Fr Carlos Luis SAC
River of Stories, India’s first graphic novel, by Orijit Sen, certainly outlives time as its 25th anniversary edition is going to be launched on three different days ie December 18, 19 and 25, 2022, at three different venues: Goa Heritage Festival (Panjim), The Dogears Bookshop (Margao), and Literati (Calangute), respectively, in Goa.
With a sense of fulfilment, Orijit Sen, graphic artist and designer, tells us that he is excited about the launch, given that the book has been out of print since 1996, two years after it was first published in 1994 by Kalpavriksh.
The anniversary edition published by Blaft Publications has a foreword by Arundhati Roy and Paul Gravett, a new cover design and a section of the sketches done during the research for the novel.
River of Stories is about the controversial construction of the Narmada Dam. Preserving documentation of the Narmada Bachao resistance movement, Orijit Sen states that an artist cannot be happy while society is sick and more so when circumstances have not changed.
He channelises his anger and despair into something inspiring, revealing and moving, resulting in graphic novels and designs.
When the publisher approached Orijit as to where he wanted the launch of the anniversary edition to be, he recollects that he said instantly, “Goa, of course! Because this is my home, and there are a lot of people who are interested in such issues. I want to reach the audience with whom I am involved. But I also know that south Goa, central Goa and north Goa, each of the places are different, the audiences are different, and I think it is worth it to reach each of these audiences.”
He also added, “Each of these places, I am featuring on stage with me those who are involved with literature, comics and graphic narratives, and are from Goa as well.” The artists being featured are Vidyun Sabhaney, Delilah Pacheco, Venita Coelho, and Archa Sancou, as they are influential in creating a comics culture in Goa.
Thus, Goa is changing when it comes to graphic novel scenes or comic culture trends. Orijit Sen agrees, “There is a rise in consciousness about comics and a lot of young people are not only interested in reading and collecting comics, but also starting to make comics.”
Seeing the willingness of youngsters to move into this space, in April 2021, Orijit Sen launched a comics quarterly magazine titled Comixense, aimed at teenagers between 12-17 years of age.
Orijit Sen grew up in a comic culture, having lived in Rajasthan, Dehradun and Hyderabad with no internet and television. Only the visual storytelling medium of comics was available as entertainment. He reminisces that earlier comics used to be frowned upon by elders considering that it spoils reading habits.
He says he would collect his pocket money and purchase rare comics on unusual subjects and would barter them with friends for comics that he did not have.
This slowly got him into drawing and gave him the boost to use the medium to tell powerful and meaningful stories.
He says, “Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’ won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and was featured on the cover of Time magazine, and I felt really vindicated. I realised that this is a very important medium, and my childish obsession was not childish at all. That is when I said that I want to do a full-length novel on something that interests me.”
Orijit Sen narrates that earlier he would sketch something and abandon the project, and as soon as another idea came to him, he would take that up and eventually quit again.
After these earlier struggles, he has now mastered the art. He advises that if one wants to make a lengthy comic, one needs to feel strongly and passionately about the idea.
He says, “Work on things that matter to you, be dedicated to the medium and have a sense of deep involvement. Read as many comics as you can and try to form collectives because it is a lonely path as you have only yourself to rely on.”
He further reminds us that he started to work on River of Stories in 1991 and finished it only in 1994.
Interestingly, Orijit’s concern about the controversial subject of the Narmada Dam made him create the graphic novel, but the relaunch of the novel is taking place due to the interest shown by readers and bookshops that constantly asked him for a copy of the novel.
Orijit Sen feels the responsibility to the community of comic makers and, therefore, collaborates with young writers and artists. He aims at giving Indian readers an alternative to the propaganda that mainstream media pushes out on certain topics.
On October 10, 2022, one such satirical project called Gang of 20 by Orijit Sen in collaboration with Samarth and Sonal Raghuvanshi was published by the Centre for Financial Accountability, New Delhi.
He is also working on a story on sex workers in Maharashtra, and many similar issues, presenting them through an appealing medium.
(Carlos Luis is a priest belonging to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine) and is currently the mission secretary of the ABVM Province, Bangalore. He comments on literature and films that mirror life.)