Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book review by Businessworld

BOOK REVIEW: Indian By Choice
Another Eastside Story
Chetna Mehra
Indian By Choice;By Amit Dasgupta; Wisdom TreePages: 93 ; Price: Rs 395Buy Borrow AvoidIf you have already seen a number of Indian English flicks based on American Indians or America Born Confused Desis, then the plot in Indian By Choice, written by a diplomat Amit Dasgupta, is nothing new to you. In fact, it's not even half as intriguing as these flicks are. With a clichéd story idea, the only fresh perspective of the book is its art work by Neelabh Banerjee, the national arts and illustrations editor of Times of India, which makes it a little less predictable. The story revolves around a second generation American Indian Mandy who visits India for the first time and gets a second chance to revive his preconceived notions about India after staying in the country for a brief period of time. Mandy comes to India to attend a cousin's wedding and finds himself flooded with facts about India, which comes to his notice only after meeting people from diverse backgrounds. The chain of events convince him to re-visit his Indian roots. As is the nature of graphic novels, a recent trend in book publishing, you will carry on reading Indian By Choice simply to rediscover the joy of reading a book with pictures. The book can be a sound read for those coming down to India for the first time and looking for a crash course on the country. With a stereo-typical story line replete with scenes from Bollywood flicks targeted at NRI crowd, the book is not meant for serious reading.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Indian By Choice Review in Khaleej Times

ABCD: The Storyboard
Sushmita Bose 3 April 2009
An Indian diplomat and an illustrator with The Times of India team up to put together a winsome graphic novel about American-Born Confused Desis
Popular culture in India has — for a while now — poked fun at the social group known as ABCDs: American-Born Confused Desis — second-generation Indians who have grown up in the US of A, eager to deny their Indian roots, caught in a cultural crossfire and, obviously, incredibly confused.
Indian By Choice, a graphic novel penned by Amit Dasgupta, India’s consul-general in Sydney, and illustrated rather brilliantly by cartoonist Neelabh, traces the India ‘rewakening journey’ of an ABCD. It’s a simple story really. Mandy (actually Mandeep) is an ABCD from Chicago who “totally” hates his Indian roots; but he’s forced to attend a family wedding in New Delhi as his parents (also living in the US), are unable to do so. He lands in the Indian capital, “totally” certain — and determined — to hate every minute of his stay there.
As it turns out, he discovers his roots, gets to know his extended family, finds true love, enjoys a Great Indian Wedding, learns to play cricket — and at the end of it, decides to be Indian “by choice”. On the flight back home to Chicago, Mandy introduces himself as Mandeep, putting a stamp on the title of the book.
“The central character — Mandy/Mandeep — disowned his Indian identity so as to gain acceptance in his adopted home; perhaps that gives the impression that the book targets ABCDs,” Amit (who, as a diplomat, has had his fair sh are of brushes with the ‘displaced’ Indian community all over the world) relives his 
narrative to Khaleej Times from Sydney. “But let’s be honest: aren’t many of us desis not 
confused about India? Do all of us really understand India with all its dichotomies, diversity and complexity?”
There is a growing clientele who would like to know more about India, he adds. “Many of them are young professionals and the style and format of Indian by Choice is refreshingly different because it deals with the myriad questions that so many of us have about India. Unlike touristy books, it is not a collage of good photographs or academic in nature.” And since the perceptions of India swings from its economic growth story at one end to its debilitating poverty and underdevelopment at the other, he feels “it was necessary to capture both elements — which is what Indian by Choice attempts to do.”
Neelabh, speaking to Khaleej Times from New Delhi has his own set of rules when it comes to illustrations, that he’s applied here, too. No cameras, for instance. “Whatever impression I carry away from a spot are the only ones worth drawing. The Lajpat Nagar (a popular market in south Delhi) frame has its own story: the Rajanikanth-type guy ogling at some girls, a little boy running away with a ladies purse, wrong parking and so on — the usual snapshots of the real India.”
The author’s narrative was high on background detailing — which is why the illustrations were done in pen and ink. “Also, I did not want to show only the ‘picture postcard’ India, I’ve shown the traffic jams, the Old Delhi bylanes, the crowds... This may not be the Lonely Planet guide for someone visiting India for the first time but it sure opens a window to the very human India.
If you’ve noticed, I’ve gone high and low on a particular colour as the situation called for (like the wedding scenes are high on red). I also left visual question marks for someone who wants to know about India. The south Indian shop in Lajpat Nagar, for example, has things in the background which will make people curious as to what they are.”
In the real India, it’s difficult to dodge the dream factory: movies are an integral part of Indian-ness. Indian By Choice falls for the celluloid charm, too. The woman Mandy falls in love with, Simmi, is a spitting image of Priyanka Chopra. “I am told even Mandy looks like Ranbir Kapoor,” Neelabh laughs. Some guy (a Briton) Mandy and Simmi meet in Goa looks like Brad Pitt and, in the last shot, Mandy’s co-passengers on the flight out of India look like Bruce Willis and Angelina Jolie. But the piece de resistance, Neelabh says, probably is that “Dr Banerjee — the family friend who Mandy learns to love and respect — resembles Amit-da.”
India’s consul general in Sydney is quick to ward off the ‘allegation’: “Dr Banerjee is much better-looking than I am.”
Indian By Choice is published by Wisdom Tree, and is available for $15 at Indian Duty Free shops.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reviewed by Deccan Chronicle, as on 11 January2009

Wake up call from an American dream

W HAT IF there are a few imperfections, there is indeed an unex plainable lot about one’s motherland, enough to attract one back to her lap. And for “the proud to be Indian” author Amit Dasgupta, “fatal attraction” for his country took the form of his latest graphic novel Indian by Choice, (Wisdom Tree).
The author talks about brain drain that the country has been experiencing for the past few decades. He tells the story of a typical second generation Indian, Mandy, born and raised in Chicago. The short, but crisp format with the juxtaposition of three interesting mediums — graphics, photographs and emails — gives the narrative of this confused youngster, who in a short span of a fortnight falls in love with India. But even till the end, as he flies back to the US, is unable to tell, what is it exactly he’ll miss about India.
The author recalls the “tough times” of his growing up years in Kolkata.
“Those were turbulent times like there were Naxalite movements and many MNCs were shutting down. As such many professionals, especially engineers were going abroad, particularly to the US as it seemed to be the land of opportunities,” he says.
To Amit, the 54-year-old diplomat in the external affairs ministry, India is one large house with its different states as its rooms. “India as a subject has always remained close to my heart. Having travelled across the globe, I am in absolute love with my every part of my country. I don’t agree when my friends call it a complicated land of mystics. To me its simplicity and diver sity is fascinating,” he says.
What is interesting in the book is the appropriate usage of the photographs and emails to make room for additional information, or wherever the text was required. But why did he choose to put a serious subject into a lighter format? “I observed that most of the books, no matter how well written get shelved as we don’t have time to read them. No author wants his book to disappear. Also, as a great fan of comics, I always wanted to experiment with illustrations and visuals. While graphics is up-and-coming as a fad, the idea of getting it into a novel came naturally to me,” he says. “Moreover, through the graphics, the scenes are perfectly retained for long in the reader’s memory. I also thought of this set-up as fantastic to make clear the contradictions and change of perceptions,” he adds.
The book might be an easy read, but it took Neelabh, the graphic artist about five months to complete the sketching. “My detailed draft describes each scene in writing. I have even put in writing the minute details like the expressions and colours of clothes my characters will be bearing. It’s a sum total of the experiences I have lived with. Like a graph, showing a shop in Lajpat Nagar market, there is actually a wine shop where the board reads ‘Child Beer’ instead of ‘Chilled Beer’,” he informs.
Interestingly, the hero Mandy might not bear resemblance to anybody known, but don’t characters Smita and Philip remind you of actress Priyanka Chopra and Hollywood heartthrob Brad Pitt? “I have met most of these people I am talking about in the novel, and I personally know them. Many of them are my close friends. Though, it was Neelabh’s idea to add fun by giving a slight semblance to these celebrities. He even made a Bengali gentleman look like me,” he smiles.
“There is a peculiar dynamism about India. It is the young generation of the country that makes it strong as a nation. What the Americans see in the Indian work force is the hardwork, peace-loving nature and their reliability. They aren’t rock star material, but are disciplined and dependable. Even unskilled and semiskilled don’t get into hassles of unions and groupism,” he explains.
Presently working overtime on his upcoming book India for Billion Reasons, the author attempts to explore India through the eyes of the common man. “Everyone has a different way of looking at India. Like in the feathers of a peacock, it’s impossible to separate the colours, and the real beauty emerges as a result of the collective feel of the colours, that is India to me,” says Amit whose previous works include The Divine Peacock: Understanding Contemporary India.

Book review by the Organiser as on January 25, 2009

A story of non-resident Indians' fascination for India
Indian by Choice, Amit Dasgupta, Wisdom Tree, pp 93, Rs 395.00 (paperback)
This graphic novel is an attractive presentation of a story about a non-resident Indian, named Mandeep, who has adopted the name Mandy. He is a second-generation Indian born and brought up in Chicago and, like a full-blown American, he is fond of hot dogs, French fries, baseball, blondes and everything that is American. The story begins with a wedding in the family back home in India. As Mandy’s parents are unable to attend, Mandy is asked to represent the family though he detests the thought of going to India. On the flight, he sits next to an Indian couple whom he describes as “perfect dumbbells”, especially the wife who has gems “sprouting from every finger” and “gold necklaces that had her stooping all the time” and “such colourful taste in clothes that would put a rainbow to shame”. What is more, the drive from the airport to Delhi is the “most depressing thing ever” because “the poverty hits you; the number of people hit you…children and women sleeping alongside dogs and without a covering.” However as days pass, he finds himself drawn into a world he is familiar with through his relationship with his parents and sister. In India he meets Simrita who takes him to see her university campus. He visits the Taj Mahal and feels India is a country of tombs where the Taj too is one. In a letter to his parents, he writes: “I still hate India.” He even visits Goa and falls in love with the place—“Loved it! Great food; wonderful ambience.” He returns to America but carries with him fond memories of India. The book deploys three different styles of expressions—graphic illustrations, text through exchange of e-mails with his parents and sister and photographs. It also tries to convey to the non-resident Indians the message that India is more than that meets the eye or that the picture drawn of India by foreigners is not true. Through storytelling, it attempts to provide answers to questions like, ‘Will India continue to be plagued by poverty and hunger? Would corruption and red-tapism remain deeply entrenched to stymie good governance? Would India’s secular ethos be tested time and again?’ The author very aptly quotes a foreign diplomat who had said on departing from India that when you land in India, you are horrified and frustrated to see the India which they could have never pictured and when you leave India, you realise that “India has entered your soul and your heart” - the common masses have touched your heart with their warmth and hospitality; the sights and smells have become a part of your thinking and being; and the spirit of India has engulfed you in its embrace without asking for anything in return. (Wisdom Tree, 4779/23 Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110 002.)

'Indian By Choice' as reviewed by Hindustan Times

A discovery of India
Lalita Panicker, Hindustan Times
May 09, 2009

Chicago meets chole bhature with predictable results. Mandy, not Mandeep, a second-generation Indian from America comes slumming it to India for a cousin’s wedding. His journey of self-discovery, indeed the discovery of India, is told in Amit Dasgupta’s innovatively illustrated book Indian by Choice. So what’s new, you may ask. Nothing, except that Dasgupta weaves Mandy’s rollercoaster ride with his boisterous Punjab family and his encounters with a riotous, often rude, India into a narrative that is at once beguiling and humorous.
Now and again, some sage relative gives Mandy a sermon on Indian civilisation and culture. Soon, his revulsion for the heaving Indian masses with their intrusive questions and gratituous comments gives way to a desire to learn more about this bewildering land. Through the eyes of his adopted cousin Simrita, his prejudices slowly dissolve and he begins to understand what makes India tick. Dasgupta’s strength lies in his simple storytelling. He shows up India with all its warts at the same time as he shows up Mandy’s irrational prejudices and his desire to downplay his Indianness. Admittedly, some parts of the beautifully illustrated book border on the naïve, but what the hell. We are like that only.
The book deals with a dilemma that most immigrant Indian families face. The parents are reluctant to let go of their roots, often clinging to them with needless ferocity. They often force their children to go back to their native land and imbibe the local culture. The children having been born and brought up abroad invariable loathe their encounters with an alien land. After all, they have spent all their lives erasing their Indian identities, to the extent, like Mandy, of changing their names.
But Dasgupta’s saga of Mandy has a happy ending. The young man, traumatized at first, is won over by his relatives and their persuasive discourses. Here and there, Dasgupta hints at a burgeoning romance between Mandy and his fetching cousin Simrita. In his effort to encompass Indian culture in its entirety in his book, he introduces a couple of Bengali characters as well. Well, the book would have been khub bhalo without the mandatory Bengali dialogue.

Monday, May 11, 2009

As reviewed in The Telegraph - Calcutta, India


Indian by choice By Amit Dasgupta (Art: Neelabh), Wisdom Tree, Rs 995
Perhaps the first Indian graphic novel was Satyajit Ray’s screenplay for Pather Panchali. Ray’s frame-by-frame visualization of the film was a unique retelling of Bibhutibhushan’s classic, and a work of art in its own right, even if the film had not been made. Indeed, those who are sceptical of the graphic novel’s contemporary achievements regard it as the ideal form for vaguely creative people who cannot manage to write fiction, paint pictures or make films properly, but want to do a bit of all three.
It would be patently unfair to bring such scepticism to bear on Neil Gaiman’s darkly brilliant Sandman series or the work of Amruta Patil, Marjane Satrapi and Sarnath Banerjee (at his best). Yet, when Amit Dasgupta claims that Indian by Choice is “essentially in the style of a graphic novel” and that it “experiments” with the mixing of graphic illustration, text and photographs, then it does sound like a very tall claim. This large, hardcover book — its rani-pink dust-jacket splashed with kitsch and ludicrously over-the-top praise from big names in the Indian media — looks like a cross between a picture-book and a cook-book of the Incredible India kind that are sold in hotels and airports. Open it, and you will see nothing more than standard, computerized picture-making of less-than-minimal creativity, accompanied by barely disguised homilies on India, the World and, of course, Globalization, held together by the flimsiest excuse for a ‘plot’. There is a long afterword by Dasgupta that explains the book’s purpose: “it reaches out to the non-resident younger generation of Indians and to younger professionals who are increasingly having to engage with India for business and other reasons … it tells the story of India to the resident Indians, to our young generation and to tourists. Obliquely, it tries to answer the question: what is India?”
Indian by Choice tells the story of Mandy from Chicago (a copybook American-Born Confused Desi) visiting Delhi for a family wedding. He is actually called Mandeep, but starts out by hotly denying this fact — his own resistance to being coerced into sentimentalizing his Indian roots. Then, after his stay in Delhi and trips to Rajasthan, Goa and the JNU campus, chaperoned by an attractive cousin (who turns out to be adopted, and therefore beyond incest), Mandy gets over his psycho-cultural block and starts calling himself Mandeep. The dust-jacket calls this a “a journey of self-discovery through the myriad human relationships that helps us to see things in perspective and in context”. But the Dasgupta-Neelabh pair is no Jhumpa Lahiri, or even Bharati Mukherjee. They just have a better-than-average blurb-writer, who can make sub-mediocre expressions of neo-patriotism sound like a postcolonial Bildungsroman.
It is evident that Dasgupta is well-versed in the clichés that make up the jargon and imagery of a certain brand of globalized urban culture, conservative as well as liberal. But stereotypes (Indian, American and Indian-American), however smartly packaged (and Neelabh’s visuals are not smart enough), remain dead to the fictional imagination. They are devoid of even a modicum of human complexity, especially when yoked to a preachy and feel-good ideology. The idiom of this book would have been best for safe-sex or clean-air campaigns, in which simple and urgent messages have to be communicated to simple people with a short attention-span. But even social-awareness campaigns have moved on from this rudimentary stage and have learnt to be creative or, at least, clever.