Sarnath Banerjee traces his career as a graphic novelist, his upcoming works and more
Talking to Sarnath Banerjee is like walking through the narrow by lanes of old Delhi, the city he's based in and writes about a lot – entertaining, full of surprises and very down to earth. The surprises Banerjee – often celebrated as India's ‘first graphic novelist' – packs in his witty one- liners brimming with black humour are very much like his stories.
So, it was a pleasure meeting him during the Third Kovalam Literary Festival that was conducted in the city last weekend, and chatting with him about his work and the graphic novel – comics by another name – as a form.
The most chaotic and wondrous things happen in his work. Fast-paced like in cinema, the events take the reader on a ride spanning time. However, Banerjee prefers simplicity when it comes to describing his work: “A story is a gesture, we need stories to prop us up… it's like a cigarette or a bottle of wine – you drink it and remember it.”
And for Banerjee, the best method to do this was to use the visual, or the comic strip, as a medium to tell his stories. “Everything's about the visual,” he says, over a biriyani lunch.
Influenced a great deal by French comics or the Bande dessinee, Banerjee started creating comics a long time ago and his first novel, Corridor, in 2004 was celebrated as India's first graphic novel. However, that's a claim he does not take credit for since India had seen graphic novels in many of the regional languages long before Corridor was published.
His second book, The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers in 2007 was much more ambitious in scope, spanning different countries, periods and generations. Filled with the most bizarre and engaging illustrations, the book engages the reader with its element of fantasy, very much in line with superlative fiction.
“I use fantasy to comment on day-to-day activities… as a tool to alert,” says Banerjee. So, on the one hand, there are completely “normal” sentences and suddenly, one sees the image of a levitating man – a satiric comment on spirituality?
Satire and dark humour play a huge role in his fiction. “Oh, I'm so deliriously happy living in Delhi that I need to use black humour to balance it all,” said Banerjee, tongue firmly in cheek, during his entertaining session at the Festival.
In fact, irony and humour play a huge role in any graphic novel. Yet, Banerjee feels that the genre has a long way to go in India, though several young people are now adopting it as their creative medium.
Banerjee himself has decided to take a break from ‘the graphic novel' for a few years, focussing instead on some select creative projects. The Harappa Files is his forthcoming pictorial book which will be published this December and showcased during the next Jaipur Literature Festival.
Monsters of Delhi is another interesting project he is working on, a dark and hilarious satire on the various ‘babudoms' of our capital city.
Besides the artistic talent of this unassuming man, what was fascinating was the way he mingled with the audience at Kanakakunnu Palace (the Kovalam Literary Festival venue), sipping tea with fellow authors and readers, talking to eager fans and seeking Kerala fish curry recipes.
Who knows, perhaps, some day, there will be The Kerala Files too?