Millions of stories remain untold
There's more to our city than the stories told by melodramatic Bollywood filmmakers, provided we give new voices a chance
A graphic novel called Grafity's Wall changed the way I look at Bombay recently. This is no mean feat, given that we are constantly bombarded by clichés about what our city looks, sounds and feels like. Written by a former Bombayite called Ram V and illustrated by current Bombayite Anand R K (with letters by Aditya Bidikar), the book documented the lives and times of a street artist named 'Grafity' and his friends Jay and Chasma. Set in and around a chawl, it took me back to years when I would trawl a city not half as populated by high-rises, long before the first mall darkened our already crowded streets.
To be fair, much of the novel's narrative betrayed the influence of Hindi cinema that tends to sink into our collective consciousness, but there was still enough about the book that made me love and celebrate it, nonetheless.
Here's the most interesting thing about Grafity's Wall: I couldn't find it in local bookstores because it wasn't published in India. I had to order it from its publisher in the UK because that is where it was crowdfunded into being. It left me with a number of questions about who we designate as storytellers and chroniclers of Bombay, why some people who act as gatekeepers of arts aren't necessarily right about the choices they make, and why we should encourage more new voices among us to speak out.
Bombay, like any colourful metropolis, tends to attract outsiders who see versions of the city they want to see. Some go hunting for the kind of glamour made famous on the big screen, others for the mythical riches that lie beneath our potholed streets. What they all take away or bring with them is an idea of a city that is fluid and almost always at odds with how long-time residents see it. This isn't to say their version of Bombay is any less authentic, but it does make me wonder why so much art, literature, and cinema inspired by or set within these crowded borders is so overwhelmingly hackneyed.
Grafity's Wall made me realise that there are millions of stories yet to be told, about parts of our city that have never been explored with any serious intent. There are colourful people with rich histories who live and pass away unacknowledged because our self-proclaimed chroniclers are too busy asking a Kumar, Kapoor or Khan for their stories instead. It also made me angry on behalf of the book's writers, because a project like this didn't have to be funded by strangers. It ought to have been picked up by a major publisher, marketed and distributed in a manner that encouraged more readers to engage with a quintessentially Bombay story. Instead, here it was, with a limited print run and no one to give it the kind of praise it deserves.
One of the biggest reasons why some books, songs or films are chosen above others has very little to do with good taste and everything to do with marketability. It is marketing departments that now call the shots and dictate what we should read, listen to or watch, based on their predictions of what is most likely to sell the most. It's why films sell based on who plays the lead rather than who's writing the story, and why publishers now ask writers submitting proposals to define their market segment and target audience. It's also why so many people who can't string a coherent sentence together are commissioned to write biographies.
I recognise the validity of these questions in an age when economic viability triumphs above all else, but envy the writers, musicians, and filmmakers who came before us, who were given the freedom to do what they wanted to without worrying about whether enough people would get it.
Ask yourself if your history, community, or locality is adequately represented in popular culture. Think about the people you have met, the stories you have been told on crowded trains and decrepit bars and look for those stories on the big screen or at your nearest bookstore. Ask yourself who the people deciding what we should all read, watch or listen to are, and why we have been trained to have collective experiences — Game of Thrones — rather than make personal choices.
If the stories you want aren't around, write them. Until that happens, you can always purchase books like Grafity's Wall and tell more people about them.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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