The Yellow Book

The Yellow Book Amitava Kumar

We failed to save so many lives during the pandemic. At one point, I looked outside my window in upstate New York and saw that flowers had come up through the cover of snow. Daffodils, crocuses, tulips. I began to paint these flowers on the obituaries printed by The New York Times. I was trying to answer the question of how to keep creativity alive when there was so much death around us. My friend, Hemali Sodhi, from A Suitable Agency wrote to me and said that these paintings I was making belonged in a book. That is how The Blue Book came about.

Time passed. Covid returned. I had taken my students for their junior semester abroad to London. We were on the street a lot and we were visiting different places, making discoveries, I told my students they would learn more, they would notice or observe more if they kept a journal and took notes and even sketched. I was trying to practice what I was preaching. The Yellow Book is a record of many travels, not just to England but also to India.

Just the other night, I was visiting a friend’s house for dinner and I read something that answers your question. There were books everywhere in this house. My friend was making lamb chops for me and so I opened a book I saw there. It was an instructional book for artists. The Campari I was drinking has wiped out any memory of the title or the author but what I have with me now are the words I noted down in my little pocket note- book: ‘Amplification is the basic building block of all art. Find one simple idea and build on it—fast, slow, inverted, forward, splintered, whole’. This is all to say, that this process of ‘amplification’ is central to the idea of thinking about sequels.

I wanted my readers to think about how we could become the authors of our own histories. And, more specifically, how this account could be an artistic one. Even during the pandemic, I had wanted my readers to be alert, not just to loss but also to visions of blazing beauty. I think my fundamental credo remains unchanged: don’t let your life pass unnoticed. One day passes, then another. A whole succession of days turns into months and years. How to mark our separate days? The places we have been. Our individual passions, our pain. Against the blurring of years, the clarity of a record. My books show a way of doing all this but they also nudge you to find your own way.

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Words Nidhi Verma
Date 15.12.2023