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.

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