A travelogue is normally presented as a first-person account, substantiated with photographs. But to get the attention of readers through regular travelogues is no easy task since there are travelogues and travelogues, both online and offline. If an account of travel is combined with facts from history and presented as a comic, there’s an element of surprise. ‘The Vanished Path’ (Harper Collins; Rs. 399) by filmmaker and comic-author Bharath Murthy is a step in that direction. Inspired by Manga style of comics, Bharath Murthy presents an insightful account of his visit to regions in India and Nepal where Siddhatta Gotama, the Buddha, lived and travelled during 5th century B.C. Excerpts from an interview:
You and your wife Alka Singh travelled through the historical sites of Buddhism in India and Nepal in 2009. When did you decide to narrate your experiences in book form?
Soon after I decided to turn towards Buddhism, it was a natural urge to see the places, just as many others have done in India over 2000 years. I thought it would be a good idea to do a short comic or a strip in anecdotal form, but it was only after the trip that I decided it should be a full book. I went to the trip intending to draw a comic, so I made notes and took photos.
What were the challenges of working on a travelogue in a comic form?
The main challenge was to be able to draw those real places and the things we saw. I couldn’t simply imagine the spaces. At the same time, one had to simplify the details so that the reader is able to follow. Too much detail would also not work. Secondly I had to take care to maintain the illusion of reality in the dialogues and not distort them.
How long did it take you to work on ‘The Vanished Path’?
I worked on and off on it for close to four years. But there were a lot of gaps in-between.
Your travel covers a number of places, from Sarnath to Bodhgaya. You would have returned with a treasure trove of memories and material. How did you filter the information that would go into the book?
I made notes, but it was relatively a small amount of material. My challenge was to sift through Buddhist teachings and relate them to the experience of the travel. I wanted the travel itself to resonate with Buddhist teaching. So I used my notes to organise the narrative accordingly.
Manga style of comics has been an inspiration for your work. How would you assess the awareness and popularity of this style of work in India?
Young people especially from urban middle-class are quite aware of manga, and its popularity is only growing.
You seem to have walked a thin line between making this book a travelogue and one that provides an insight into tenets of Buddhism. Did you do a balancing act so as to appeal to readers who may not have read extensively on Buddhism?
Yes. I wanted to reach out firstly to those who never read comics. Secondly to those who may not be so aware of the history of Buddhism in India. Buddhism is a part of our common historical inheritance, and I wanted to interest more Indians in it. I tried to use the travelogue as a way to engage readers in the history of Buddhism in India.
In the book, you mention that you and Alka were often mistaken for foreigners. Can you tell us a bit about this?
I think part of the reason for that is that the Buddhist pilgrimage route is frequented more by foreigners than Indians. So people tend to assume we're also from outside India.
Are these other books in the pipeline?
I’m doing another book which is written by someone else. It is an adaptation of a story by Rabindranath Tagore. I am also working on developing an animation feature film which I want to direct.