Words and art intersect in Saturday School, a project by Nidhi Chanani that highlights the beauty of Hindi with colorful, graphic renditions of phrases like “Rain begins with a single drop of water,” and “Add some masala to your life.” Chanani, a freelance artist and illustrator who was recognized last year by the White House as a Champion of Change, wanted to create something that combined learning spoken and written Hindi with uplifting phrases about life. Since the beginning of this year, she has been posting a new phrase each week written three ways — in Devanagari, Romanized Hindi and English.
In the inaugural Saturday School post on her website Everyday Love, Chanani set out goals and guidelines for the project. She wrote that “the spelling of Romanized Hindi is often disputed,” but hoped that the text-based art “will help anyone wanting to say the words aloud.” Fans of handwriting, language and Chanani’s unique style of art that celebrates everyday moments of romance and whimsy can visit her site each week for the latest Saturday School creation or sign up to receive them by email. Recently returned from Denver Comic Con, Chanani replied by email to The Aerogram’s questions about her latest project.
One of the guiding principles for your Saturday School project is to highlight the beauty of Hindi. What do you find beautiful about Hindi?
I grew up in California. My first spoken language was Hindi but my first written language was English. Therefore when I saw my mom writing Hindi, or saw texts in Hindi around my home I saw it as this beautiful tapestry. Weaving together the words of a culture I loved. I learned how to write Hindi later but it was never as strong as English and through this project I know my writing has improved.
You’re partnering with your mom for the project. How is that going and what does she think of the project?
My mom and I are having a lot of fun! I love that the project has lead us to interesting discussions around language, history and meaning. She and I differ on many things, but I respect her a lot and we tend to find a good middle ground when determining the phrase and translation. She isn’t one to compliment me falsely, so when she is impressed by the way I’ve arranged or drawn something, I know she means it… and when that happens I am very happy.
What are the bumps along the way that you’ve encountered as you create this text-based art?
The true challenge is to approach the text as art. That can be done by combining it with an illustration or making the text illustrative. I am very comfortable with illustration, so it’s easy to make the text pretty and then draw something next to it. If I did that all the time, it would feel flat. I want to use pattern, composition, size and shape to play with the text. I don’t think I’ve perfected it, but I’ve had some successes which feels nice.
One of the goals stated for the project is (secretly) teaching your husband Hindi. How is it working out so far?
I think for it to work I have to take the English out! I’ll make him multilingual soon enough, it’ll just take time!
One week you wrote about emailing back and forth with your mom about what phrase to use. How do you decide on the phrases to use each week and what are the inspirations?
We decided from the beginning that we wanted to put positive phrases out. From there it’s simply a back and forth, I suggest something and she will modify it… sometimes a phrase will work really well in English and make no sense in Hindi and vice versa. The inspiration comes from life, film, songs, feelings. I was visiting with her and we were eating roti and we tried to come up with a phrase about that, but couldn’t find something that works in both languages. It’s always a work in progress!
How would you describe your proficiency in Hindi? Did you ever take lessons or classes?
Actually I studied it when I was younger, then again in college. I would say I’m intermediate. I grew up on Hindi films so I completely understand it, but my speaking is only good once I’m around it for a bit. My writing and reading is fairly slow.
Do you have a favorite word (or words) in Hindi?
Puppi! It’s just so cute!