When I heard that my colleague Sumit Kumar has published another book, I was curious. At a team meeting, he said it was on Naxalism in India, and my curiosity grew even bigger. In that moment, I remembered my college days, and a very senior journalist and professor Sir PK Ravindranath (PKR), who I’d sit with post lectures to understand India’s political system. Sir PKR (may his soul rest in peace) used to tell me stories on naxalism, and I wouldn’t find too many of us interested in the topic. But when I heard Sumit had chosen this topic, I had to get my hands on a copy. I wanted to know more. And the route Sumit took is even more fascinating – he took non-fiction and tied it with comics. He married a serious issue with humour and satire. He took this serious topic and sketched cartoons to narrate the naxal problem to us.
I will not write more on the contents of his book Amar Bari, Tomar Bari, Naxalbari, I’d rather you read it.
I shot a few questions to Sumit through an email though. And here’s what he had to say about his newest book and Naxalism in India.
Q. Firstly, who are these people you are talking to through your novel Amar Bari, Tomar Bari, Naxalbari? And why?
I intend to reach out to the regular folk – those who don’t read scholarly books. The idea is to inform them, because as Indians we rarely say no to an argument. We dive into it. This comic book can help your argument swim in an argument about the conflict.
Q. Why did you choose to take the route of humour and satire to touch upon such a sensitive topic – Naxalism in India?
If you think of your own life – funny things happen in the strangest of circumstances, even when the larger situation is bleak. Sometimes, it’s just the irony in the situation that is funny. In conflicts, human stupidity offers immense opportunity for humor. And this is what I have used to create unique moments in the book – you’re laughing, yet you feel sad and guilty.
Q. How much did you have to read, research to put together these 150 pages?
A lot of books. Endless articles. One to one interviews. All the sources are mentioned at the end of the book. The reading was hard, but liberating.
Q. What were the easiest and toughest elements of putting together this novel on this subject?
Easiest was finding things to make fun of – human stupidity – it was available in abundance. Toughest was research, and making sure I don’t dip into depression, which frankly, kept happening. What you have in your hands is a summary, but when you research you are exposed to much more – and those stories of suffering have an impact on you – it becomes difficult to even enjoy, say a costly coffee, or a costly dinner – it seems pointless. Most difficult was to portray the actual Naxalbari incident scene by scene – because information on what happened on that day is only available in salamis.
Q. What are your thoughts on Naxalism in the country?
It’s stuck in a deadlock. And there will be lot of violence before it gets over – remember how LTTE ended? The common tribals in these places have suffered, are suffering and will continue to suffer. If it’s not the conflict, then it’s the lack of solutions to something as simple as malnutrition.
Q. Also, I’ve always been confused with the difference between Naxalism and Maoism – could you shed some light on the same?
Indian communists who took the path of violence have always been clubbed together as Naxals – all rooting from the original Naxalbari revolt – naxalbari being name of the village. Communists are anal about their different sects and how they are described – so I wont dive into how you describe Maoists, just know that different groups who were called Naxals, and were on the violent path, finally came together under a unified party called CPI (Maoist). Just to make it clear – Mao talks mostly about class struggle. I could be wrong though. phew.
Q. Who do you think is paying attention to these issues? It is time to sensitise the youth about such happening in the country? And why?
There is no false sense of purpose I have in writing this book – like to do something for the youth etc. Like an author said “Youth is not a guarantee of innovation and change, but the youth is mostly a group of cowards.” The book is for everyone who’d want to know about the subject.
Q. Are there any specific cartoonists/ authors/ writers you’ve been drawing inspiration from? If yes, tell us more.
Every cartoonist and their comics impacts your work, but it’s not limited to the visual world alone. A lot of different work has inspired this book. Very clearly – Maus by Art Spiegelman (not sure about the spelling) and footnotes from Gaza by Joe Sacco WERE NOT AN INSPIRATION – because everyone who does anything in comics mentions these as inspiration. Apparently, the only way comics can get some literary respect is only if they are about Gaza or the suffering of jews in WW2. In that regard, my inspiration was more Simpsons than these masterpieces. I had no interest in turning my book into a masterpiece, which as a rule are supposed to be boring.
Q. Tell us what went into coming up with the book title.
Name comes from a famous slogan of that time – Bari means house – so,
Amar (my) Bari
Tomar (your) Bari
Naxalbari (Naxalbari is our house)
Although the book covers the history of the red corridor and Bastar, this name just stuck, and it was unique.
Another famous slogan of that time was – AMAR NAAM TOMAR NAAM VIETNAM VIETNAM!
Q. What’s coming up next from your desk?
I have no intentions to repeat myself and stick to one kind of storytelling, because in my craft you have to be genre specific – THAT CARTOONIST WHO DRAWS FUNNY COMICS ON INDIAN POLITICAL HISTORY. I want to just play with things and improve my storytelling – whatever happens as a result is welcome.