Books

Another tale of two cities

Jai Undurti feels relieved and sad at the same time. For lack of a different example, he compares his emotional state with that of new mothers. “I definitely cannot say how new mothers feel, but I have heard that women, when pregnant, are eager for the carrying period to get over... and when it is over, though they are happy and excited, they also feel something missing. I am glad the project of my graphic novel The Cities Beneath is over. It was with me for three years, I was obsessing over it, working on it, thinking about it everyday, and was eager to finish it. Once it is done, I miss everything that went into planning the book,” says Jai.

Sitting at a cafe in Banjara Hills, Jai takes us back to his first visit to Hamburg, where he travelled for the project.

It all started in 2009, when the Hamburg Ministry of Culture and the Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad initiated the project “040”, with the aim of coordinating and joining their support for cultural projects. The name of this project is based on the fact that Hamburg and Hyderabad share the same area code — 040. But they had to find a deeper connection, for the book.

The missing link

This, Jai explains, was challenging and interesting at the same. It made him fall back into history books and revisit World War II, while constantly working to find a reasonable connection between both places. “How do you take these two cities which are geographically, culturally and linguistically different and connect them through myths? The central idea was the belief that for everything on the surface in the city, there is a reflection of it underground. We imagined an underground city, and built the narrative on it,” he explains.

“My first stop for the project was Hamburg in 2017 where I officially started on the project. It was a lovely experience to meet and and understand the history. However, I was still missing the connection. There are lovely cafes all over Hamburg and we have places for tea. Not the exact comparison that I was looking for, but nevertheless I found some connection. Even though it was irrelevant. There, I met my partner, graphic artist Fabian Stoltz,” recollects Jai.

While the two brainstormed and looked desperately for a connection, “Fabian suggested we use the ‘Wimmelbild’ format for the narrative. It is a kind of hidden-picture book. So we did, and we saw progress. I mostly took the World War II connection and saw how it affected and connected the world. I did a lot of research and also read up mythology books. As a writer I was looking at a solid continuity to keep the readers engrossed,” says Jai.

After the research and information collection, it was time to face the next challenge: bringing it all into a concise, 50-page graphic novel. “Truth be told, what is published is only 20% of our research,” added Jai.

As the two worked in two different timelines, they both recollect to have eagerly waited to see the outcome the following day. “I was sure I wanted the novel to be driven with graphics, and not be word heavy. So after Fabian would send the sketches, I would sit to work on wording the emotions and reeling out a story,” adds Jai.

Now that he is overloaded with information, will he work on a sequel? “Not immediately,” he says.

(The Cities Beneath is available for sale at leading websites.)


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Printable version | Oct 6, 2022 8:07:28 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/jai-undurti-the-cities-beneath-graphic-novel-fabian-stoltz/article30990175.ece