Great Indian graphic reads, while on the move

 

Tisha Srivastav

Comics and graphic novels often combine the best of novel storytelling with a cinematic touch. Making it a great combo to include both who like reading or those who like movies. These can also be lighter, but fulfilling reads in the many windows of time, which travelling presents in our day to day working lives. Be it a metro, auto-ride or hopping on a short same day flight. Tisha Srivastav recommends 3 enjoyable desi graphic reads.

Paramvir Chakra
 

When on the metro or a short auto rickshaw ride , pick up any of the snapshot real life stories on 21 Paramvir Chakra awardees (Amar Chitra Katha comic), the highest award for an Indian soldier in wartime.  Spare, short bullet pointed (literally) introductions to the men, with a minimal sense of back story and their valiant contribution in a precise military operation. It is perfect for a short metro/auto ride as one can read one of the awardees stories in 10-15 minutes and pick up the next story on another ride, in this anthology. The real life stories tend to get richer in detail in the second half. So you can savour them in full, over the weekend at home too.

I wanted more out of it though. For instance, when there is a superb real life story of a fauji who helps his troops advance by clearing landmines, it mentions pine trees in the distance. Now, in this version, pine trees don’t really look like, well pine trees. This, for an Army, which has the best feature maps of the Indian countryside, seems to be unfair to the recording of the actual truth. Greater detail of the personality, fears, moves, mistakes as developing characters, leading up to the one battle time act, which won them the PVC, would greatly take this further. More detail of landscape, sketches of life within the Army, what battle time entails – all these would help the civilian understand Army life too. Like most Commando styled comics, these of course give strongly one sided realities. Giving the other side, often helps in actually grasping the full extent of the bravery of the PVC awardee. Hope this is the start, of many deep dives into armed forces related storytelling to come. This is classic ACK terrain, so don’t go expecting a graphic novel of great complexity or depth. It is a simple introduction, to those, who for most ordinary Indians remain brave names on Republic Day. (And then we often forget) Putting a face and context to the many who have guarded our borders, often with their lives.

Hyderabad_1014
 

When on a one or two hour flight, try Hyderabad – a graphic novel. A slim, tall book this. Almost in what is familiar to Indians, as the Asterix or Tintin comic size. You know big font size, big story panels. Will also fit into a laptop bag lightly, without adding unnecessary weight to cabin baggage.

This one is an intelligent page turner of a biography of a city, by someone who clearly loves it. And gets you interested. Jai Undurti writes the story, Chattoraj has etched it in intense, sharp, varied tones, which change style when the story shifts gear. As it does every few pages. A back and forth tale which begins with an imaginative whiff of Hyderabad, when the dinosaurs were around. What will you use to escape them – an auto rickshaw fellow you have to negotiate the rate with, of course?
Age and antiquity mix in this page turner, like a good glass of whisky, one absentmindedly twirls gently with the rocks. Something about being in the air, staring at clouds, which suits the mood of this read. A sharp pool of imaginations featuring cosmologies of cities, a poet’s verse, architectural power games and a city lover wrapped in the love of his city’s legends. A quite terrific ride through time.
It could be the beginning of a series on Hyderabad or any other city a storyteller knows well, under its many skins. If the language was made just a little more spoken, rather than a bit heavily written as it is now, it might reach out to a larger audience too. If the upcoming Bangalore anthology evokes its own self with such vision and drama, it may be worth looking forward to. A perfect in-flight read, in terms of the length and imaginative touch.

Munnu
 

When on a long overnight train ride, pick up the heart-warming tale of a Kashmiri boy telling you his life story in the state of Kashmir. Munnu by Malik Sajad is a worthy addition to Indian bio-graphic novels. What is it like for a kid growing up in Kashmir through the 90s, whose family spends most of its energies in keeping the home fires burning and keeping the boys away from being radicalized? Munnu comes across as a loving, confused boy who tries to live in a world of his imagination. An imagination stoked by the daily unpredictability of living in a militarized zone. It evokes this part particularly well, but when it tries to do a Joe Sacco, of trying to convey the multi layered history of Kashmir, it doesn’t get to the heart of things, but does reflects the confused paranoia of whom to believe well. Because it tries too hard here, it neither does justice to the story of the Kashmiri Pandits or to how it got to the state it is in. Its strength remains the personal touch of a kid who grows up to be a cartoonist and tries hard to both comprehend and convey the realities, which publications may find acceptable.

This read takes a few hours, so may be ideal for a train ride, where one can read a bit, shut it, look at the scenery outside the train window wondering what it’s like for hundreds of Munnus in conflict zones. Then return after a meal and some rest to more of the book maybe.

All three graphic novel/comics are focussed on storytelling and maybe a great way to unwind, fitting nicely with breaks in a busy day. Also making a growing genre accessible to those who love picture, literary books and India. All under 600 bucks each.

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