Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Palestine and Kashmir

It makes my blood boil at times when people treat me with polite amusement when I start sounding all passionate about graphic novels. There are an amazingly high number of people who seem to not realize that it is a medium that can say so much, so effectively, and is not only about superheroes wearing their undies over their leotards.

Not that undies over leotard type comic books are things to scoff at.

This is very similar to the life-long irritation I have had with people who consider fiction a waste of time, and utter with great pride that they read only biographies or books like the one about the monk who sold his Ferrari.

Maybe such people should read one of those graphic novels that have the ability to change your complete perception of the medium, with not many graphic novel artists probably being more effective than Joe Sacco. I have been a fan of some of his previous works like Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine and Notes from a Defeatist, all of which hold a special position of pride on my bookshelf.

But, his latest creation - Footnotes in Gaza - is quite something else even in the light of the brilliant work he has done over the years. The hardcover edition is a 400-plus page wrist-sprainer of a book, which deals with two forgotten incidents of massacre of Palestinians by Israeli forces.

These incidents occurred in the 1950s during the Suez Canal Crisis, and Sacco deserves great credit for making the effort of traveling to Gaza Strip, talking to the residents there in detail and chronicling all of it for us. Because the incidents really had been relegated to footnotes of UN reports over the years otherwise.

People have a habit of forgetting things, no matter how traumatic. Especially if the traumatic incidents keep hitting you incessantly over decades. For a community, large parts of which has not known any reasonably long period of peace, the massacres of Khan Younis and Rafah might just be a blink in their painful history, but, as Sacco says in the foreword, it goes a long way in understanding how 'hatred was planted in the hearts' of the people of Palestine.

I was in Iraq when the First Intifada was on, and the understandably pro-Palestine Iraqi media would give a lot of coverage to those young boys throwing stones and crude Molotov Cocktails at the Israeli forces. I had never seen unrest like that on TV before. And, unsure of the historical context though I was, I used to wonder what kind of dissatisfaction would make young people come out on streets like that and face armed forces fearlessly. It seemed like the last act of desperation - the final step you took after you realized that nothing else could save you. Nothing else could make others hear your side of the story.

So, over the last few months, it has been extremely spooky seeing fairly similar clips from Kashmir. Reading Footnotes in Gaza, I am forced to think if, irrespective of cross-border instigation, India has really been remotely as inhuman to Kashmiris as the Israelis were to the Palestinians. So much so that the young boys there too would come out on the streets to throw stones at our forces.

I understand that the situation is much too complicated for me to make a general comparison like that.

But, I hope people in Kashmir don't hate me as badly as the people in Rafah hate an Israeli.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Random Thought

This is part of a song I had learned in Class V and it just came to me suddenly for some reason -

Kasturi mrig ki naabhi mein,
Moorakh dhoonde van jhaadi mein.
Khota bhatak bhatak nij praan,
Mile man mandir mein bhagwaan

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Last Man

I just realized that two of Brian K Vaughan's most brilliant graphic novel series - Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina - are being made into films.

The man also wrote Pride of Baghdad, which remains one of my most loved short series. And the man also wrote a few episodes of Lost, but I haven't been following the series after the first couple of seasons because it got too confusing. Will probably buy DVDs of the entire series.

Y: The Last Man is a story that gave me goose-bumps. The story of a man being left alone in a world filled with women is got to be one horrifying tale. But, the way its many chains were handled and brought to satisfying closure it made one feel fortunate to have witnessed the creation of a milestone in graphic novel writing.

Ex Machina, in many ways, is similar to Y: The Last Man, particularly in terms of the various trails of stories it keeps leaving and picking up. I have not come to the end of the chain yet, so don't know if I'll be completely satisfied, but the episodes till now have been worth the devotion.

Coming back to Y: The Last Man, I can still recall the evening I read the last issue of the series. I was crying. I named my best friend Ampersand that night. And hopefully he understood.

It has been one of the most satisfying and gratifying graphic novel experiences of my life. And, I would love to see how it shapes up on the big screen. I am sure I'll crib about some issue with the film version, but it's a story that needs to be experienced by more people, even if in the form of a film and not in its original one.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Been having a bit of a pop-culture overdose lately. And I am not complaining.

Have read some, or parts of some, great graphic novels. Partly read some novels. Partly seen some TV series and movies. As you can tell, I have been distracted a lot.

But, one series I watched completely - it helped that the first season had just three 90-minute long episodes - has been Sherlock. It's a recent BBC series that's been renewed for the 2nd season too.

If you have ever liked the original Sherlock Holmes stories the least bit, and how could you not, then you ought to watch this modern retelling of the Holmes-Watson saga. Mycroft Holmes has a more prominent role than I recall from the original stories, and then there's the wicked Moriarty too, who makes his appearance in the final episode in a very inventive manner.

One of the first non-child stories I read was The Hound of the Baskervilles, when I was all of 7 years old. I remember sitting on the couch in our living room in the afternoon, alone in the house for all practical purposes as my 2 year old sister was fast asleep (parents were at work), and I kept looking over my shoulder for that beast to pounce on me. Been in love with Dr Doyle's stories since then.

Have seen several film and TV versions of the stories over the years, but none hits the spot as well as this newest BBC version.

Benedict Cumberbatch seems to have been born to play Holmes, and is more than ably aided by Martin Freeman's Watson. You might remember Freeman from that awkward Tim from the original The Office.

If for some reason you have put a restriction on yourself for watching just one TV series this year, do yourself a favor - watch Sherlock.

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