May 24, 2016
Sarnath Banerjee manages to intrigue my attention in the cover itself. “All Quiet in Vikaspuri” in bold red with an illustration showcasing a mass mourning session. That is the front of this graphic fiction published by Harper Collins, bound in a beautiful ivory hard jacket which makes me connect with the bold subject of the book. An account of the water wars in Delhi, Sarnath Banerjee weaves his reader in an unapologetic commentary that revolves around a single character, Girish-the plumber….
His introduction in the first couple of flips to the narration acknowledges the great Indian middle class and their un-daunting dreams of privatisation of everything. He narrates the quirks of Indian middle class which “…thinks that corporates are benevolent philanthropic organisations…” and humours us with his take on how the public sector retorts to ‘privatisation‘ whenever they face a crisis and the instant availability of MNCs upon such occurrences.
The protagonist in the narration is a man – Girish, troubled from one such crisis and who moves to Delhi from a small town Tambapur in search of a living. Girish sets out in search of the mother of all rivers, the mythical Saraswati, to the centre of the earth. On his voyage he meets people associated with water crisis in Delhi and how each of them was in pursuit of salvation for something they had done in the past.
Through their dialogues, Sarnath comments upon life (in its fair and unfair ways), sensitivity to inequality, short term policies of PSUs and the nightmares that toss people around all night who have associated themselves with the poor state of affairs outside the gated communities.
The narration of a politico-social India is well crafted and as one of the readers describes it, “behind the wit and sarcasm lies an incisive understanding of the existence of a first world within the third world.” But the silver lining to the narration is that where there are cynics like Rastogi who seek solace in revenge for the atrocities they bore as a rejection to the society, there are those like uneducated and skilled Girish ;and educated and realistic Varun Bhalla to take on him.
Despite the direct subject and intense narration, the book refuses you to give up on it because of its humorous, witty and deftly weaved sarcasm, that makes you smile one too often. Towards the end it feels like the climax unfolds rather briskly. Sarnath has done justice to the illustrations with texts pausing at times and the illustrations completing the dialogue in some way.