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 Indian pizzas in San Francisco to bhangra competitions in Boston

A guide to the Indian heart of these American cities.

The United States of America has for long been more than a tourist destination for Indians. With Indians making up the second largest immigrant group in the USA, North American cities have a lot to offer to the travel weary Indian tourist. There are umpteen reasons for an Indian to visit vibrant education and cultural hubs like Boston and San Francisco. But if you don’t have a well-adjusted cousin to guide you through the well-kept Indian secrets, this guide to the Indian heart of Boston and San Francisco should suffice for when you crave your fix.

Boston

If you aren’t easily spooked, Boston is the best place to be at in October due to its proximity to Salem. You can visit the Salem Witch Village to learn about present-day wiccans and authentic witchcraft, or attend séances and Halloween parades with ghosts, ghouls and other frightening creatures giving you a true glimpse of America during Halloween. But the macabre spirit soon gives way to a dazzling array of Christmas lighting for the next two months. The famed big Christmas trees are accompanied by festive celebrations and traditions. Don’t miss The Nutcracker, the sugar-laced Christmas adventure.

While it upholds its traditions, Boston is a highly inclusive and experimental university town. It welcomes scores of Indian students every year. Its inclusiveness can be gauged from the fact that Berklee College of Music released a well-received cover of AR Rahman’s Jiya Jale. The group, called the Berklee Indian Ensemble, creates compositions inspired by Indian musical styles like the Carnatic thillana and qawwali.

Boston’s Bollywood craze is quite widespread beyond the campuses too. Apple Cinemas in Cambridge and Regal Fenway Cinemas in Fenway can be your weekly fix as they screen all the major upcoming Bollywood movies. Boston tends to be the fighting ground for South Asian Showdowns in which teams from all over the North-Eastern coast gather for Bollywood-themed dance offs. The Bhangra competitions, especially, are held with the same energy and vigour as back home and are open to locals and tourists alike. If nothing else, there are always Bollywood flash mob projects you can take part in to feel proudly desi in a foreign land.

While travellers love to experiment with food, most Indian travellers will agree that they need their spice fix in the middle of any foreign trip. In that respect, Boston has enough to satisfy cravings for Indian food. North Indian cuisine is popular and widely available, but delicious South Indian fare can also be found at Udupi Bhavan. At Punjab Palace, you can dig into a typical North Indian meal while catching a Bollywood flick on one of their TVs. Head to Barbecue International for cross-continental fusion experiments, like fire-roasted Punjabi-style wings with mint and chilli sauce.

Boston is prominent on the radar of Indian parents scouting for universities abroad and the admission season especially sees a lot of prospective students and parents looking for campus tours and visits. To plan your visit, click here.

San Francisco

San Francisco is an art lover’s delight. The admission-free Trolley Dances, performed in October, focus on engaging with the communities via site-specific choreographies that reflect the city’s cultural diversity. Literature lovers can experience a Dickensian Christmas and a Victorian holiday party at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, a month-long gala affair starting in November.

As an Indian, you’ll be spoilt for choice in San Francisco, especially with regards to food. San Francisco’s sizeable Indian population, for example, has several aces hidden up its sleeve. Take this video by Eater, which claims that the ‘Indian’ pizza at Zante’s Restaurant is the city’s best kept secret that needs outing. Desi citizens of San Francisco are big on culinary innovation, as is evident from the popularity of the food truck Curry Up Now. With a vibrant menu featuring Itsy Bitsy Naan Bits and Bunty Burrito and more, it’s not hard to see why it is a favourite among locals. Sunnyvale, with its large concentration of Indians also has quirky food on offer. If you wish to sample Veer Zaara Pizza, Dabangg Pizza or Agneepath Pizza, head to Tasty Subs & Pizza.

There are several Indian temples in Sunnyvale, Fremont and San Jose that also act as effective community spaces for gatherings. Apart from cultural events, they even hold free-for-all feasts that you can attend. A little-known haven of peace is the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. Their Anjaneya World Cafe serves delicious mango lassi; the beverage is a big hit among the local population.

If you’re looking for an Indian movie fix during your travels, the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival’s theme this year is Bollywood and Beyond. Indian film enthusiasts are in for a treat with indie projects, art-house classics, documentaries and other notable films from the subcontinent being screened.

San Francisco’s autumn has been described as ‘Indian summer’ by the locals and is another good season to consider while planning a trip. The weather lends more vigour to an already vibrant cultural scene. To plan your trip, click here.

An Indian traveller is indeed spoilt for choice in Boston and San Francisco as an Indian fix is usually available just around the corner. Offering connectivity to both these cities, Lufthansa too provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its India-bound flights and flights departing from India. You 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 internalized 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.