to find oneself in a place that constantly made you think of things within the Indian context. For the first time I saw what a rich tradition of folk art and crafts India had. That's something that continues to influence my work even now.

S: How do you give a modern slant to age-old mythical and mythological figures?

P: Well , I haven't had a lot of projects where I've worked with mythical figures, but a technique that I try an adopt at times, is to think of people I know in real life with a personality that would be perfect for the character I am creating, and then try and use that person as an inspiration. Sometimes it helps to turn things on their head and do what is not expected. For example if the 'villain' at first seems like he might be this huge guy, I might instead make him a really puny man instead.

The stereotypical mythological figures that we see in popular culture now, are simpler versions of images that were originally created by the famous Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma. His style of painting was very much influenced by the West. In turn, his paintings were what inspired the way all the characters in the Amar Chitra Katha series looked. The aesthetic of the Mahabharata /Ramayana series that played on Doordarshan in the 80's drew heavily from Amar Chitra Katha. There was a sort of homogenization of what all these characters looked like. I mean, one can't really place them in a particular Indian state or region.

On the other hand , if one looks at the pre- Ravi Varma depiction of Gods and goddesses in the 19th century Kalighat paintings, or in Madhubani paintings, they display a strong graphic quality ,a diversity in illustration styles . The way the women tie their hair or wear their sari in a Kalighat paintings was completely different from their hairstyles and sari wearing styles in a Madhubani painting . To cut a long story short, I would therefore perhaps do the ironic thing and go really far back to our older folk traditions and seek inspiration there in order to give a modern slant to our mythological figures

S: Can you talk to us a little bit about your creative process? Do you get to design your characters the way you want? Or does the outline depend upon the author or the publisher?

P: Well, most of the time I do get a lot of freedom to play with the characters. I usually read the book first. This is important for obvious reasons like - I can't make a character that was born in India look like his parents were Caucasian. I like listening to what authors have to say about the character. After all , It is the author who has created the character and understands it the most. Once I have an idea as to what the writer has in mind, I make really rough sketches, adding my own little quirks and details to the character ;some perhaps even the writer might not have thought of. I send it off to the publisher and the author for approval. Sometimes, they get back with feedback and ask me to change a few things. Once the sketches are approved, I usually go ahead and make final drawings. Another round of approvals, and then I color the final artworks in.

S: What kind of social causes have you worked with? Or are working with?

P: I make it a point to do projects with NGOs that publish books for children who can't really afford to buy expensive books. Pratham Books and Room to Read are organisations that have worked with . The best part about these organisations is that they make sure children in the remotest corners of India have access to story books. The idea that a kid in a remote village in Ladakh or a tiny hamlet in the Northeast must have seen my illustrations makes me really happy.

S: What have been the highlights of your career as a illustrator?

P: I'd like to measure highlights on the basis of how much I enjoyed working on certain projects. I have a soft spot for the "Baby Bahadur" series (Tulika books) , since it was my very first project. Illustrating for "The Fried Frog And Other Funny Freaky Foodie Feisty Poems" by Sampurna Chattarji. I had a blast illustrating for this one. Creating the 2011 calendar for Manipal press . I think it was with that project that I discovered a style I enjoyed working with. Lately , illustrating "Rooster Raga" for Tulika books and Uma Krishnaswami's "Book Uncle and Me". Oh ! but I must show you the latest highlight of my career :) - I think it is stuff like this that makes me want to continue to do what I do. I feel like in some teeny weeny way , I've been part of a kids growing years. (This is another blog I keep, Supriya . This mostly contains stuff from my sketchbook)

S: Has your art changed your everyday style - at home and at play?

P: I wouldn't say it has 'changed' something, but it has always permeated my everyday life.. In order to create something new ,there's always always a constant need to be inspired by things so there is a tendency to sometimes clutter my workspace with artwork by other artists I really admire. I guess if you were to visit my home , you would see I have a penchant for bright colors similar to what I use in my illustrations .But at the same time, I'm not sure whether what I like instinctively , has affected my art or vice-versa. You know, there's that tenet on which Gond art is based where they say that 'viewing a good image begets good luck' . That has to be true . Looking at beautiful objects definitely makes me happy ! And I guess one is lucky when one is happy .

Sometimes the nature of projects one does, definitely brings about certain positive changes; changes that have nothing to do with the aesthetics, but the quality of one's life. For example, I worked on this comic book project called 'our toxic world' for an organisation called 'toxic links' ,a few years back . Working on it made me realise how ignorant I was about so many things pertaining to environmental degradation, toxins and it's impact our health. It made me make certain conscious lifestyle changes . I do think I became a 'greener ' person after that by trying not to buy more things than necessary ,using public transport whenever possible, segregate waste, buying organic locally grown food etc :)

S: What challenges should the novice illustrator anticipate?

P: Sometimes ,Getting a first break can sometimes be difficult. It's always a good idea to put together whatever work one has in the form of drawings and sketches and compile your work online as well so that people can access it easily. Also, in the beginning , it is possible that one might be a little disappointed with the monetary aspect of it as it might not pay you as much as your friends corporate career might, but in a few years , with enough experience things do get much better. The important thing really is to continuously keep at what one likes doing, work earnestly and honestly and not compare oneself to another. Also, do some projects just for the love of it without thinking too much about what it would lead to.

S: How, in your opinion, does your art contribute to the preserving of culture?

P: I think in many ways what I and numerous other artists do is to directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously , record the stories of our lives. It might be a direct form of preservation like illustrating a simple folk story, or it might also be illustrating a contemporary piece where though the primary aim is to tell a story, it also, through its visuals illustrates the the circumstances that form the setting for the story. So, many years from now , when another generation looks back at these pieces , it would hopefully serve as a reflection of the society we lived in. As artists , most of us must simultaneously preserve and invent culture.

It is often our the past that acts as a catalyst /inspiration for new work and speaking of my work specifically , I think I'm always trying to evolve a style that's inspired by Indian folk art forms and miniature paintings, to create a visual language that is uniquely Indian. While growing up in the 80's I remember that there were hardly any books with Indian characters in them. Most of the characters in my favorite picture books were Russians with blonde hair names like Ivan and Vassily . So, whenever I made drawings for these little comic books that I used to make as a hobby in school, all my characters inevitably had blonde hair. I had unwittingly brainwashed myself to think that for a character to exist in a story , it must be Caucasian. It makes me so happy therefore that publishers of children's books in India now are now very consciously changing that, and a child in India who reads a book these days is not confused about his or her rightful place in storybook. I do hope my work is contributing in some way to this phenomenon .

S: Finally, what does a Day In the Life Of Priya Kuriyan look like?

P: I have to admit outright I am one of those people who just can't follow a fixed schedule everyday. I mostly dream of being a more organized person though. A day in my life is pretty quiet ,mostly . I'm definitely a night owl and therefore a late riser . I usually start my day with the newspaper and my morning dose of Caffeine. My neighbor's Spaniel usually knows when I wake up and he visits for about half an hour everyday. After a bit of mollycoddling (this is the only constant event in my daily routine) we read the paper together. I generally start work around 10:30 -11 am. The rest of the day completely depends on what project I'm doing and what stage of the project I am in .

There are days when I just need to think conceptually and maybe crack a look for a book cover or an editorial illustration or a story for a comic. On those days I think most of my time is divided between daydreaming and doodling and I tend to spend a lot of time switching from one thing to the other - while constantly thinking of this one concept at the back of my head. I know on the outside it just looks like I'm wasting time doing almost nothing and it's borderline embarrassing , but sometimes I just have to wait until the right idea strikes me. On certain days it's just the opposite . If I've reached that point in my project, where I know exactly what to do , I can just sit for hours and hours in utter concentration.

In the evenings I usually step out for a walk or a run. I get back to work post dinner. Just before this is also the time I get online and catch up with whatever's happening in the online world. I usually work late into the night since there are really very few distractions- no phone calls , no bells ringing. I usually end the day reading a book. That's something I've been doing ever since I could read I think .

Thank you Priya. You have inspired us. Please keep doing what you are doing to refresh, delight and rejuvenate our sensibilities. Keep drawing, no...strike that...Keep DOODLING to MAKE A DIFFERENCE.