January 28, 2014

Story Boxes: Naseer Ahmed & Saurabh Singh

By Preksha Sharma

Kashmir Pending (2007) starts with a declaration unusual for any Indian graphic novel, “This story is based on a true account. Names of characters and organizations have been changed”. It is perhaps the first and among few attempts of the genre on political reportage, that too with a focus on the volatile issue of Kashmir. In 2012 Kashmir Pending was included in the curriculum of Stony Brook University, New York under the subject of post-colonial South Asian history. While the novel is being recognised as important literature in foreign countries, it would startle many Indians that they cannot even get a copy in India. The novel has been long out of print (available in French under the title Freres D’ Armes) and was published by now defunct publishing house, Phantomville, co-founded by filmmaker Anindya Roy and graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee. For this feature, it took us unusually long to trace the creators and we were still not able to track the writer, Naseer Ahmed. “Naseer is a Kashmir based journalist who works for the local papers. He had interviewed a lot of reformed terrorists/freedom fighters and knew a lot about their lives,” says Saurabh Singh, illustrator for the book, narrating all that we know about the writer.

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“We had been looking for some stories based on Kashmir and serendipitously came across Naseer’s story that seemed promising for a graphic presentation. Later on we met Saurabh and his skills and thought processes made a perfect fit for it,” says Anindya Roy. Ahmed had already scripted the novel in a linear narrative before Singh came on board. Singh made some alterations to the existing script including adding a powerful opening prologue of a young Kashmiri boy pelting stones on uniformed soldiers. “Andy (Roy) and I decided to give jump cuts and flashbacks to add some zing to the narrative,” says Singh. Roy was also the visualizer for the book and it was Roy’s extensive travelogues, stories and photographs of Kashmir, which found their way to Singh’s storyboard for the novel.

The colour template of the novel would remind some of the underground comics from the 1960’s with saturated earthy colours. The best example for a similar illustration style and colour pallet is the animated movie ‘Waltz with Bashir’ directed by the Israeli director Ari Folman (Though the movie came out in 2008, a year after the book was released). Kashmir  Pending has a predominance of tones of red and unarguably, the use of monochromatic colours complements the grim and subversive narrative. Singh has treated the subject with an accurate emotion with his illustrations. For example, in a memorable sequence where the protagonist is narrating his gory experiences of torture in captivity, Singh has appropriately used strong black lines and intense shadow play inspired by Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, adding a league of depth in the scene.

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“For the prison sequences, I felt that the protagonist’s time in prison was probably spent in reflection over his past, which perhaps was like swimming in a sea of blackness. At least, that is how I saw it in my head and put it on paper,” says Singh. During the course of the project, Singh was also greatly inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’. “I enthusiastically based the conversations in the jail on the finale of the movie (when Marlon Brando is lecturing Martin Sheen about the nature of war in a dimly lit room).” And it is fascinating to see how the illustrator has interpreted and implemented the movie in the context of the graphic novel, drawing all the illustrations by hand.

Kashmir Pending was Singh’s first crack at the graphic novel genre that came his way while he was training on the job with Outlook magazine. He credits Roy’s “constant reminders and incessant prodding” for successfully completing the book. Prior to this, Singh had completed two semesters of Fashion Designing course from National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, out of which he eventually dropped out. Now he is working as an illustrator for India Today. Unfortunately, for Ahmed, the writer of the book, we do not have any information.

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Ahmed’s narrative flows smoothly in a documentary style except for some occasional jerks but the ending does not have a sense of closure. The novel recreates the life-story of the protagonist Mushtaq, a middle aged man incarcerated in Kashmir, his past of radicalization and his present as a reformed terrorist who is a chai vendor. Even if the writer remained true to the real-life story, a depth or a perspective into the character of the protagonist could have concluded the story better. Singh also feels that the story has been played safe, “Though the backdrop of Kashmir conflict is a sensitive one, I felt the story was very safe and straight-forward (protagonist goes from the path of violence to the path of reform). So I did not find it too difficult to work with.” That said, some of the clips of the novel are pure brilliance and have the potential of creating a lasting impact on readers’ mind. Particularly breathtaking is the action sequence where firing from a uniformed soldier kills a man (pg 26–27) along with the four-page prologue with no dialogues. The spontaneity of these action sequences is spot on and adds a momentum to an otherwise gloomy narrative.

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The font used also pulls the narrative down at several occasions. There are no dramatic sound effects, no play of typography, but Roy is not buffed about it. “It (the novel) was made seven years back. I do not remember the exact dynamic under which the decision for that particular font was taken. Different artists, different strokes. There are so many more font options available since the time the book was published.”

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Modern Language of Association of America has enlisted Kashmir Pending in its Discussion Group (i.e. the Comics and Graphic Narratives Group) for understanding more about militancy, ecology, nature and culture of Kashmir. Kashmir Pending is definitely one of the most crucial graphic works on the subject produced in India and is sadly not available for its own people.

This article was first published in Kyoorius Magazine 17.

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Kyoorius is a bi-monthly print magazine on visual communications. Subscribe here. For buying a single copy (or any of the previous issues), write to us at sales@kyoorius.com.  You can order the issue from Tadpole, get the digital copy from Magzter and also buy it from bookstores near you. For any feedback on the magazine or to submit your work, do drop in a mail to us at editor@kyoorius.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Greeshma

    02.16.2014

    Reply

    Any chance of uploading the graphic novel online for public consumption, IF you have found a copy?

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