28 September 2009

‘Don’t Read Me To Improve Your General Knowledge’

Graphic novelist Parismita Singh, 30, says she will always be Assamese but wriggles away from a Northeastern ‘slot’

PARISMITA SINGH ISN’T good with labels. She is amazed at a review that called her book, The Hotel at the End of the World (Penguin 2009), “an Assamese graphic novel”. She used to describe herself as “working on a comic book”. Now that she’s resigned herself to the more heavyweight “graphic novelist”, occasionally “woman writer”, there’s a new tag to deal with. “I will always be Assamese,” she says. “But the book is in English, and I consciously haven’t located it anywhere. What’s fun for me as an author is for people to read the book and make their guesses.”

Certainly, Parismita’s droll, angular, often scratchy images of this black-andwhite nowhereland are strewn with cultural references and visual cues that would satisfy the most dogged graduate student. A bridge to China, a mythic floating island that is everything to everyone, constant rain that blocks mobile phone networks, the ghosts of Japanese soldiers who dream of the snows of Echigo while fighting in a “land of rain and jungle”– if these aren’t enough to make one think of the Northeast, what is? She doesn’t deny the references, but is stunned at people’s desire for authenticity. “I’m not retelling folktales. It’s not anthropology!” she says despairingly. “Yes, the night walker – whom Death sends to gather people’s souls – is a familiar figure, and Kona and Kuja are Assamese folktale characters. But a lady in Guwahati kindly informed me that the ‘original’ Kuja is a hunchback, not legless. But that’s the point! The names are the same, but that’s it. At the AIIMS crossing in Delhi, I once saw a man carrying another on his shoulders. That image is as much to do with my Kona and Kuja.”

Part of her reluctance to be pinned down as representing the Northeast is a discomfort with ‘serious things’. “I don’t want people reading me to improve their GK, or fulfil some national responsibility!” she shudders. “I’d be very flattered if people in Assam decided I was an ‘Assamese writer.’” Then, with a flash of characteristic self-deprecation, “But with the comic book, I’m probably not a writer anyway.”

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 36, Dated September 12, 2009