The next best thing after the proverbial story-telling grandmother, Vivalok Comics—brought out by the Viveka Foundation, a centre for alternative perspectives in Delhi—marks a paradigm shift from gods to a more subaltern terrain. The fun-filled world here is all about communities and places long lost and forgotten on the Indian map, about folk narratives, local histories, ballads, fables, songs.
Says Rukmini Sekhar, chief editor and director of the foundation, whose brainchild the comics is: "Our focus is to try and bring out the diversity of our culture, our pluralistic tradition. It is an alternative look at the polarisation, the kind of history that has been thrust upon us now. All this to enrich the child’s perspective." Adds series editor Shikha Jhingan: "Unfortunately, folklore in our country has been reduced to stock characters, like a Tenali Rama or Vikram-Betal. But there is much more to our culture and tradition. We are glorifying India’s tradition of diversity."
Launched in July 2001, each issue, priced at Rs 95, focuses on a particular region. "We go deep into a region," says Jhingan, "rather than merely taking an entire state. It is imperative to understand the different aspects of a particular lifestyle or a culture in order to understand the wisdom that is inherent in it. If we don’t do that, we will only have stock characters."
Aimed at 12-year-olds and above, each of the 10 stories in an issue is treated with some amount of complexity. Says Sekhar: "We should not underestimate the intelligence of our children. We have a mental block against comics because there are no alternatives to a Phantom or a Tarzan. At Vivalok, we are trying to break down stereotypes. The introduction about each region at the beginning of the issue is the intelligent cushioning we give children to read ahead."
Publishing was a dream Sekhar always wanted to pursue, even during her long stints with Spic-Macay and INTACH. She even edited an intra-disciplinary journal called the Eye Magazine for about six years and it was during this time that the idea of doing comics came to her mind. With a small but dedicated team of 10, including like-minded filmmakers, artists and marketing specialists, Vivalok already has four issues on the stands, and is ready with the fifth. It has also translated two books into Hindi.
Says Sekhar: "The Ford Foundation supported our cause, but it has been an uphill struggle. We don’t know where the money is going to come from after September. The problem is that we Indians don’t have a tradition of philanthropy." Adds Jhingan: "Our operations are not governed by commerce alone. That can sometimes be viewed as a stance against the mainstream. We pose certain radical questions so that people have another yardstick to start thinking from."
But why publish comics in this age of Cartoon Network and online comics? "Because even parents will benefit from these comics," says Sekhar. "Forget children, many of our parents don’t have a clue as to what folklore is all about. So many of our children in the cities are cut off from the folklores and myths of our country. Our comics are not read-and-throw books. The high production and content quality ensures that these are collector’s items for children."
Their contact address: Vivalok Comics, The Viveka Foundation, 25-C, dda Flats, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi-110049; Telephone: 011-26497664, 26492473, 26492439; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.