Saturday, November 28, 2015   

Indian author tackles radical Islam in comic book


Friday, June 02, 2006

It might be a comic book but instead of caped superheroes and masked marauders, the first release from a Delhi publisher features bearded Muslim radicals and a bespectacled anthropologist.

The Believers, written by a journalist and published in April by a duo calling themselves Phantomville, tells of the rise of religious extremism in the southern Indian state of Kerala through the reunion of two brothers.

The younger one, Hamid, an anthropology professor in Scotland, returns home to his childhood village for his grandmother's funeral after a gap of 12 years and discovers that his older brother now heads a hardline Islamic group.


"The story was very much around me which is why it is based in northern Kerala where I live," author Abdul Sultan said.

"The incidents I have mentioned and represented fictionally have happened in this part of Kerala."

The 98-page English-language book is an attempt to promote another path, the author said, even as some turn increasingly to violence when religion, oppression and poverty collide. "The book is about tolerance," he explained. "I would like it to reach out to young people everywhere in the world."

Sultan said he had been nursing the story for a while when he met Anindya Roy and Sarnath Banerjee, who were trying to match writers and artists to produce graphic novels - as serious, book-length comics are sometimes called.

Banerjee is the author of Corridor, billed as India's first graphic novel when it was published in 2004.

Set in New Delhi, it centers around a long-haired dispenser of tea, wisdom and secondhand books in the cluttered shopping hub Connaught Place.

The three said they looked for inspiration to graphic novels like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, Art Spiegelman's dramatization of the Holocaust, or Joe Sacco's critically- acclaimed Palestine, based on interviews with Palestinians and Jews in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Illustrated by Delhi artist Partha Sengupta, The Believers is simply drawn and makes minimal use of color, but still manages to convey a sense of the lush, palm-filled Kerala landscape, based on more than 800 photos taken by Sultan.

Sultan said he hoped the format would appeal to a wide audience, including young people and readers who are not entirely comfortable in English.

"This is a medium I think which can bridge the gap between watching television versus reading," he added.

The two brothers in the book represent diametrically opposed faces of Islam, with secular Hamid standing for the "silent majority" of Muslims who suffer in one way or another for the violent acts of a few.

"People like you are responsible for making the world believe that Islam is a religion grown on the tip of the sword," Hamid says, after discovering his brother burned down a cinema both had loved going to as children.

"The whole world is waiting for us to falter; you are just giving them fodder."

But Rashid, the older brother, responds with scorn.

"What happens when there is an attack on the Muslim community?" he tells Hamid.

"Thousands of Muslims are killed. Do you expect us to react by writing learned articles?"

As he learns more about the political changes in Kerala, Hamid mourns his community's turn to violence.

"Are we to be remembered for burning cinemas, for intolerance?" he muses gloomily. "Who will remind us of our amazing contributions to civilization, in astronomy, science, medicine, literature?"

The question seemed particularly relevant this year, shortly before the book was ready to go to print, when Muslims around the world and in India expressed their fury at Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

"It was coincidental but maybe it is good timing," said Roy, of the fact that the book was released shortly after the protests.

"There was a little bit of a scurry in the camp ... we showed it to lots of people, including some who were not in favor of the cartoons, and we got positive feedback," he added.

Roy and Banerjee are now working to bring out a book on Kashmir in June, which will contain two stories - the life of a militant rebel and the fate of ordinary people caught in conflict.


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