India gets its first comic anthology on development

‘Comics Reporting on Development’ is India`s first comic anthology on development and derives from experiences across the country.

Akrita Reyar

It may be a tad too late in a country that takes pride in its rich visual heritage, but finally cartoonist Sharad Sharma has helped marry the medium with the issue that is at the core of today’s India - development. ‘Comics Reporting on Development’ is the country’s first comic anthology on development and derives from experiences across the length and breadth of the country.

The first question that the book’s title itself seeks to ask is the basic: “Whose Development” is it anyway? While in times when development is often equated with growth figures of the economy, the anthology takes a different point of view, keeping the common man firmly at the centre.

The creator Sharad Sharma, who quit his regular job to start World Comics India, says, “The word development is often used synonymously with evolution, growth or advancement. Whatever else it may connote, development is a magic word for politicians, but a rather tricky one for the common man.”

So to seek the apt answers about what development meant to most of India, Sharad not only trained people as comics’ artists, but also began collecting stories of how they perceived progress and what it actually meant to them.

“Initially, I had thought that within a couple of months I would be able to collect all the stories, but it took me four years to do this. The biggest challenge I faced was of converting these stories into the visual form,” he admits.

The list of contributors is admirable considering that each comes from a different state and region, and thus brings with him/her a unique experience or story. For example, there is Lakhindra Nayak, a lawyer from a small town in Jharkhand, who tells the cartoonist about displacement of tribals, while Suresh Jaipal from Rajasthan reveals the reality of Dalit persecution. There is Tawna from Mizoram talking about AIDS, a major concern in his state, and Danis D’souza from Goa, who puts the focus on the adverse impact of tourism on his scenic state.

The book neither claims to be didactic nor politically correct, as it makes no attempt to balance different points of views. Like in the case of Tania Andrabi, who gives voice to the struggles in Kashmir, but only projects one side of the picture by sketching Army excesses. There is complete silence on the role of the militants in the state. Even when it comes to progress, in terms of setting up of factories or dams, clearly the activist or the anti voice is most shrill.

Champalal Kushvaha of Madhya Pradesh raises pertinent questions on modern modes of agriculture and whether they really help the debt-ridden farmer. There are dozens of small and big stories on subjects like the state of fishermen in Assam to the Singur tussle or effects of Uranium mining in Jaduguda. Then there are also other tales related by cartoonist contributors from Orissa, Chhattigarh, Bihar and national capital Delhi.

The idea has largely been to highlight close home realities and put the spotlight on issues that remain largely ignored by the mainstream media. “How can we sleep, when 50 people die of hunger, and continue to talk about 9% growth?” asks Sharad, summing up what he wishes the project to mean.

The book thus showcases real life occurrences in the form of small stories drawn into comics.

The painstaking task of training ordinary people how to sketch has had a many-fold positive effect. It not only infused them with a sense of liberation, considering that no one was really paying attention to their lives, it also gave them a feeling of independence, importance and a creative vent. Besides, sketching does not necessarily require people to be literate.

Cartooning societies and movements have now cropped up in small communities and villages, where people create their own comic posters and put them up, say, where the panchayats meet.

“World Comics gave a voice to the common people, who in turn beautifully presented their understanding of development through humour, wit and satire in these comics. This is a unique anthology in the sense that these comics are not drawn by professional artists, but social activists and students from the fields of mass communication and social work,” adds Sharad, with a great sense of satisfaction.

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