When it comes to stories on Partition, most of us have an idea of it would go. Some have read these stories in textbooks, others in journals, novels and blogs, or watched it unfold in TV serials and movies, while others have heard of it from friends, families and grandparents sometimes in the form of poetry, otherwise as a fable or a dream.
“Fictional or non-fictional; each of these stories helped our generation understand the Partition. But over time, the Partition narrative has begun to get slotted into templates,” says Vishwajyoti Ghosh, curator of the graphic book, This Side That Side. The book aims to break these templates, offering a fresh and contemporary approach to telling stories about Partition.
Completed with the help from 40 contributors from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the book weaves 28 graphic narratives, some in the form of poetry, others are in reportage, fiction, non-fiction, memories or dastan. Each story is as unfitting into the established template as it is detached-yet-related to the “markers” that drew the boundaries that created the three nations.
Writers, filmmakers, musicians, poets and range of fresh voices were chased and paired with artists / illustrators from across the border to present them in a graphic format. “This phase was interesting as both had never met, neither were they aware of each other’s work. I was particularly interested in cross border collaborations and see how that progresses,” says Ghosh. The result, as evident in the book, is nothing short of extraordinary.
Ghosh adds that the focus of the book is more at re-telling the Partition than revisiting it. “These are attempts by writers, artists and even the characters to make some sense of their histories but in the times we live in,” he adds. The book starts with Ghosh’s introduction, which is a beautiful description of why the book had to be written.
Short and crisp, the curator awes you with his description of how the game of dividing the country was played. This is followed with An Old Fable, the opening story of the book, which sets the tone on what to expect - lots of subtle dark humour, dipped in symbols that connects the era of partition and the 1971 War as an aftermath of it, into today’s time.
Some stories - Tamasha-e-Tetwal and The News - look right at the propaganda elements running across the borders, others like Border try to highlight how perhaps, thousands of romantic stories would never be complete because of the borders that now exist between the three countries, and some leave it on the reader to draw a conclusion.
What makes this book an interesting read is its narrative that stands out in each story, backed by an equally engaging graphic. The artwork, however, could be a bit too busy, for some, but then This Side That Side is not your average graphic novel; it’s dreamy, mixing fantasy with reality and packed with humour and symbols that are open to interpretation.
100 years celebration: Cabaret Weimar
Using lyrics from the song Cabaret Weimar, musician Rabbi Shergill and Vishwajyoti Ghosh weave a story that tells what the 100 years post-Partition might be like. Most of us will celebrate, but not necessarily lay down weapons.
Cross-border propaganda: Tamasha-e-Tetwal
This satirical reportage by Aruf Ataz Parrey and Wasim Helal looks at how propaganda is used to create hatred among people across the border who are separated by a river.
Of love, materialism and flaglessness: Border
Inspired from the works of Saadat Hasan Manto, this is a complex take on how the border has created a wall between many lonely hearts who without it might have lived a life together.
Life in camps: Inside Geneva Camp
These stories look at how camps built after Partition and the 1971 War poke fun at the Indian Union’s humanitarian efforts, while chronicling the hard life of Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh.
Whose house is this? 90 Upper Mall
The 90 Upper Mall is about Ahmad Rafay Alam who meets people who once lived in the house now owned by him.