ABHAY SARDESAI provides a compact but comprehensive survey of the burgeoning graphic novel scene in India and examines how contemporary artists have mined the comic book image in significant ways.
Probably the earliest graphic novel in India, The River of Stories (Kalpavriksh, 1994) by Orijit Sen, intersperses creation myths of displaced adivasis with a young reporter’s visit to the Rewa Dam site and, in the process, offers a sordid tale of conniving contractors, crafty politicians and brutal policemen. The uneven but spectacular development that post-NEP India seems to have triumphantly embarked upon is captured by the starkness of the novel’s imagery. The graphic book, here, becomes a vehicle for launching a critique of political and social iniquities, borrowing variously from agit-prop literature and narrativising themes that draw from events that have ruptured India’s social and environmental fabric. The political and the pedagogic go hand in hand in a work like Our Toxic World (SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. and Toxics Link, 2010) by Aniruddha Sen Gupta and Priya Kuriyan, which is really a creatively assembled community living primer. The book reveals how different kinds of poisons insidiously enter and destroy biological and environmental systems. Keeping the Sachdeva family at the centre of the ‘story’, we are informed about the crisis brought about by electronic waste, provided information about green building techniques and educated about anti-pollution legislations. Notes discussing corporate social irresponsibility and comparing different fuels come at the end of chapters that deal with issues ranging from urban construction activity to lethal automobile fumes. Our Toxic World reminds you, in a slightly different key, of a series of graphic guides (by Icon Books Ltd.) on the life and thought of figures like Freud and Marx, and movements like Feminism and Fascism, that have enjoyed tremendous popularity amongst students and scholars for more than a decade and a half.
Image: From Srividya Natarajan and Aparajita Ninan’s A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty