The novel “Kashmir Pending” begins without words.Very few people in India have read this book. Published in 2007, it sold less than 5,000 copies and failed to get much mainstream exposure. It portrays the futility of violence—and given the polarized opinions fueling the Kashmir conflict, that message would not suit everyone. But the expressive images and nuanced story of “Kashmir Pending”—written by Naseer Ahmed and drawn by Saurabh Singh—illustrate the promise of a genre that’s now confined to a niche market in India, yet is steadily winning local converts.Serious or amusing, dark or triumphant, such tales take tremendous work. The 246-page “Delhi Calm,” for example, was initially discussed with HarperCollins Publishers India in 2005. Its first pages were submitted in 2007 and a multi-pronged editing and revision process continued to grind forward until the pages finally went to the printer earlier this year.So it’s not surprising that some authors would yearn for a greater sense of community while pursuing such long-term projects. Even shorter pieces, collected in anthologies or little magazines like Comix India can benefit from a supportive word or an irreverent spark. In India, such communities have gained momentum over the past two years with help from websites and blogs, university-based discussions, workshops, exhibitions, a writers’ collective, and a glimmer of international collaboration.In one sense, it can be difficult to measure India’s graphic literary scene. Just about a dozen full-length graphic novels have risen to the surface in recent years, …Yet there seem to be countless works-in-progress, with authors ranging from restless IT executives in Bangalore to political cartoonists from Kerala to students at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad or Srishti in Bangalore. Academia is helping to fuel a sense of discovery, with courses on graphic world literature taught in Jadavpur University in Kolkata, as well as at NID/Ahmedabad and Srishti in Bangalore. A lively academic conference on comics and graphic literature was held in Thrissur, Kerala in March 2009—although Kumar from the Pao Collective mourns that the papers have not yet been circulated for more general consumption and debate.Meanwhile, some publishers have seized on the idea of bringing grassroots art forms into the realm of the modern graphic novel. By the end of 2010, Chennai-based Tara Books plans to issue “Sita’s Ramayana,” with illustrations provided by Moyna Chitrakar, a Patua artist and storyteller who resides in a village in the Midnapore district of West Bengal. The text was composed by Samhita Arni, a 26-year old screenwriter and novelist living in Bangalore.
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