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Look back in anger

Jaideep Unudurti | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on May 29, 2015

From Drawing the lIne

Drawing the Line:Indian WomenFight BackLarissa Bertonasco,Ludmilla Bartscht,Priya Kuriyan (eds.)ZubaanFiction₹695

Feminist visual tales tell of cities and spaces, restrictions and uprisings

The graphic novels scene in India is exploding — there are mythologicals, homegrown superheroes, memoirs, urban fantasy all crammed together. Occupying a niche is the thematic anthology. A few years ago we saw Blaft’s The Obliterary Journal, which championed picture languages. In 2013 there was a major release with This Side, That Side, a look at Partition across borders.

Drawing the Line is part of this rise of theme-based anthologies. With the tagline “Indian woman fight back”, it is a collection of 14 ‘visual stories’ set in the aftermath of the December 2012 Delhi rape case. Nisha Susan introduces the compilation saying “it’s a wonderful time to be a feminist with greedy eyes”. She explains the context, about the upsurge post-Delhi, saying that feminists in India “have used the momentum to broaden the conversations beyond the terror of stranger rape — to talk about work, pay, love, marriage, disability, caste, sex and everyday sexism”.

The genesis of the collection was also novel — it arose from a workshop conducted by Priya Kuriyan and two German artists, Larissa Bertonasco and Ludmilla Bartscht. The exigencies of workshop also presumably meant that there is no colour; all the stories are in pencil or monotone washes, imparting a sombre tone. This collective approach means that all 14 women worked together for a week.

So does this experiment work? To start off, there is one problem that bedevils all anthologies, some pieces are strong, some are not so strong, and this often changes from reader to reader. Drawing the Line is no exception.

Diti Mistry takes the reader into the Ladies Compartment of a ‘Mumbai Local’. She draws on the sense of belonging that we all experience when we are in the innards of the great animal that is the City. She establishes this world with a few deft strokes offering a peep into the private cosmos that all commuters carry inside them.

Reshu Singh’s ‘The Photo’ is structured around taking the all-important matrimonial photograph. With commendable understatement she states that the story came out of the “general restlessness that develops within a home when a child reaches marriageable age”. I also liked the visually inventive ‘Ever After’ by Priyanka Kumar, a Moebius-strip of a tale, featuring monsters, surfaces of asteroids and daytime soaps.

Kaveri Gopalakrishnan takes a look at body language and how women navigate ‘contested space’, to use a military term — basically all public transport and city streets.

Some common motifs crop up — for example, the absurdities perpetrated by the ‘skin whitening’ industry, or women bicycling to freedom. Less originally, in a couple of places, threats are represented by ‘swarthy’, unshaven men, a rather familiar visual shorthand!

There are lots of interesting references within the stories, opening up further doorways — a piece on Irom Sharmila mentions the Nupi Lan or Women’s War, when a mass armed revolt against the British was launched by the women of Manipur. Vidyun Sabhaney’s look at patachitra and their changing role is a fascinating glimpse at proto-comics, and at creating an original Indian graphic language.

In the end, what is striking about the anthology is that it all flowed from a week-long workshop. This unusual constriction is both the strongest and weakest point. The angry energy and vitality — that demand to be heard — come through. At the same time it feels a bit rushed, and the art is tacky in places. Also from what I can understand from the editor’s notes, the technical levels of the participants was wildly uneven, with some drawing for the first time. This makes for a slightly disjointed reading experience. Perhaps in the future, it may be better to pair writers with artists and see how that goes.

Still one can’t disagree with editor Priya Kuriyan, who says that “the whole process made me think about my role as a woman in a society that more often than not tries to tell you that what you have to say is not important enough… we all have stories to tell… in a world dominated by stories told from the male perspective, I am so thankful for opportunities like this, that help young woman storytellers bloom”.

Jaideep Unudurti is a graphic novelist and writer of The Robots of Dharma

Published on May 29, 2015
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