VIJAY PRASHAD delves into The Harappa Files, and Sarnath Banerjee’s insights into India today.
Children of the transition
Comics are delightfully democratic. It is easy to draw, even if it is hard to draw well. Boys and girls equally take to doodling. Sadly, the filters of the comic industry often chose the men and allowed deeply masculinist forms of drawings and story-telling to dominate. We got Tintin and Asterix, the male heroes who would save the day, while the women around them (Madame Castafiore and Impedimenta) were irritants for comic relief. We didn’t see the comic magazines such as Ah! Nana (1976-78) from the same French-Belgian world that produced our two aforementioned heroes. We saw the hypersexual women in DC Comics, but not It Ain’t Me Babe (1970). Both Ah! Nana and It Ain’t Me Babe were self-consciously written to elaborate upon the conventions of comic books from a feminist standpoint. It is a pity these works didn’t make their way into our lending libraries to broaden our aesthetic canvas. Reading the Pao Collective’s anthology, I’m struck by the vibrant worlds that fidget around sexual and gender stereotypes. Nevertheless, in Banerjee’s world there is the ‘five-minute woman’, and even one character’s Thursday-evening woman – both vessels for the sexual fantasies of others, but with no history of their own. The Collective’s members have produced works that try to go beyond this – books such as Parismita Singh’s The Hotel at the End of the World and Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s Delhi Calm. Banerjee, however, remains below the barrier. This is a pity. It narrows the ambition of The Harappa Files, which otherwise reads like a neurologist’s report on contemporary India.
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