Is history really written by garment exporters? Do men rubbing themselves against flyovers really need organisation? Is education for us what boxing must have been for the black man? Was there a better icon for badminton than Jeetendra?
Sarnath Banerjee’s graphic commentary on contemporary India, The Harappa Files, creates a new way of using text and pictures that makes commentary akin to a strain of virus that explodes in each individual brain in a unique way. The open-ended, elliptical, corrosive and pointless come together in a colloidal suspension of text and image that makes for uneven consumption and some residual grit in the mouth.
A new form, even when described in old ways (a graphic novel or commentary), is always more than a Venn diagram overlap of existing ideas. In Banerjee’s hands, the graphic commentary wriggles itself into adroit new positions that create vignettes of both sharp familiarity and deep surprise. Here Banerjee takes us through the cracks in our time into a succession of bite-sized snapshots that look at us from various vantage points. To be fair, it looks like a lot of random commentaries strung with a transparently insubstantial device but, far from hurting the book, it helps generate a surplus of meanings, including some that might not be fully intended. The drawing is evocative, specialising in creating precise memories of experiences we have never quite had. Together it paints a picture of an India cracking at the pot-belly and creaking everywhere else.
A book that is perhaps not really meant to be read, only inhaled.