Historian of bad taste

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People Sarnath Bannerjee tells CATHERINE RHEA ROY his latest graphic novel, The Harappa Files, is an enchanted record of the Eighties, warts and all

Back to the future Sarnath Bannerjee: ‘This book is not about nostalgia, if anything I am an anti-nostalgist' photo: Rajeev Bhatt
Back to the future Sarnath Bannerjee: ‘This book is not about nostalgia, if anything I am an anti-nostalgist' photo: Rajeev Bhatt

J adedness had Sarnath Banerjee by the neck for four years. Then he discovered ‘loss of fantasy', which resulted in his latest graphic novel, “The Harappa Files.” (Harper Collins, Rs. 499). “It was frustration with whatever I was doing that lead to the silence,” said the writer who was in town for the launch of the book.

“Anything that I do decently takes about four years. I had reached a point where I was not re-inventing anymore,” he added using Pina Bausch as his reference point.

“Every piece of work that she has done is a comment, and she re-invents herself every time and it was when I had stopped working that the whole theme of loss of fantasy appeared and I pursued it,” says Sarnath who magnifies the hallmarks of 80's — pseudo pseudo science and herd mentality in “The Harappa Files”.

The book is a collection of graphic commentaries on an India that is living in the past glory of the meticulous sewage treatment and plumbing of the Indus Valley Civilisation, and the agenda of the Greater Harappa Rehabilitation, Reclamation and Redevelopment Commission.

“This book is not about nostalgia, if anything I am an anti-nostalgist. I would like to think of myself as a historian of bad taste, I record for an enchanted sense of reality. An ointment claims to cure an itch, a burn, a scratch and if they tried hard enough AIDs as well, how can I be nostalgic about that? But it's mine and I have to accept it,” he says.

Does he enjoy being called India's first graphic novelist, “Increasingly less… and less am I being called India's first graphic novelist, also anything which is first is also quite bad. I am the first mainstream novelist to be published, something that was practically impossible. It only happened for me because I went at it with the persistence of a salesman.”

Although he does admit that every kid coming out of a design school wants to become a graphic novelist, it will take time to get out there and all the comic conferences in the country are not going to help.

“In the world of speculation we are all gurus and it is all becoming very speculative. Blame it on my repressed Bengali thinking, but you cannot have a comic conference out of nothing,” he logically explains.

“The Harappa Files” is rooted quite heavily in the 80's, with references to bad radio jingles and bitter Delhi uncles. “This was the era I flowered, discovered women and table tennis, it was also an era of mail ordered self improvement,” he answers quite simply.

In “The Harappa Files” Sarnath has gone back to the old way of telling stories, he uses the images and text format and is at peace with older forms and not being avant garde.

“Every kid wants to be avant garde, and this is when you go through all those post modernist things of synchrinicity, fragmentation. But in that effort to be different you suddenly realise that everyone has the same thing,” says Sarnath, who honed his story telling skills in pubs by narrating stories to disinterested girls.

In the book Sarnath has interspersed his drawings with pictures, which could either be attributed to a validation of reality which he rubbishes, or laziness, or as he would like to justify it, “You can make a tiny comment in a photo and turn it around with powerful results.”

Sarnath is also a great believer in the stereotype, “I love them, you use the power of someone else and turn it around and bring in a perversion to the norm, it is the best ploy,” he says.

The Delhi-based writer's brain is now a live wire of projects, but there are no more comics in the offing, “What I have to tell is free of medium. I am now working on a “Dead Museums” project which will be a video documentary and also the “Monster Project” which I am working on with Samit Basu.”

Hint: a teaser from the “Monster Project” can be caught hold of in “The Harappa Files”.




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