Rashmi Srideshpande’s, Dadaji’s Paintbrush is a tender tale of love, loss, and a renewal of hope. It speaks of familial bonds, of memory, of processing grief, and the journey to grow from it.
The story takes the reader inside the life of a boy (we don’t know his name because he is referred to as “boy” throughout the book) who lives with his beloved grandfather, Dadaji. It is an idyllic life in a tiny village in coastal India, where they grow and sell tropical fruits like coconuts, mangoes, pineapples, jackfruits, and bananas. He does everything with Dadaji – reading, playing, and sailing handmade paper boats in the puddles formed by the monsoon rains. But what he especially loves doing is painting with Dadaji! The boy paints with his fingers, with brushes made of sticks and, “strips of cloth, reeds, or jasmine flowers wrapped around the ends”.
His charmed life ends abruptly when Dadaji passes away. He is engulfed in heartbreaking sadness and perhaps even a sense of betrayal. After all, he had asked Dadaji to not, “ever leave” him “but one day he did”. The story continues with the boy navigating this great loss and his grief, and how a chance meeting changes his bleak outlook on life.
The geographical setting of the book is rooted in Srideshpande’s memories of summer vacations in Goa, India, at her grandfather’s home. The character of Dadaji is based on the author’s deep love and regard for her grandfather, Laxmikant Desai, to whom she dedicates the book.
Ruchi Mhasane’s colored pencil illustrations are gorgeous; whimsical and delightful in their soft, gentle tones that perfectly mirror the author’s unpretentious words. Mhasane cleverly uses her color palette to reflect the mood and the emotions of the boy as we turn the pages and metaphorically walk alongside him while the story progresses. In the beginning, the colors are bright and cheerful. Watermelon pinks, mango yellows, marigold oranges, and betel leaf greens. When Dadaji is no longer with the boy, the colors transition to somber grays. The last few pages of the book are again infused with light and optimism when he realizes that Dadaji did not really leave him because he is always in the boy’s heart!
Dadaji’s Paintbrush is a poignant story that illustrates how life goes on – as it should, despite the losses that all of us will face at one point or the other as we chart our own paths. However, we must hold on to the belief that the memories of our loved ones will always center and guide us, enveloping in an eternal embrace.
The book can also serve as a useful resource in explaining loss and grief to young children. Suitable for children ages 4 to 8.