Author: Parismita Singh
Illustrator: Parismita Singh
Published: 2009 by Penguin India
No. of Pages: 144
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Subthemes: Traditional storytelling, North-Eastern(India) folklore, world-war II, escapism
A hotel run by a woman ruminating about her lost love; a husband who tells the story of ghosts of homesick Japanese soldiers in Naga and Manipur from the second world war; two friends who were once sold as labourers for an unending bridge to China; a blind prophet who was once searching morbidly for a mysterious island; the hotel at the end of the world is a layered story of many people and their recollections.
In a unique combination of onomatopoeic devices and chalk-charcoal panels, the narration surrounds one with the aroma of steamed rice and pork curry, which Pema-the hotel owner- is often seen dishing. Drifting away from a simple linear narration, the starting scenes reveal the hotel to be a place of great social interaction. A place where people and their worlds rub against each other and their mouths become portals to their minds and the imagery inside them.
The story is explored first through the story of Kona and Kuja, who, are often seen boozing relentlessly. A rather unusual pair, they were once tricked by an old dipsomaniac friend, who sold them as laborers, taking advantage of their wish to go to China. They worked on an unending bridge as laborers and managed to escape, starting on a morbid search for a mysterious island. It is in this search that they end up at the hotel.
We are then introduced to Pema’s story, which is told in a rather oral folklore tradition encompassing mythical elements. With a father plagued by a mythical condition, her story is about lost love, sacrifice, and responsibilities. The stories of the soldier and the prophet then introduce narrative threads which are later used in the story.
The stories not restrictive to one genre, create an effectively surreal ambiance while extending on the metaphor of the hotel, and making it a destination where the lives of these people converge. The stories draw inspirations from history, folklore and mythical legends. One example of this is the inspiration from Phumdis, a series of floating islands in the Loktak lake, Manipur. Another is the real accounts of separation and longing of Japanese soldiers in Naga and Manipur from the second world war. The rest of the stories are rather surreal and are told much like folklore.
Artistically, the graphic novel follows a unique style, the panels are replete with spiraling lines, charcoal black, and mountain scenery. The metaphor of hotel as a converging point is effectively illustrated through the art, where the art focuses heavily only on the social ambiance, the characters, and their context and not on the hotel itself.
The story concludes with the story of the little girl, who is seen continually throughout the panels as other stories are being narrated. The layered structure of the story converges beautifully, in the end, giving it a rather magical feel while remaining in the ambit of realism.
The only clear symbolism in the story is the hotel, which is not only a destination for travelers but also a converging point in the layered structure of the story.
Drawing from the title- the hotel at the end of the world- the symbolism is not hard to decipher and comes out effectively through the art.