When I first read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis in 2010, I was awestruck by her brilliant, truth-etched detailing of life as an Iranian woman under a religious regime. On revisiting its pages more recently, I asked myself: Why does India lack graphic novels of similar calibre? What is holding us back? Surely not the lack of narrative or illustrative talent. Surely not a lack of problems in everyday life, the sort we have all been subjected to as girls and women.
Drawing the Line seems an apt first step towards redressing this imbalance. After December 16, 2012, Indians across social divides rose as one in protest in a post-Nirbhaya world. Nisha Susan, editor of The Ladies Finger, observes in her introduction that the momentum generated propelled public conversations “beyond the terror of stranger rape – to talk about work, play, love, marriage; disability, caste, sex and everyday sexism.”
These volatile subjects lure us into these pictorially rich, eloquent pages, originally initiated over a week-long workshop – titled ‘Drawing Attention’ – held in New Delhi in April 2014. Hosted by Zubaan and the Goethe Institute, it brought together fourteen young woman graphic artists from across India, each ready to holler, each ripe for subversion. Their on-site mentors were the brilliant Indian illustrator Priya Kuriyan and the founders of Germany’s Spring artistic collective/magazine, Larissa Bertonasco and Ludmilla Bartscht.
The results? A dazzling array of dramatic art styles, a potent range of dissenting voices; each individual, each tackling strong emotions like anger, fear and desire head on. Each page mirrors the siren call for social change, for Indian women to be respected and safe. Each story stands tall. A powerful graphic sisterhood of original thinkers comes into being between these covers in this urban-centric exercise.
For instance, in Ita Mehrotra’s poetic take on personal encounters with Irom Sharmila, the Manipuri activist’s never-say-die spirit illuminates her way into the future. She writes, “When empty roads are uneasy ways to walk by night, I think of Sharmila’s expanding universe within that one locked room: as Manipur is hers, Delhi is mine.” Harini Kannan’s razor-eyed take on India’s unfair obsession with fair skin is rendered in quirky, memorable frames. Reshu Singh studies her family at close quarters, willing her mother to opt for fun choices instead of drudgery. For isn’t reaching for happiness a heroic choice, too?
Off the poster, in real time, Soumya Menon explores the Ideal Girl in sharp frames, each heady with the intent to break free. Priyanka Kumar scans living room lives, focusing on the improvisations employed by women to escape mindless domesticity. Neelima P. Aryan takes off from her mother’s Malayalam short story, her teasing, delicate strokes capturing the see-saw between the hunter and the hunted, consciously redrawing the lines.
Yoking it together, Larissa evokes common concerns in her afterword: “As for men who are violent towards women, who humiliate and disrespect them, doesn’t this do terrible damage to the men also? And why do many women accept these conditions? How do mothers raise their sons to become these men? Why don’t mothers encourage their daughters to fight for equality, instead of expecting them to just submit to the prevailing social norms as once they did themselves, although they also had dreams and desires when they were young?”
As clichés and stereotypes fell apart, confident young graphic voices emerged. This book is a beacon for the future, focused on a gender-just society. These voices make it possible to imagine a generation in which boys and girls respect the others’ right to live with dignity. Or even an India beyond existing laws and social precepts. As parents, teachers and an older (not always wiser) generation, our time starts now – to share these dreams and promises with young adults fifteen years and above.
At least two or three of these graphic stories have the potential to blossom into an Indian equivalent of Persepolis. Indian readers are waiting for the results. Already.
By Aditi De
DRAWING THE LINE: INDIAN WOMEN FIGHT BACK
Edited by Priya Kuriyan, Larissa Bertonasco and Ludmilla Bartscht
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Young Adult
Tags: Graphic Stories/Women/Gender/Equality/Justice/Social Change/Nirbhaya