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.

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