History goes digital

August 24, 2015 12:00 am | Updated March 29, 2016 05:03 pm IST

Somdip Datta’s debut novel is the illustrated retelling of a popular maths primer from the 12th century

Six years ago, author and investment banker Somdip Datta began developing the character of royal agent Veeru, based on a secret agent from the Sanskrit play, Mudraraksasha .

Based in New York, he was fascinated by the e-book format and decided to adopt it. He says, “At this point, I developed a minimalist vector style of drawing, as I felt that regular book editing software was inadequate. I wrote my own programming scripts to assemble the book from vector images. I began work on Lilavati , an adapation of a book that served as the primer for Arithmetic and Geometry in India for many centuries. I had received a Bengali adaptation of this book as a prize in some high school contest. I procured the English translations, and looking at those dreary yellow pages, I decided that an illustrated Lilavati would be a good idea. It took me seven months, but was worth the effort.”

He adds, “I spent seven months on the project and most of the time spent in illustrations. The farthest I had to travel for research was the 40 minutes to New York Public Library, otherwise online search yielded all the translations, anthologies and articles that I needed. I worked on my book every morning from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., sketching and scribbling during my commute to my office.”

Somdip is a fan of the web and says, “The online version is not only easier to find and buy, it is more cost effective. I had decided early that I would only go for electronic distribution, it had a significant impact on my drawing style.

“Not having to worry about the cost of printing pages, I did not have to cramp my panels into fewer pages like traditional comic books. I used as much white-space as I wanted, and used larger fonts. I also had smartphone based e-readers strongly in my mind, as I had often found that most digitally available graphic novels are difficult to read in smaller screens. Smartphone penetration is still in its infancy, though I see it growing in the near future.”

Indians writing in English is a phenomena that will become more and more widespread in the years to come, feels Somdip. “It will get stronger as the appeal of a wider reach is irresistible. It is in a sense similar to the past, when authors passed over their native tongue, and chose to write in Sanskrit, a language that almost nobody spoke natively.”

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