Anyone who has ever lived in Mumbai speaks of having developed an inexplicably deep connection with the city. Not everyone, however, makes a graphic novel out of this feeling.
But Bombay Hectic, a graphic novel that currently lives on the internet, is unusual in another way: it's made entirely with a smartphone. From the pictures to the text, everything has been captured, edited and then added to Facebook using a One Plus One phone.
This juxtaposition of images with text to create a narrative is the brainchild of 28-year-old Aazar Anis, a Delhi boy who now lives in Mumbai. The novel features banter between two people while exploring the city of dreams. Everyday situations are used to convey emotions. The text is crisp and chatty, with a dash of poetry here, a hint of serendipity there.
The creative juice of Bombay Hectic is new but not completely fresh. Anis has tried it out before with Delhi Hectic, a virtual novel which he made in 2013 using Instagram images.
Delhi Hectic went on for 12 chapters before its creators – Anis and his friend, Arjun Jassal – decided to end it. "We didn’t want to run it into the ground with one vitriolic chapter after another,” said Anis. “After we felt that we’d said everything, we decided to stop."
Bombay Hectic picks up where Delhi Hectic left off. The love affair shifts to Mumbai, or Bombay as Anis would have it. "To sound highly politically incorrect, it’s always been Bombay in my head,” confessed Anis. “Just like it will always be Orissa, Bangalore and Calcutta for me, and not the weird aberrations they’re being referred to as now."There’s a gap of at least three months between Chapter 10 and the latest addition, Chapter 11, which was posted on Facebook recently. When asked about the long gap between chapters, Anis, who works in the advertising industry, said work was to blame. "Things were getting hectic at work and I felt like I should have a story to tell before I dive into writing another chapter on the Bombay nightlife, or feeling existential in the city."
Bombay Hectic is semi-autobiographical. When Anis arrived in Mumbai in July 2015, he was clearly not impressed with the city of dreams. The first few chapters reek of a sadness which comes from initial disappointment. They speak of clogged drains and the woes of living alone.
“I’ve always lived in a joint family, so no human noises at night creep me out," he said. "Sometimes living alone is about braving the dark, administering first aid to yourself, watching how much you drink on weekdays, cleaning maggots out of the dustbin, running out of water for four days and surviving without electricity in the night when humidity is 98%, and getting used to silence.”
But like it does with most of its migrants, Mumbai slowly grew on Anis. He’s now a convert. “Bombay moves at its own pace and makes you a slave to routine and you are forever running against the clock,” he said. “But the rewards are great. The people are warm and welcoming, and the city truly never sleeps. Once you’ve lived here, you’d never want to go to another city. It has changed me for the better, made me happier, more confident and I feel shifting here was the best decision I made."
And now that he’s lived in both Delhi and Mumbai, does he have a favourite? What follows is a cautious response: "Bombay for its people and the sea. Delhi for its food and winter." Both cities, Anis said, have migrants from different walks of life trying to make a new home or a new start. “And when you start looking, both cities have their own wonderful stories to tell."
Of the 11 chapters in Bombay Hectic, Anis has a favourite – Chapter 2: Walking Around, which struck a chord with the poet in him. "I was happy that the chapter came out as a small poem that I think weaves well the ethos of Bombay," said Anis, who occasionally reads out his compositions at poetry meets.
A Home For Two is the latest in the series. What does the title refer to – a partner, a lover or a friend?
"It refers to all three, actually!” said Anis. “The chapter is basically about falling in love with the city while falling in love with a person, and how those two often get intertwined. It’s also about those precious moments that make you feel alive… you belong in the present without thinking about the past or worrying about the future."
So what's next in the novel?
“The possibilities are endless!” declared Anis. “Maybe I will write a chapter on advertising – an industry I work for. Maybe I’ll write a chapter on where my mother grew up – in a Kurla chawl.”
Here's the latest chapter: A Home For Two.
All images have been used with permission.