Independent publishing house Blaft continues to surprise with its publishing list.
“Facing Problems in Personal life, Marriage, Love?? Want to speak ur heart out! We are here to help U free of cost. Email...” Next to it is a photo of a red post box saying “No Clearance on Sundays and Postal Holidays” and, beside it, a photo of a filmy couple in an embrace behind barbed wire. In another classified ad: A naked yogi wearing only a striped silk tie next to an ice cream sundae. “Yogalacious Provide yoga and meditation services for Corporates/Embassy/Foreign nationals/models/home individual/group ph: ...”
Times New Roman & Country Men — as observed by Vishwajyoti Ghosh — is a set of 25 oversize postcards in book form offered by Blaft that summon and sum up the very heart of our endearingly droll and kitschy classifieds.
A book of blown-up photographs of the kind of classified/advertisement we've all encountered on defaced walls, pulp magazines, tabloids and handbills. Words spelt in combinations you never thought possible, advertisement copy in groundbreaking grammar and inventive phraseology - all accompanied by incongruous images from “declassified Hindi movie visuals”.
A demure sari-clad woman from whose heart extends a phone cord connected to a telephone dial inside which is a man's photo. “Hi. Friendz Feeling alone? Citizen Friendship Provides Pure and Sure Friendship. M/F Fake No No Fake Commitment. Ph...”
Next: “Biography: Get a record of you life (Incidents, Struggles, Sacrifices, Feelings Etc) by Dr. … and Stay alive in memory of your family forever. Ph:..” And my favourite: “TEETOTALER Engr. short marriage not consummated divorced. Ph:…” The picture accompanying it? A little boy in a tie. Around his face are a circle of red shiny apples. Beside the boy are two long haired women right out of Kalidasa, each holding a feeding milk bottle.
Blaft, the independent publishing house in Chennai who gave us the bestselling anthology of Tamil pulp fiction, continue to nicely surprise with their recent publishing list: also on offer are a set of postcards with the lurid cover art of Hindi pulp fiction, a surreal graphic novel and the long-awaited follow up to their bestselling Volume 2 of Tamil Pulp Fiction.
The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction 2, says its editor-translator, Pritham Chakravarthy, “with one exception — a Karate Kavitha adventure comic in colour wash — is going to be full-time horror fiction with stories over 100 pages long, coming from different eras of Tamil pulp writing. There's a classic haunted house tale, Indra Soundarajan's ‘The Mansions of Kottaipuram'. There's another novella, inspired by the Omen/Exorcist craze that was prevalent during the late 1970s. It has warlock, black magic, hypnotism, and 666 to boot. Medhavi, a super cool writer from the 1950s, has old bungalows, crypts, hidden passages… you name it - almost noirish. We also have a small snippet from Kadal, a journal of the 1950s, on how common peyi stories are used as ice-breakers.”
The parallel universe in Moonward, a graphic novel by Appupen, echoes the beginnings of our own, and using various characters, human and otherwise in a series of stories, the author illustrates an allegorical tale of greed, loneliness, and sacrifice that mirrors our own.
Moonward disappoints. The graphics are pretty cool (especially those robotic birds), and I also liked that much of it is wordless (Shaun Tan's The Arrival, a completely wordless graphic novel, turned me on to silent panels) but the story –or stories – aren't nearly as involving. Graphic novelists seem to often forget the second component to the medium – the novel. A good graphic novel has to be both, a sophisticated comic and a novel.
I relished Heroes, Gundas, Vamps and Good Girls. This neat Blaft concoction turns the pulp art work of Mustajab Ahmed Siddiqui, known to readers as “Shelle” into postcards that you can amuse and shock and delight people by scribbling a note and posting it off to them. Shelle's cover art famously adorned the kind of cheap, ‘time-pass' Hindi paperbacks (thrillers, horror, detective fiction) you glimpse in railway station bookstalls.
He began as an art teacher who was paid Rs. 25 for a cover and is now paid thousands. He uses a mixed style of oils and collage. Typically his cover was replete with guns surrounded by heroes, villains, heroines and vamps.
“The ‘good' women,” notes the book, “wearing sarees and pious and tormented expressions, are easily distinguished from the ‘bad' women, wearing skirts or jeans as they dance, flirt, smoke and drink. But Shelle adorns them all with striking, ornate jewellery — bangles, nose rings, mangalsturas, earnings — and almost always paints their lips bright red.” Shelle is one of the last of the pulp cover painters we are told, as paperbacks lose to Hindi serials in popularity. Apparently since 1971, he has worked on as many as 4000 book covers – a figure that will rival even the prolific output of legendary American vintage paperback cover artists.