Source of the River

I don’t know much about Orijit Sen, and I assume you don’t either. The little I do know of him is – part graphic designer, part part of People Tree, and part comic book maker.

The last part is what made me sit up and do a double take, for I know him through common friends, though I have never really met him (except for one time I got a lift from the railway station from him).

The discovery was by pure chance when I was idly googling on Indian comics online. His book ‘The River of Stories’ notched mentions as being one of India’s first graphic novels, composed back in 1994. It is the story of the Narmada Bachao Andolan as seen through the journey of a fledgling reporter on assignment. It is almost impossible to find a copy of this anywhere, and the best I could do is a photocopied version. Thankfully, it would seem that the book is originally in black-and-white and so there isn’t much lost.

The book is a joint venture between an NGO and a government ministry and is more like a pamphlet about the issue (definitely, not to trivialize it), but far more attractive than a pamphlet. The story mixes modern reportage with the folk lore of the river to present a scientific and spiritual denouncement of the river project. The politics of it might not sit easy with everyone, but the value of it as a pioneering work of the serious comics form in India is what is important.

So such as it is, it throws up some very important questions about the nature of the medium – why present such a serious issue through such a lightly perceived medium? Why make a comics-documentary and not just a comics fiction story? And whom does this experiment aim to serve – children or adults? The answers to this I would want to seek from the writer-illustrator himself someday, and all of you will get to see his responses when I do succeed.

The only bit of insight I got from the biography at the back is that Sen is a fan of the Tintin series, and I was struck by one image which serves as a chapter opening, which reminds me of pages from such Tintin adventures as Red Rackham’s Treasure and The Broken Ear, I hope I am not too off.

Meanwhile if anybody is interested then maybe contact the same shop where I got my photocopy copy and see if they have any more.

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