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Ghosts and water woes

Two Bengali graphic artists present two different moods across Delhi and Kolkata. Dhara Vora flips the pages

All Quiet in Vikaspuri
In an apocalyptic situation in Delhi, neighbourhoods fight over water. Girish, a plumber displaced from his village, takes up the task of finding the mythical river Saraswati, backed by a man who has hidden agendas.

Berlin-based Sarnath Banerjee’s latest graphic novel, All Quiet in Vikaspuri, deals with industrialisation, corruption, environmental degradation and existential concerns of today’s youth through surreal panels. In conversation with the author:

All Quiet in Vikaspuri tells the story of water wars in Delhi. Illustrations courtesy/HarperCollins
All Quiet in Vikaspuri tells the story of water wars in Delhi. Illustrations courtesy/HarperCollins

On the return of Girish, from The Harappa Files
Girish belongs to the Dalit community, a skilled industrial plumber who gets evicted from his livelihood and home because of the so-called ‘march of progress’. Progress that is meant to be for a small percentage of people, who hold most of the wealth and hoodwink others into believing that it is eventually going to trickle down. Girish is a perfect ‘other’ for the unthinking, unsympathetic, growth obsessed middle-class Indian immersed in cosmetic, self-serving nationalism and conservative politics that cleverly fuses religion and economics. As a privileged Indian, I can only imagine his pain. His story, I feel, is the story of our times. It is also the back-story of Girish who eventually becomes the psychic plumber.

All Quiet in Vikaspuri, Sarnath Banerjee, HarperCollins, '799, available at leading bookstores and online
All Quiet in Vikaspuri, Sarnath Banerjee, HarperCollins, '799, available at leading bookstores and online

Berlin’s view of Delhi
I am not in Berlin by choice but because of circumstances. However, I have my transmitter tuned to India; the slightest reverberations that happen there affect my work. Distance, sometimes, creates a sharper perspective. It is a cure for arrogance that comes from being local, knowing everybody and being sort of a mukhia. Anonymity keeps people vulnerable; nothing can be taken for granted.

Building characters
The city, for me, is an encyclopedia of characters; you go out and ‘read’ people. Every now and then, your eyes rest on someone; you try to crack codes of society and class and try to find the story behind the person or the story that he is to commit. These half remembered characters provide the cast for my books.

Ghosts of Kingdoms Past takes Sir Alec through the city of Kolkata in search of spirits. illustration courtesy/Penguin Books India
Ghosts of Kingdoms Past takes Sir Alec through the city of Kolkata in search of spirits. illustration courtesy/Penguin Books India

Ghosts of Kingdoms Past
The detailed black-and-white panels by Harsho Mohan Chattoraj create vivid imagery that is integral to Kolkata’s multi-layered history, culture and myths. Ghosts of Kingdoms Past is a fictional story about Sir Alec Morgan, who chases the paranormal across the world. Morgan arrives in spirit-filled Kolkata, in search of some scares. Dejected at first, Morgan finally manages to find more than what he bargained for, leaving the readers wanting to be a part of more explorations through different cities. The narrative does a seamless juxtaposition of history and fiction. The edgy style makes it a good read for young and not-so-young adults too. Here’s his take:

Giving ‘em the spooks
Graphic novels in India are dominated by superheroes (inspired by global superheroes) and mythology. I wanted to create a book as an introduction to Kolkata to someone not from the city. Horror worked well to showcase the city in a different light. The idea was to fuse the two pasts of the city — India, and its British influence. The city is home to countless decrepit homes that have a spooky air to them.

Ghosts of Kingdoms Past, Harsho Mohan Chattoraj, Penguin Books India, '150, available at leading bookstores and online
Ghosts of Kingdoms Past, Harsho Mohan Chattoraj, Penguin Books India, '150, available at leading bookstores and online

Finding fiction
While sourcing for places for references, I came across several locations with stories to tell. Even a metro station is said to be haunted. The first story about the zamindar’s bungalow; I have made it up. But a broken down building close to my home is what provided the reference for the illustration. You step into the home and expect spirits to haunt you. We plan to do a non-fiction version
as well.

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