India is everywhere today on the literary landscape. I was surprised to see a copy of The Hills Of Angheri in the National University of Singapore bookshop this week! Now here comes Corridor written and drawn by Sarnath Banerjee which claims to be India’s first graphic novel. V was kind enough to borrow it for me through NLB.
Corridor is all urban, and mostly male. All the characters in its social network are connected to one central person, Jehangir Rangoonwalla, who is more of a philosophy dispenser than a second hand book seller, which happens to be his profession. Brighu is an obsessive collector of things and is currently pondering whether to settle down with his girlfriend Kali. Digital Dutta thinks about his H1-B visa during the day while at night Karl Marx advises him to use his knowledge to help the poor. Shintu is newly married and is on the search for an aphrodisiac to enhance his pleasure at night. There are no beginnings, no conclusions, life continues on through the corridors of Delhi. Sarnath doesn’t say it, but the novel seems semi-autobiographical. Brighu’s story is definitely that of the author himself, and the ending pages confirm that.
Corridor required 2 readings for complete satisfaction. At the first read you notice the characters, the clever puns all over the place and above all the complete Indian urbanity in the strips. But due to the non-linear storytelling, a second read was needed to get in order the jigsaw pieces of the characters’ lives. Though Corridor disappoints a little with the way plots are tied together, Sarnath blows the reader’s mind with the details. He’s got everything spot on, the urban landscape of Delhi and Kolkata, the characters, the language and the weather. Humour of the sarcastic/ironic kind is in every page. The novel reeks with an unique Indianness I’ve never seen used before in comics (not like there are many books in this genre anyway). Moral science charts from our youth (How to be an ideal boy), clichéd Bollywood scenes, bound volumes of Phantom comics, the healing power of Gelusil and the quintessential autorickshaw driver dozing the noon away in his back-seat, all find a way to unobtrusively lodge themselves into the strips and story. The art and letters are all hand drawn, looks like computers have never touched it during the process. This is actually good since it has that rough, amateur feel to it. A few pages in the book are colored in, the rest is black-n-white. The book is 112 pages long. I was surprised it took a couple of hours to read through this tiny book of comic strips. That is a testament to the amount of detail Sarnath has squeezed into each box. I call this a must read for any Indian who grew up in a city.