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.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.