Arjun, Anis and “Delhi Hectic”. Life couldn’t be more interesting

Taking the Metro to work and back helps in obeying deadlines and curfews, of course, but it also produces a vision of the city like none other. The journey from Chhatarpur to say, Shadipur, requires more than giving up your seat and changing your line; it also demands of you a different way of seeing. As you look out the window and see the city changing, you realise that what you reflexively call home, can often be unfamiliar.

It is, I suppose, the daily enactment of what Arjun Jassal experienced over a much longer time frame. Born and brought up in Delhi, he moved away for nearly ten years. Returning in 2011, he found the city not better or worse, “just different”. He and his fellow not-yet-Delhiite, not-quite-Dilliwala friend Aazar Anis are behind Delhi Hectic, a web-based graphic novel that presents a new take on the city through the lens of Instagram. Jassal runs a social media agency while Anis works with an ad firm; they are childhood friends.

The duo record their thoughts on subjects ranging from an 80s themed party in the city, and its disco earring, khadi kurta wearing denizens, to its old and new monuments, employing a deceptively simple juxtaposition of Instagram photographs and observational, quasi-philosophical text. The city emerges as both stifling and liberating, and is described, among other things, as a meat grinder and a vegetable salad.

The idea for the book came roughly half a year ago, and was conceived as a graphic novel with a detailed story arc, well sketched out characters and proper illustrations. The illustrator left soon for the U.S. however and the two were faced with something of a crisis. But it turned out to be a happy accident, as it forced them to rethink the project. “We had been Instagramming our lives in Delhi for such a long time, that we thought we could use those images and straighten out the story,” says Jassal. “It was getting too ambitious anyway,” Anis chips in. The collaboration is an unusual one, with writing and Instagramming duties falling to both the individuals.

Having amassed over six thousand views in a short span, they have been greeted by responses ranging from “you stole the idea in my head” to “can we do a Bombay Hectic?” They have also been approached by a few publishers. But why wasn’t it conceived as a physical book in the first place? “We are always online and are total social media junkies. The concept of publishing it in a book format was not even on our mind. We weren’t expecting so many people to start reading it,” Jassal laughs. “We thought barring our friends no one will read it. But that’s the thing about being online; it keeps spreading.”

While they prefer to call Delhi Hectic a graphic novel, the fact that it is a work-in-progress also gives it an air of a webcomic (they count the iconic A Softer World webcomic as an inspiration, for its similar use of text and photo). Six chapters of a proposed twelve have been published so far, with the authors breaking them up into segments of three. While the first segment deals with various parties in the city, the second has to do roughly with history. The upcoming ones will deal with the city’s subcultures and round it off with their response to the city.

(Delhi Hectic can be viewed at https://delhihectic.jux.com/)