This book collects nine stories communicated via comic strip artwork. As the title suggests, the principle theme is Bangalore. Not much else unifies the nine works. That’s not a complaint or criticism. The book works fine, but the artistic and writing styles do vary radically. The stories include historical pieces, science fiction, crime fiction, and non-fiction – delivered in various tones from dark and gritty to light and playful. [I suspect it is only subtitled “A Graphic Novel” because that’s the only existing term that’s vaguely accurate. While it’s sometimes the case that a collection of stories with little connective tissue is called a novel – this one has no connective tissue beyond Bangalore-ness (no common characters or overlapping events.) But “Illustrated Stories” would be even more confusing to readers because it would sound like a children’s book (which this definitely isn’t) and it wouldn’t convey that the panel graphic style of comic books is employed.]
This isn’t to say that there aren’t cross-cutting ideas. I said Bangalore was the book’s theme, and I meant that. It’s not just the setting for these stories. As such, one sees a few recurring ideas that are central to Bangalore’s unique nature. Those who know anything about Bangalore probably know it as “India’s Silicone Valley.” So, it’s not unexpected that one recurring concept is technology — as well as technology gone awry. If one knows two things about Bangalore, the second is probably that its growth rate has been phenomenal. When India was newly independent, Bangalore was a fraction of the size of Chennai (Madras), and now – at an estimated 12 million people – its India’s third largest city, having edged out Kolkata (Calcutta) for that position. This has led to a lot of concern about urban decay, particularly among those who knew it as “the garden city” back when it was a popular retirement destination. The idea of nostalgia murdered by rampant growth, therefore, plays heavily into the collection.
I’ll briefly mention each of the pieces. Sorry, I know nothing about art, and therefore am unable to comment on the various styles. I just know they cover quite a gamut from monochrome to dark and desolate to bright and cheerful.
-Bangaloids: This is a piece of dark humor that plays with the aforementioned idea of technology gone awry.
-The Incredible Story of Gunboat Jack: This story explores issues of home and how it changes for one from youth to middle age. The tale shows a boxer in his prime juxtaposed with his past-prime self in a city that has grown away from him as he aged.
-No More Coffee: This is a simple story of a broken heart, but what’s cool is how it contrasts futuristic tech with a setting of India Coffee House. (For those unfamiliar ICH it’s one café among a chain owned by the Coffee Board of India that is tasty, simple, inexpensive, and like walking several decades into the past.)
-81, Richmond Street: This tells the tale of a crime famous in the annals of Bangalore.
-The Missing ATM: This comedic story features an ATM guard who has an ATM stolen out from under him while his sits on the midnight shift. While it’s humorous, it also deals with issues of class and moral dilemmas. [This was probably my favorite.]
-11th Main 9th Cross: This spare piece explores the issue of urban decay.
-Mileage: This is dark story features a man speeding home who has an accident, and is forever changed in an unexpected way.
-Beneath: This story is different in that it ends with Bangalore, but doesn’t begin so.
-My Story: This is a nostalgia piece by someone who was born and raised in Bangalore, who went away, and who comes back occasionally to find an everchanging city.
I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it – particularly for anyone with any experience with Bangalore.