Author: Sarnath Banerjee
Illustrator: Sarnath Banerjee
Published: February 2011 by Harper Collins
No. of Pages: 216
Subthemes: Political Satire
The Harrapa files is not only an excellent set of graphic commentaries on an India in transition, it is Indian art at its most triumphant. The loosely threaded images of this India are framed in the comic around the tediously titled Greater Harrapa rehabilitation, reclamation, and redevelopment commission (GHRRRC). The commission sees the combination of image and text as necessary to disseminate their findings, asserting that “to tell new stories one needs new languages”.
This new language, at once wonderful and sharp impresses upon the reader an idea of India, one that isn’t negative or positive, rather, one that just is. Based on the findings of this commission, all Indians may be forced to sign a draconian form, of which we know nothing but a mysterious title – 28B.
These findings don’t come in the form of statistical figures or geographical maps; rather, they come in the fragmented experiences of the many faced people of India, and a rare few that aren’t Indian at all. Some stories are bizzare, some perfectly relatable, but all construct an image of India that no body of text can alone express. Most of these stories originate from the urban India that has one foot in the globalised world, and another in a world uniquely Indian.
Bannerjee inflects the stories with brief, yet impactful thoughts on an India perpetually in transition. In a particularly memorable chapter on the Indian intoxication with competitive exams, he says “Education for us was like boxing for the black man, one way to overcome the caste/class barrier.” The India that Bannerjee presents to us is the Jaguar salesman, Lifebuoy soap, the psychic plumber, the lonely prop-maker, the divorcee, and as the dedication reads – all mothers of two sons.
Bannerjee approaches these people, their stories, and their spaces with a gracious helping of both dignity and wit. The idea as comes up in the graphic novel is to see how India got to where it did, and not to feel good or bad, but just ok. Upon reading the novel, one would say that Bannerjee manages to make the reader feel far more than just ok.