graphic novels

‘Nigeria? You still do jhinga-lala and eat humans there, na?’

A graphic novel explores what it is like to be a Somali refugee in Delhi.

Fatima Hasan sat in Delhi’s Khirkee Extension with her friends, Mhd Koofe and Hafez, talking about what it was like to live in the Capital as a Somali refugee. “I don’t consider myself to be a ‘typical’ refugee,” she said. “I had to take on the refugee status because of some personal problems.”

“I had hoped people would be more used to having foreigners around them, but from the second I stepped out on to the railway station I noticed people looking at me like I was an alien,” said Hasan, who had lived in Pune before she moved to Delhi. “We are so visibly different. You walk down the streets and people call you names like ‘batman’, and it sounds really funny but its very hurtful.”

Hasan, Koofe and Hafez have lived in India for over a decade and speak Hindi with ease. They know the latest Bollywood songs, love Delhi’s food – but are reminded on a daily basis through people’s racism, of their status as outsiders.

“Sometimes we sit in an auto and hear them say mean things about us in Hindi, thinking we can’t understand them,” said Hafez with a smile. “When we respond in Hindi, they are always surprised and try to make up for what they said by making small talk and asking where we are from.”

Their audience at Khoj, a studio in Khirkee, had gathered for the launch of a graphic novel, The Horizon Is An Imaginary Line. The book compiles the experiences of refugees and immigrants in Delhi in an attempt to give its readers a comprehensive account of the problems and hurdles faced by them, in a country with a confused refugee policy.

The panel at the launch of the graphic novel 'The Horizon is an Imaginary Line'. Courtesy: Facebook.com/KHOJStudios
The panel at the launch of the graphic novel 'The Horizon is an Imaginary Line'. Courtesy: Facebook.com/KHOJStudios

The book follows the journey of a fictional character, Maryam Jama Mohamed, and her family as they escape the violence in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu and arrive in New Delhi. A refugee, 16-year-old Mohamed knows she looks different, but is not prepared for the discrimination she has to face from Indians who can’t look past her skin colour.

In the panels, a curious Mohamed walks down a street in Delhi’s Wazirabad, about to explore her new home, but is driven back into her house by people shouting racial slurs.

“Through Maryam, we reflect on the lived experiences of alienation and marginalisation as an outsider on the fringes of an increasingly bordered world,” said Radha Mahendru, Curator and Programs Manager at Khoj and the co-author of the graphic novel along with Bani Gill. “Designed partly as an infographic, The Horizon is an Imaginary Line sets out to dispel myths and assumptions about the refugee crisis and India’s ambiguous status within the global refugee regime.”

In the initial stages, Gill and Mahendru considered creating a handbook for refugees without a clear legal status which would share tricks and hacks on how to navigate Delhi and its inherent prejudice against immigrants. It soon evolved into a graphic novel to allow for flexibility of perspective and tone, while communicating the emotional struggles of unbelonging, waiting and being in a state of limbo.

Many readers have confused Mohamed to be based on Hasan, an active member of Khirkee’s community – but as she points out, the book is not about her experiences alone. Mohamed’s story represents the issues of many women who occupy the doubly marginalised status of a refugee and a woman, in a country that is not fair to either.

“It was through the narratives and experiences of Hasan, Koofe and Hafez that the semi-fictional character of Maryam Mohamed emerged,” said Gill, who is currently on the editorial board of a journal called Refugee Review and is studying the ethnographic inquiry into migration, within the global south. “We developed her through a series of storytelling workshops held across a span of four months, where deeply personal narratives of alienation and limbo came to the fore, as did accounts of struggle and resistance against the status quo of the global refugee regime.”

The illustrations, made by Pia Alize Hazarika, are done simply and starkly in black and white. In one, Hazarika captures the tedium of standing in a line at an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, depicting the loneliness of immigrant life and the constant feeling that you must hide yourself.

In one of the sequences in the book, Mohamed is asked by a woman on the metro where she is from. Africa, Mohamed says. “Aah, Nigeria? That’s the capital, na? Actually India is very different from Africa. You still do jhing-a-lala and eat humans there, na?” the woman blurts out. When Mohamed politely clarifies that she is from Somalia, the woman gasps and says: “Pirates!”

Several of the book’s panels are humorous in this way, while simultaneously revealing to the reader just how deep our prejudice runs.

The Horizon is an Imaginary Line is part infographic and part narrative, it brings together the statistical, factual and personal along with the lived experiences of its characters. Mohamed’s story is universal, yet completely specific: a familiar account of being out of place in a world that is increasingly defined by legal categories, borders and fences.

In the last scene, Mohamed is seen standing alone at the airport as her family takes off for Minnesota, United States, after spending five years in India. She is seen standing alone, a lone figure with nothing around her, a heartbreaking image of a teenage girl left behind. This particular scene is Hasan’s own. “I was not allowed to leave with my family,” she said. “It can be that sudden. It is mentally draining. You don’t know how to do anything. You end up feeling so helpless.”

The Horizon is an Imaginary Line, priced at Rs 299, is available at Khoj Studios, Khirkee Extension, New Delhi.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The perpetual millennial quest for self-expression just got another boost

Making adulting in the new millennium easier, one step at a time.

Having come of age in the Age of the Internet, millennials had a rocky start to self-expression. Indeed, the internet allowed us to personalise things in unprecedented fashion and we really rose to the occasion. The learning curve to a straightforward firstname.surname@___mail.com email address was a long one, routed through cringeworthy e-mail ids like coolgal1234@hotmail.com. You know you had one - making a personalised e-mail id was a rite of passage for millennials after all.

Declaring yourself to be cool, a star, a princess or a hunk boy was a given (for how else would the world know?!). Those with eclectic tastes (read: juvenile groupies) would flaunt their artistic preferences with an elitist flair. You could take for granted that bitbybeatlemania@hotmail.com and hpfan@yahoo.com would listen to Bollywood music or read Archie comics only in private. The emo kids, meanwhile, had to learn the hard way that employers probably don’t trust candidates with e-mail ids such as depressingdystopian@gmail.com.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

And with chat rooms, early millennials had found a way to communicate, with...interesting results. The oldest crop of millennials (30+ year olds) learnt to deal with the realities of adolescent life hunched behind anonymous accounts, spewing their teenage hormone-laden angst, passion and idealism to other anonymous accounts. Skater_chick could hide her ineptitude for skating behind a convincing username and a skateboard-peddling red-haired avatar, and you could declare your fantasies of world domination, armed with the assurance that no one would take you seriously.

With the rise of blogging, millennial individualism found a way to express itself to millions of people across the world. The verbosity of ‘intellectual’ millennials even shone through in their blog URLs and names. GirlWhoTravels could now opine on her adventures on the road to those who actually cared about such things. The blogger behind scentofpetunia.blogspot.com could choose to totally ignore petunias and no one would question why. It’s a tradition still being staunchly upheld on Tumblr. You’re not really a Tumblr(er?) if you haven’t been inspired to test your creative limits while crafting your blog URL. Fantasy literature and anime fandoms to pop-culture fanatics and pizza lovers- it’s where people of all leanings go to let their alter ego thrive.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Then of course social media became the new front of self-expression on the Internet. Back when social media was too much of a millennial thing for anyone to meddle with, avatars and usernames were a window into your personality and fantasies. Suddenly, it was cool to post emo quotes of Meredith Grey on Facebook and update the world on the picturesque breakfast you had (or not). Twitter upped the pressure by limiting expression to 140 characters (now 280-have you heard?) and the brevity translated to the Twitter handles as well. The trend of sarcasm-and-wit-laden handles is still alive well and has only gotten more sophisticated with time. The blogging platform Medium makes the best of Twitter intellect in longform. It’s here that even businesses have cool account names!

Self-expression on the Internet and the millennials’ love for the personalised and customised has indeed seen an interesting trajectory. Most millennial adolescents of yore though are now grownups, navigating an adulting crisis of mammoth proportions. How to wake up in time for classes, how to keep the boss happy, how to keep from going broke every month, how to deal with the new F-word – Finances! Don’t judge, finances can be stressful at the beginning of a career. Forget investments, loans and debts, even matters of simple money transactions are riddled with scary terms like beneficiaries, NEFT, IMPS, RTGS and more. Then there’s the quadruple checking to make sure you input the correct card, IFSC or account number. If this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s the long wait while the cheque is cleared or the fund transfer is credited. Doesn’t it make you wish there was a simpler way to deal with it all? If life could just be like…

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Lo and behold, millennial prayers have been heard! Airtel Payments Bank, India’s first, has now integrated UPI on its digital platform, making banking over the phone easier than ever. Airtel Payments Bank UPI, or Unified Payment Interface, allows you to transfer funds and shop and pay bills instantly to anyone any time without the hassles of inputting any bank details – all through a unique Virtual Payment Address. In true millennial fashion, you can even create your own personalised UPI ID or Virtual Payment Address (VPA) with your name or number- like rhea@airtel or 9990011122@airtel. It’s the smartest, easiest and coolest way to pay, frankly, because you’re going to be the first person to actually make instant, costless payments, rather than claiming to do that and making people wait for hours.

To make life even simpler, with the My Airtel app, you can make digital payments both online and offline (using the Scan and Pay feature that uses a UPI QR code). Imagine, no more running to the ATM at the last minute when you accidentally opt for COD or don’t have exact change to pay for a cab or coffee! Opening an account takes less than three minutes and remembering your VPA requires you to literally remember your own name. Get started with a more customised banking experience here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel Payments Bank and not by the Scroll editorial team.