Using pictures to tell stories have been a crucial medium in the history of humankind. We have evolved from drawing on stone and papyrus and onto paper and digital formats, but the impact of the image remains the same.
India and her neighbours have a cacophony of stories, some well known and others untold. These graphic novels have been authored by women in an attempt to encapsulate issues from all around the country and release them in a form accessible to people at large.
1. Drawing the Line
Drawing the line: Indian Women Fight Back! is a graphic anthology by 14 women writing about their experiences as women living in India. The novel arose in the aftermath of a brutal gang rape of a woman in 2012 in Delhi.
Post which, a few artists from a variety of age groups and artistic styles got together and pieced various aspects of their lives as Indian women into a set of pictorial stories that are rooted in the idea of being a woman living in turbulent times in this country we call home.
Priyanka Kuriyan, Larissa Bertonasco and Ludmilla Bartscht are the editors of these stories and consolidated them into this must-read graphic novel.
Kari is the protagonist of her own tale, written by Amruta Patil. It follows the tale of Kari, a young lesbian in Bombay, as she navigates the incongruous lanes of the massive city while at the same time juggling her taxing work and a love life which has taken a big hit. The novel explores the multiple identities that women hold and how each plays a role in their subsequent actions. Kari gives a new lease of life to Indian graphic novels as we know them.
3. Tina’s Mouth
Tina’s mouth: An existential Comic Dairy is a coming of age tale of a teenage Indian girl in America who is required to keep an existential diary for her English class. Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki navigate her tale so eloquently, that we too are taken back to the yester-years of being a 15-year-old girl, caught between the web of a world that’s moving faster every day and still trying to grow up at one’s own pace. It is a humorous spin on an age-old tale of love, loss and growing up. You can check out the website for the book and read more about each character here.
Bhimyana: Experiences of Untouchability is a tale about a boy named Bhim, who is from the Mahar community and how he experiences the world. But Bhim is no ordinary young boy. Just like a superhero, he has an alter ego that changed the trajectory of history – Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar.
The story brought together people from various backgrounds. The writers are Srividya Natrajan and S Anand, while the artists are Durgabi Vyam and Subhash Vyam who belong to the Gond community and have stylized the comic along the lines of modern Gond art.
While the comic may be describing events in India that occurred decades ago, the experiences Bhim faced then are still continuing in this current climate. It is a thought-provoking read – a journey that everyone must go on.
Sarah: The Suppressed Anger of the Pakistani Obedient Daughter could alone perhaps give you an inkling as to what Ayesha Tariq’s novel is about. While it’s not set in the state of India, it tells a tale that is familiar even here.
It’s a quick read but engages with the dilemmas that women all over the world have faced, in various forms. The protagonist of the tale is 17-year-old Sarah from a conservative family in urban Pakistan. She narrates her experience of having to constantly fit into the ascribed boxes of society and the eventual ‘Phoenix moment’ that comes with being constricted for so long.
These 5 books are nowhere near the limits of Indian women’s writings or artwork. There are a plethora of collections that are not only about Indian women but also by them. Having said that, it is important to encourage young female artists – the more individuals we have writing about society and how it should change, the greater the chances of it actually happening.
This is not an exhaustive list of graphic novels by Indian women. Suggestions to add to this list are welcome in the comments section.