Creative entrepreneur Shuvashish Roy shares his blueprint for thinking laterally.
“Ja Ichcha Tai”, the first creative journal and adult activity book in the Bengali language, is a creation inspired by “Wreck This Journal”, and reading this book has ignited my interest to explore artistic activism. Keri Smith, the author of “Wreck This Journal”, identifies her audiences as users rather than readers. To me, my readers are my co-creators. Each “Ja Ichcha Tai” has its own story, comprising each user’s emotions and passions. Even on the cover of the book, I kept a blank white space at the centre for my readers to draw something, making the cover entirely personalised for them. In “Ja Ichcha Tai”, my readers, their peers, and I try to co-devise creative wonders.
“Ja Ichcha Tai” can fill this humdrum vacuum of individualism. Readers can take a break from real life and turn the pages of my creative journal “Ja Ichcha Tai” and make their own room to do whatever they want! “Ja Ichcha Tai” is a Bengali phrase that means “do whatever you want to”, and this book of mine is full of activities for adults where readers can participate in random activities full of excitement and oomph.
“I want to foster an environment where people can think laterally, dive into happiness, and aspire for a utopian world.”
Made in Bangladesh
While I was doing my MA Creativity: Innovation and Business Strategy at the University of Exeter, Anna Kiernan, the co-director of the programme, introduced us to the activity book “Wreck This Journal” written by the legendary author and conceptual artist Keri Smith. I was captivated by the book’s activities and started completing each task whenever I had free time. Suddenly, the thought of creating my own version of a creative journal in my native culture came into my mind.
I immediately outlined what would stimulate the people of Bangladesh and created a series of exercises based on their ethos and choices. Having a South Asian ethnicity, on one page, I asked the users to mix some local spices like turmeric, chilli and onion paste – to make life spicier! On another page, I emphasised patriotism. I asked people to cut a t-shirt label and paste it on a particular page to signify the effort of the garments workers of Bangladesh, who made it possible to stand high in the apparel industry with “Made in Bangladesh” products.
A feather in one’s cap
The magnificence of a creative activity book is that it blurs the boundaries between word and visuals. There are two aspects of blending texts and illustrations in “Ja Ichcha tai”. Firstly, I wanted to spare readers from information overload in this internet era. People struggle to find rhythm in this sea of information, and the intense connection between heart and soul is missing in the digital space. Here comes the role of “Ja Ichcha tai”, where I espoused the aesthetic value of simplicity. Text in this book is minimal. Aside from a few sentences, shapes prompt activities. For example, there is a sketch of a king on one page, but his crown is missing a feather. So there is an instruction to find a bird’s feather from the woods and place it on the crown. This mix of text and visual allows readers to actively participate, and fulfil a sense of achievement, just like the idiom, “A feather in one’s cap.”
“The magnificence of a creative activity book is that it blurs the boundaries between word and visuals.”
Another reason for this blurring of text and visuals is related to attention span – or people’s lack of it . Social media has connected us never as before. Still, the multi-tasking nature of generation Z has prompted them to switch to a new topic every now and then, scrolling for social connection and perceived rewards. As such, my book has been developed with the mechanism of hooking readers with rewards of accomplishment and abrupt, surprising tasks guided by artwork.
From readers to co-creators
Activity book genres for adults are still precursory to further exploration. But this genre has huge potential, especially in the post-covid era when we slowly recover from pandemic fatigue by adopting the new normal. This is the time to unsee what we have comprehended before. During the nationwide lockdown at the surge of Covid-19, my messenger pinged with pictures from readers – or co-creators – that showed how the activities of “Ja Ichcha Tai” kept them busy and mentally refreshed.
"In “Ja Ichcha Tai”, my readers, their peers, and I try to co-devise creative wonders.”
I am now working on my upcoming activity book “Unsee”, which is an effort to prepare ourselves for the post-pandemic world. Our daily life has changed so much that we now have to unlearn the previous way of doing things, be more thoughtful and empathetic and adapt our mindset for a meaningful tomorrow. Of course, “Ja Ichcha Tai” is so close to my heart as my first activity book, but I envision “Unsee” as a much broader and global project. The multidisciplinary approach to writing activity books makes those easily acceptable to readers. The approach to blurring the boundaries between words and visuals makes it more inclusive irrespective of culture, ethnicity or language. Thus “Unsee” would be the stress-reliever, a guide to finding the inner peace for a much larger audience. I do not want to reveal the content yet for the readers but can give you an idea of one or two activities. For example, there will be an activity to comprehend the meaning of time that is most precious in our life. In another task, you are instructed to chew and swallow a raisin in a particular way, to feel the significance of responsible consumption.
I aspire to make “Unsee” a constant companion of people who would like to prosper in a sustainable world. To make this dream come true, I hope to to disseminate the power of the activity-book genre among readers, with support from publishers and literary partners. With this impact-driven outlook, I believe we can indeed make a livable and loveable world.
Shuvashish Roy is a Chevening scholar, currently working as the Head of Business of Bangladesh’s most circulating English daily, The Daily Star. Writing is Shuvashish’s passion, and he likes to experiment with his writings. The activity book “Ja Ichcha Tai” is his first published book. He also writes for kids. His children’s ghost storybook “Adhunik Mojar Mojar Bhoot” meaning “New Funny Ghosts” and pre-teen adventure book on sustainable development goals named “Chamakiya O Biggani Bhajaghata” have been published in Bangladesh. Shuvashish also co-authored a management book, “Think Like CEOs” where he accumulated twenty top Bangladeshi CEOs perspectives through interviews.