Book Reviews

A comic book on Naxalism in India: Interview with cartoonist Sumit Kumar

CR58sIzUsAEDACrWhen 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.

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How to squeeze in time to read everyday

Months ago, I walked up to Jaideep Shergill (our former CEO at MSLGROUP India) and asked him how he made time for all the novels stacked up around his little space in office. Just the number of books overwhelmed me with guilt. I did feel terribly ashamed to even ask him that question. But I asked it anyway because my reading hours shrank considerably, and I knew I had to do better. And look at me – I was comparing myself to a man as busy as him. Well, his answer was as brief as it could get. ‘I travel a lot.’

So here’s what I gather:

Read while traveling
When my reading hours decreased, it was because I was living only three-four kilometers away from office. By the time I opened a book or even tried to skim through the newspaper in the morning, I was already standing below my office building. That’s when I figured it was better to live away from my workplace, take a train, get a seat and read.

Take a short break at work
Inspired by another gentleman at work, I realized I could read in office as well. While everyone takes a chai break, I prefer opening a book and reading as much as I can within 15 minutes. It’s not a bad idea, and it works as a break too. Then back we go to our laptops.

Before you go to bed
After a long day at work, this is usually not what happens. There were times when I used open my laptop and get glued to some television show that I’d downloaded. It was just convenient. However, I still do watch an episode every night, and for the next 30 minutes or so, I read. I like the feeling of reading myself to bed. The moment I realize my eyelids are ready to hug each other, I place the book next to my pillow and go off to sleep.

As soon as you wake up
When I was reading Rebecca, I would sleep with the book next to me and wake up to read it first thing in the morning. I liked how it panned out. So I tried this on a couple of other books and liked the idea of waking up to a novel every morning. There are days when I read and go back to sleep in the morning.

And while you’re at this, make sure you are disconnected. Keep you mobile phone away from you or you’re going to be distracted by every ping and the incessant buzz makes it all the more difficult to concentrate on a story.

In case you have more ideas, do share. I shall happily add it to this post.

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7 things I loved about Reena Martins’ Bomoicar

It’s been a while since I turned the last page of Reena Martins’ Bomoicar. I read the book, smiled as I flipped pages and then passed it on to some of my hostel girls. Even though a few are not Goans, they expressed liking towards the stories, towards the writing and towards Goa and its people. While Bomoicar is a compilation of short stories written by various people, Reena Martins ensures that it doesn’t read like it’s written by different people. Even though there were some overlaps here and there, I didn’t mind reading bits and pieces over and over again. That’s how beautifully the book is complied, edited and presented to us.

252186-untitled-1Here are a few aspects about Bomoicar I really loved.

The stories: Not all stories were related to love. There were stories within stories. There were stories of separation, stories of a person loved dearly by all, memories. And each of these stories found ways to be tied back to this city. There was romance, there was mischief. But it was all related to Bombay. Some stories were left incomplete in reality, but in the book, there was an ending even if it wasn’t a happy one.

Konkani words: Recently, my warden called me to her office and asked me to stop speaking in Konkani. It’s rude, she said. Bomoicar, on the other hand, encouraged the usage of Konkani words. For instance, words such as dumpel, copachem, kapod – these words took me back to Goa. There were these moments of nostalgia. I think I also paused my reading at one point and started telling my roommates stories about our house in Goa, our neighbours, stories about my grandmother.

The Goan Aunty: She was everyone’s aunty. If there was anything running common across the book, it was this aunty. It was around the time Morarji Desai was elected as the Chief Minister of Bombay State in 1952. This aunty saved the parched throats who longed for alcohol. I started liking this aunty, and so will you, once you read about her. Quite a saviour she was, I must admit.

Beyond singers and musicians: Bomoicar introduced us to Goans who played various other roles – Julio Riberio the supercop, renowned architect Charles Correa, a national name in urban planning Edgar Riberio, other merchant navy officers. The Goans we know are usually connected to the music industry. Bomoicar introduced us to the other successful and inspiring lot.

Devotion: There were times, when I was transported to Goa because of this aspect. Aunties took their daughters to church, first dates were at Sunday mass, and attending Sunday mass was mandatory. It was just so-catholic at times. But that’s how Goans are, aren’t they? Everyone believes strongly in some saint or the other. I liked it much.

A walk through old Bombay: These stories had a good amount of Bombay history attached to each of these tales. There was politics, there was architecture, there were words that described Bombay in its early years. There were stories about the bifurcation. So it was not just people, it was more than that. It was the story of Bombay through the eyes of Goans.

Goan culture in Bombay: These stories will resonate with every Goan who reads Bomoicar. It narrates stories of Goan aunties, the floral dresses they wore, the houses Goans lived in, the food – especially choris pao, the drinks (booze), etcetera. And how can we forget the ‘wat men?’ and the likes? Our bastardized version of English is still what defines the Goan community in Bombay. Sad, but true.

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7 Things I Love About Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’

RebeccaIt had been a while since I’d read a thrilling novel, and one day, the book club in office suggested we all read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. When the meeting was dismissed, I returned to my desk and placed an order for the book. Like never before, Flipkart took almost three weeks to deliver the novel. I was only hoping not to lose interest in the book that was also being discussed widely. As soon as the book arrived, I tore open the packaging and read two pages. And the first line “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” will always be one of the best opening lines of a novel I’ve ever read. 

I will not write that the novel displays an exceptional vocabulary, but the story is what gripped me all along. Who doesn’t love a story that’s unpredictable till the last line? In fact, I had to read the last paragraph three times to figure out what exactly happened. I slept over it and when I woke up, I couldn’t stop praising the author for giving us such a beautiful story to read. Instead of writing paragraphs about Rebecca, I thought it’ll be better to just listed down what I loved most about the book.

Manderley: Within the first 10 paragraphs of the book, Du Maurier describes Manderley, and how.

There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand. The terrace sloped to the lawns, and the lawns stretched to the sea, and turning I could see the sheet of silver placid under the moon, like a lake undisturbed by wind or storm. No waves would come to ruffle this dream water, and no bulk of cloud, wind-driven from the west, obscure the clarity of this pale sky.”

Aren’t you already in love with Manderley?

Sneak-peek into a Woman’s Mind: As a woman, I repeatedly hear guys describe us as a bunch of complicated species. They also say we think and over-think. No one, not even us, can figure out what’s going on in our little minds. Du Maurier takes advantage of this and crafts a character whose mind is nothing less than a spider’s web. I loved the way we strolled with the protagonist as she kept revealing her thoughts, her complex thoughts.

The protagonist: A simple girl. The protagonist is not the hero. In fact, the book doesn’t even have a hero. I fell in love with the second Mrs De Winter. She was not just innocent, but had a mind of a child. She analysed everything she encountered. She spoke little. Very little. She opened her mouth only when a question was directed towards her. She was patient, and never considered herself among the ones who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Towards the end, I realised I love books that are written in first person.

Bridging Past with Present: Even before the second Mrs De Winter discovered the truth, she kept moving back and forth in time. The past was playing such an important role that she based all her assumptions only on the past. The future was something she wasn’t really bothered about. Another thing I loved about the protagonist.

Keeping Rebecca Alive: Oh Rebecca! Even though she was not physically present during any conversations in the book, Rebecca was still there. She was in Manderley, she was at Maxim’s gran’s place, she was in the car, she was in the book Maxim handed over to the second Mrs De Winter, she was just everywhere. Du Maurier kept her alive so that we could fall in love with the second Mrs De Winter. That’s what I’d like to believe.

The Love Story: Such an adorable love story! After I was done reading, I suggested it to a guy friend who also loves reading. When he asked me what’s it about, I couldn’t help saying that it’s an adorable love story. Well, guys prefer not be cool about lovy-dovy stuff, so I had to describe the book as a gripping thriller, which it is.

Open Ending: To some, it’s quite irritating when the author does not end the book aptly. But I loved it! Daphne Du Maurier tells us one hell of a story and then says, “I’ve given a decent ending. I’m sorry you’ve had to read the last page over and over again to get clarity on what exactly happened, but sorry, you need to start playing the role of a detective now.” She obviously didn’t say this, but I’m going to assume she said it. And isn’t it fun to play detective?

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