Which kid didn’t get the chance to savour the beauty of comics? Almost every one of us have, I guess. On a personal note, I have fond memories of growing up with my regular quota of Archies, Tintin, Tinkle, Asterix, our very own Chacha Choudhury, Billu and other popular cartoon characters. For long though, comics have been relegated to the ‘you have to grow out of it’ category, just in the same manner that animation used to be an exclusive domain of kids. Surprisingly, however, comics have proved to be an interesting and rich medium for crafting stories for adults. Over the years, even my concept about comics has undergone a sea change. From being just a method to while away time and also as a mere source of entertainment, I have started regarding comic books as a strong social tool, having the power to be a catalyst in major social developmental processes.
My thought process can be traced back to my stay in New Delhi quite a few years back when I used to watch like-minded cartoonists, journalists, film-makers, research students, businessmen, professionals, sportspersons, bike racers, and what not, use cartoons as their preferred medium to drive home a strong social message. Using cartoons and motorbikes, these dynamic individuals used to travel to quite a few places, campaigning for strong social issues like girl child infanticide, foeticide, drug addiction, the menace of HIV and AIDS and the like. That was the time I realized the power of visualization and though quite a few years have passed since then, I still continue to be overwhelmed with comics as a subject.
The concept of graphic novels, though still in a very nascent stage, is slowly picking up in India. And one of the forerunners in the field of graphic novels in India – Parismita Singh, whose debut graphic novel The Hotel at the end of the world was recently released by Penguin books – has a very strong connection with Asom. Hailing from Asom, Singh’s debut novel recreates Asomiya folklore in a language that will stay with you long after you turn the last page, even though she likes to maintain that her debut work is based on universal surroundings.
The Hotel at the end of the world is a mixture of inter-related stories narrated by the inmates of a dhaba in some remote hills of the Northeast. The novel begins with a couple of strange characters – called as Kona and Kuja – seeking refuge from a raging storm in the hotel. With the company of the other customers in the hotel and as the drinks flowed, stories were narrated, stories which began with the strange traveller’s quest for a floating island. Interlinked with each other, the stories play around the mind of the reader, just like the mist and rain that surrounds the hotel at the end of the world all year round.
The stores might be the ones Parismita had heard as a child. But the inspiration from folktales has been minimal. Take Kona and Kuja for instance, these are characters which exist in certain Asomiya folklores. In the novel, they are two friends; one has legs that end at his knees and the other can see far-off things but not what’s in front of his nose. But, as Parismita says, her retelling of it in their wild adventures to China and then to find the floating island are hers alone. She also recreated the Nightwalker, a character found in different storytelling traditions, poignantly.
As a debut offering, Parismita’s narrative is fresh, powerful and flows easily. All in all, a wonderful offering and we look forward to more from her.