Vivid, nostalgic and unsettling tales of a city in transition (Book Review)

Bangalore: A Graphic NovelBy Himani Kothari,

Title: Bangalore: A Graphic Novel; Authors: Various; Compiled by: Jai Undurti & Praveen Vempadapu; Publisher: Syenagiri; Pages: 84; Price: Rs 400

If Bengaluru were a person, it could be like a member of Bollywood’s fabled Kapoor family whose succeeding generations have managed to remain relevant even as times and norms change. But is this gift for perpetual validity all that goes into making the city alluring?

Beyond the shiny glass towers housing established tech giants and new start-ups alike, the heritage of Bengaluru goes back centuries — to even before its formal birth in the early 16th century — and thus defining its history is not easy.

However, 18 artists have come together to try and, in “Bangalore: A Graphic Novel”, to show us what the city means to them. Through their eyes, we see a Bengaluru devoid of its cliches, the Bengaluru of the past, the Bengaluru of the future and the Bengaluru of today.

Most of the nine stories here are dark — both visually and content wise — and exhibit a neo-noir style (reminiscent of the setting of the Sin City movies) with some sort of crime being a common plot device. Harsh tones, striking imagery and masterly use and interplay of colours makes tearing your eyes away to turn the page harder with each panel a work of art.

Some have a more cheerful appearance and are relatable to beyond those living in Bengaluru. Like the nostalgic but bittersweet feeling of returning to your hometown only to see that the landmarks of your childhood no longer exist and that “your friends and family are reminders of what once was”. Or about going back to undo the course of your life — which one of us hasn’t wished to do.

Among the stand-outs is the real story about an African-American sailor who jumps his ship in the early 1900s, and goes on to become the most famous boxer the country had seen at the time.

Author-artist Sumit Moitra’s “The Incredible Story Of Gunboat Jack” is an apt example of how an exciting story can be more frequently found in the unread pages of history, rather than the most fertile imagination.

Moitra, who was born and lives in Kolkata and is a journalist by profession, told IANS that Bengaluru actually “exists in my head” — with experiences of many friends and relatives who have moved there colouring his perception, though he himself spent just a week in the city before getting down to write about it.

Moitra, who admits he doesn’t follow a specific individual style, however said it was important that the art should convey the time period during which the story unfolded and in this a point of reference was the depicted era’s black and white movies.

Squeezing pace and character development in less than a dozen pages was another challenge which he successfully surmounted by his unique presentation, but above all, he managed to depict Gunboat’s state of mind and the “fears and insecurities of an African-American, brought up in an environment of discrimination and racial abuse in the US”, and how he would “approach life in an alien country of brown people dominated by the British”.

And then there is the powerfully unsettling “drive” of the unnamed senior business executive in the Jai Undurti-scripted and Rupesh Arvindakshan-illustrated “Mileage”, which will teach you to be careful while walking on deserted roads late in the night.

The collection opens with Appupen’s stark and uncheering look at a dystopian future in “Bangaloids”, and given the unrestrained and unplanned development, the massive traffic gridlocks and the increasing lack of empathy, the future may not be very far off.

A little more upbeat yet poignant is Ramya Ramkrishnan’s “No More Coffee”. Set in the iconic coffee house where two lonely hearts meet after a crossed order and get hitched — but years later, the woman discovers their union is not what it promised to be. While many others of her kind would — and do — lament their fate, for her, “if I could turn back time” is not only a wistful regret. And all it takes is a shove.

All the entries, different as they may be, go on to coalesce in a glittering kaleidoscope of the city in both its vibrant highs and tragic lows that will appeal to anyone looking for inspired story-telling. Don’t miss it.

(Himani Kothari can be contacted at )



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