LEAFING THROUGH Two unusual books – telling us a story through pictures

Drushya by M.S. Murthy

Thinline Publication

Anche Antu, Parade Nantu

Aakriti Pustaka, Rs. 195

M.S. Murthy is a well-known artist-writer whose paintings have been exhibited in national and international forums. Drushya, his third book (in Kannada and English), consists of about 200 “pictures” including line drawings, paintings and photographs, without titles or descriptions. They show us different aspects of life and living: there are excellent scenes of rural life, nature, and men and women in varied moods and thought. There is no apparent order or sequence in these pictures.

Dr. Murthy calls his work “a new visual novel” and argues in his brief introduction that in the modern world, owing to the fetish for the written word, we have lost our “visual consciousness”. He insists that the ability to visually comprehend the world around us is innate to us but almost lost today; he conducts workshops and delivers lectures on how such visual consciousness can be recovered and enriched. Even in this work, each picture or group of pictures or the entire work, according to him, tells a story, rekindling our memories associated with such a picture or visual image. That is, each reader constructs his or her own story stimulated by the visual images.

Two points need to be noted here. First, there isn't a watertight seal between visual and auditory consciousness. As the famous modern linguist Ferdinand de Sassure points out, when we hear a sound or a cluster of sounds, we don't register them as “sounds” but as “acoustic images”; even the verbal narrative constructed with linguistic signs is comprehended by us in the form of images (as scenes, forms, incidents, etc.). Secondly, as Girish Kasaravalli (one of the three who have written briefly on this work) points out, reading a “visual novel” isn't easy. Since each reader responds to the pictures differently, the question “what do the pictures convey?” remains a question. To Kasaravalli, the subject of this “novel” is journey – of path-seekers, path-finders, path-guides, and pathless people. To me, the subject is the mystique of “creation” in its various forms: life breaking through seeds in the form of saplings, life coming into existence in the form of numberless sperms seeking an ovum, a work of art taking shape out of clay, cloth, paint, etc. To another, it could be “change”, from pastoral life to settled rural life to urban mechanised life.

Though this work challenges the written narrative and stimulates visual imagination, why call it a “novel”? If we call it an album, does it lose any of its significance?

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Umesh Kulkarni's work is a different type of visual chronicle; it explicates the relationship between the film world and the philatelic world. Every nation follows the convention of commemorating the achievements of national geniuses in different fields through stamps. In this work, Kulkarni narrates the fantastic story of Indian cinema, chronologically, as documented by the stamps issued by the central government. In all, this work contains reproductions of stamps related to 64 individuals and five institutions. The subtitle reads, “From the Grandfather to the Brother.” The first stamp is of Dadasaheb Phalke, who made the first Indian movie, Raja Harishchandra , in 1913. The last one is of Dr. Rajkumar, the idol of the Kannada film world who was famous as “A nnavru” (respected brother). In between these two stalwarts, there are stamps of imaginative producers and directors, gifted actors and actresses, path-breaking writers, immortal musicians, singers and dancers, and famous institutions connected with the film world, like the Film and Television Institute at Pune and the Children's Film Society. Each reproduction is followed by a brief biographical sketch of the person concerned and a record of his or her achievements. These make the book a valuable reference work on Indian cinema, interesting to both the scholar and the layman. However, though it is a recent work, it needs to be updated: for example, on page 158, it says that “four Kannadigas have been conferred the Jnanpith award.”

Though only Dr. Rajkumar finds a place among the film personalities, other Kannadigas marginally related to the film world on whom stamps are issued are R.K. Narayan, Kuvempu, Bendre, Gokak, Masti, and Shivarama Karanth.

C.N. Ramachandran