No child’s play

Malik Sajad   | Photo Credit: 12dmc Malik Sajad

Usually the pain of people inhabiting a conflict zone is conveyed through experiences of elders. Children are often silent spectators though they inherit the consequences and the fallout of strife.

Malik Sajad’s graphic novel, “Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir” is a poignant exception. The story set in the Valley – a witness to death and disruption over many decades – is based on author’s own childhood. It presents his personal insight into everyday life in Kashmir against the backdrop of conflict. How routine crackdowns by Army, curfew, political protests and violence make access to healthcare, livelihood, education and other basic activities difficult. Drawing inspiration from graphic novels like “The Palestine” by Joe Sacco, the author describes his work as mainly autobiographical with a dash of imagination.

Always keen to tell this story, Malik says, “I realised there cannot be one single commentary about Kashmir as it involves many voices. Hence I decided to write a book which does not comment but puts the readers in my shoes and experience Kashmir from Munnu’s eyes, making them grow along with him.” Moreover, he was keen to highlight the details about life of common people and human conditions in general in a voice reflecting childhood, school, romance and humour. “Saadat Hasan Manto’s courage motivated me,” reflects the young writer.

The crisp text and vivid black and white illustrations are relatable to the reader rendering the understanding of the subject easy without diluting the impact. The use of hanguls to represent Kashmiris is inventive and innovative. “I used the Kashmir stag which is listed as critically endangered due to various reasons as a metaphor. The condition of Kashmiris is similar to hanguls as they are also in a precarious situation due to conflict and violence,” explains Malik son of an artisan who carved embroidery designs on walnut wood blocks.

The expression and movement of eyes in the drawings convey a lot. “I was inspired by the German expressionist wood prints that I had seen at the Brooklyn Museum and British Library. Even though it took me months to get a grip on this medium but it greatly served the purpose.”

Both the pictorial depiction and dialogues laced with humour provide the reader a comprehensive view of Munnu’s childhood encompassing celebrations, learning Holy Quran, the fun, frolic and corporal punishment at school, his fear of death and burial and of course his first crush. The coming of age of the main protagonist brings its own share of problems, jubilations, achievements and experiences and questions like falling in love with a foreigner, smoking hash, getting a job as a cartoonist underlining the teenager’s emotions, which are as normal as any other youngster. “These descriptions give the narrative a rhythm, permeating it with a sense of nostalgia. For example the drawings of the bushes, small lanes, houses and gardens besides giving a shape to the plot, provided a first hand experience to the readers about how things were. The environment, mood of the place, people, situation and ambience all come through the visuals,” explains the author. Malik has seamlessly intertwined with all this the geography, history and politics of the region enhancing the value of the content without disrupting the reading of Munnu’s life.

The climax is unusual with Munnu recounting two diametrically opposite incidents – his meeting with ambassadors of European Union (EU) where he is given solar-powered flashlights and subsequently witnessing the rape of a mentally challenged woman. Malik says: “At a time when we are caught in violence and conflict the leaders are concerned about the energy situation in the world. It baffled me.” Elaborating on the emotional ending, he says: “The rape depicts that nothing makes sense because we talk about peace and politics but a mentally sick person gets raped. Then I thought that was the best way to end the story and leave it at that so that the reader at least gets the human dimension of the Kashmir story.”

Malik denies that the comic format trivialises the sensitive issue of Kashmir problem and says being comfortable in this medium it helped in capturing his consciousness. “Comics are very helpful in conveying serious issues to the readers since they encapsulate our subconscious feelings and able to communicate not just the mood and feelings but the first hand experience and the state of mind.” He cites the example of a person who did not know English yet was able the grasp the essence of the story because of the visuals. “It will help in reaching to a diverse group of readers.”

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 2:56:53 AM |

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