Author: Various, Edited by Vishwajyoti Ghosh
Published: 2013 by Yoda Press
No. of Pages: 336 Pages
Themes: Partition of India; Partition of Pakistan into Pakistan and Bangladesh;
Timeline: Stories are usually centered around 1947, 1971, or the present (Early 2000’s or 2010’s)
This Side That Side is a massive 336-page anthology centered around the theme-partition of India-with twenty-eight short graphic narratives curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh.
Developed in collaboration by Goethe Institute, Max Mueller Bhavan, the anthology is largely ambitious because it tries to cover a wide palette of experiences— ethnographic accounts of people crossing the India-Pakistan border during the partition; present-day stories which limit people’s ambitions because of the aftereffects of the partition; interviews of people longing for the pre-partition life; people dislocated and disowned by countries due to partition; parables; and sometimes some warm and happy stories about encounters between the people of the three countries-India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, separated only by imaginary borders between them.
More often, the themes are covered with an element of fiction in them, born usually out of a collaboration between artists and illustrators from different or same countries. What works in the favour of the anthology is the fact that the collaborations are often fruitful and result in deeply moving or enjoyable graphic narratives. However, there are times when the result of this collaboration is incoherent and feels jarring to read with artwork and writing flying off in different directions.
While the unimpressive stories don’t damage the value of artistic brilliance the anthology provides, they do make the pacing bumpy. Despite all the bumps in the pacing, illegible artwork and sloppy writing in some of the narratives (maybe 4 or 5) there are stories which more than make up for the investment in both time and money. And one can safely say, there are way too many highlights in this wonderful anthology compiled by Vishwajyoti Gosh.
An Old Fable by Priya Kuriyan and Tabish Khair starts with a parable like theme and gives a warm nostalgic feeling, reminiscent of children’s literature. The plot basically presents partition through the symbolism of a baby, whose parentage is disputed and is being claimed by two women, alluded to be from different religions. This allusion is brought out through the colour of their dresses (green and orange) and also through the conflict in the background. Intelligent, short, and enjoyable, An Old Fable is a graphic narrative worth reading.
Fault Lines is another impactful short graphic narrative which follows the story of two people incarcerated in a jail somewhere in Pakistan at the time of partition. More about a choice resulting from an uncertainty about the future, Fault Lines combines writing and artwork overflowing with symbolism like—Chimpanzees for representing political leaders and ants for blindly following each other.
Border and Which Side? are both visual and textual poetry and are structured metaphorically as the former chases the metaphor of ‘border’ and the latter is more of a soliloquy burning with questions of identity. The plot of both shouldn’t be given away to keep them enjoyable, however, it is simple enough to be grasped in a single reading.
Noor Miyan is a beautiful tale about a ‘Surma’(Kohl) seller called Noor Miyan. The plot is short, sweet and painful and broaches the issue of everyday relationships broken due to the partition of India. Woven around the one such ‘everyday’ relationship, the tale is centered around the narrator’s grandmother who used to line her eyes with the ‘Surma’ (Kohl) perfected by Noor Miyan with cow ghee. The ‘Surma’ is not merely an eyeliner for the narrator’s grandmother, but rather a source of her happiness. While the text isn’t as impactful, it beautifully complements the art to remind the readers, the amount of ‘everyday’ relationships and acquaintances the partition of India destroyed. Although not exceptional, Noor Miyan feels more ‘real’ than ‘fictional’ and manages to affect the reader with its simple plot.
Speaking of more ‘real’ like accounts, The Exit Plan, Know Directions Home?, Tamasha-e-Tetwal, The Red Ledger, 90 Upper Mall, Karachi Delhi Katha, I Too Have Seen Lahore, Little Women, and Welcome To Geneva Camp really shine in this anthology. While there are others like Making of a Poet and Water Stories, which certainly make for a good read but have incoherent art and text.
While it is difficult to pick a favourite, I Too Have Seen Lahore makes the cut for the GraphicShelf Team. The result of a collaboration between Salman Rashid from Pakistan and Mohit Suneja from India, the short graphic-narrative is an anecdotal account of writer Salman Rashid and his wife-Shabnam- from their travel to India in 2010. In search of the ancestral house of Shabnam in Aali Mohalla, Jalandhar, India, the couples meet “kindly-faced, short-statured” Darshan Singh who invites them for a tea. Recollecting his own childhood in Klasswala, near Pasrur in Pakistan, Darshan tells them a chilling account of his own experience with the partition of India. The short graphic narrative is beautifully written and is complemented by perhaps the best artwork in the entire anthology. Overall, it is perhaps one short graphic narrative that one must read, whenever one can pick up a copy of This Side That Side.
Surely, This Side That Side is heavily recommended and should definitely be on every graphic novel enthusiast’s list.