The Sheep of the Lal Bagh

Cover

Written by David Mark, Illustrated by Lionel Kalish

Parents Magazine Press, 1967

In a little city in the heart of India there was a big park called the Lal Bagh.

The plot in a nutshell: An artistic sheep gets the appreciation he deserves.

There are lots of reasons that people come to the Lal Bagh on holidays. They come to see the beautiful plants, flowers and fountains. But the main attraction is a sheep named Ramesh who mows the grass (by eating it, of course) into special designs. Everyone loves him and the children ride on his back. Then the mayor of the city decides that the park needs a proper lawn mower and the city’s people give money to help pay for it. When Ramesh sees the lawn mower, he leaves the park, broken hearted. When the next holiday rolls around, people go to the Lal Bagh and are disappointed to see only the lawn mower and not Ramesh. So they stop coming to the park at all. The mayor forms a committee to find the sheep but they have no luck. Then a family goes looking for him and their son sees a sheep chewing the grass around a tree into circles and Ramesh returns to the Lal Bagh. They continue to use the mower on regular days and Ramesh mows the lawn for holidays.

Let’s see…it’s a Parents Magazine Press book from 1967. If you automatically assumed this was a book from my childhood, give yourself bonus points. Author David Mark tells a charming story here about finding the compromise between progress and tradition (and efficiency and artistry) and sets it in a gorgeous botanical garden in Bangalore, India. I loved this book as a child, but had forgotten about it completely until a chance mention of the Lalbagh Botanical Garden in an online article about gardens brought back images of Ramesh, the artistic mowing sheep. I found a copy of the book online and it was in my hands a week later. (That’s the good kind of progress.)

Is the dog sitting on top of the fence?  A neat trick, but who cares when there's a rainbow fountain!

Is the dog sitting on top of the fence? A neat trick, but who cares when there’s a rainbow fountain!

Lionel Kalish’s artwork was always my favorite part of the book. It’s very 1960’s, with puffy swirly round edges and flowers and rainbows in exotic colors. Even as a kid, I noticed that every character, including the sheep, birds and dogs, are drawn in profile (with a couple of exceptions on the book’s cover). I remember wondering if Mr. Kalish just didn’t enjoy drawing faces straight on. I think the message of balancing new technology with old-fashioned creativity and quality is even more relevant now than it was in 1967. This book was wonderful to read again after all these years and it’s still a strong favorite of mine.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that moving forward and making progress is great, but it doesn’t mean we have to totally lose touch with things we enjoy.

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