city portraits

How do you visually capture Bengaluru without showing its landmarks? Hint: With zombies and murders

A new graphic novel on the city avoids the clichés.

Capturing the essence of a city is never an easy task, certainly not when it comes to a warren of contradictions like Bengaluru. So Jai Unudurti began with the idea that a city is an “act of the imagination”. He steered clear of visually adapting Bengaluru’s Wikipedia page – indeed, anything factual. “Let’s just say that facts were used as stepping stones,” he said.

The result, Bangalore: A Graphic Novel, is at times a surreal kaleidoscope – visually and narratively. It includes nine stories by 18 artists and writers, each “trying to capture a kind of unique sense of a city,” Unudurti said.

An author and a journalist, Unudurti is part of the team behind Every City Is A Story, a series by the graphic novel studio Syenagiri that is introducing new and immersive methods of storytelling. The studio had released Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel in 2013, for which Unudurti worked closely with a single artist, Harsho Mohan Chattoraj. The product, Unudurti said, was a “reflection of the obsessions and interests I had at that time”. However, it was impossible to zero in on a formula that he could repeat with the book on Bangalore – in Hyderabad, a time-travelling auto driven by a wisecracking Old City autowallah formed the narrative glue.

“In general, the Every City series eschews clichés and fights reducing cities to single, so-called ‘iconic’ images,” said Unudurti. “Through the nine stories, we were hoping for a kind of alchemy to take place, and it did. We didn’t plan for it but somehow, these totally different pieces fell into place. In the end, this is as much a project from Bangalore as much as it is about the city.”

Unudurti, who compiled the Bengaluru collection with Praveen Vempadapu, believes that cities influence their inhabitants deeply, right down to their way of thinking and perceiving the world. “Just as Bombay or Paris have their own distinctive ‘voices’ – the kineticism of Bombay, for example, often shows in works written there – Bangalore too has a distinctive psycho-geographical signature,” he said.

Each story in Bangalore: A Graphic Novel varies thematically, artistically and narratively. From Prashant Miranda’s vivid walk down memory lane while visiting his grandparents in Richards Town to Ramya Ramakrishnan reliving her past at India Coffee House to Appupen’s (aka George Mathen) futuristic and dark tale of Bangaloids which explores the tryst between Bengaluru and technology.

Unudurti selected a mix of established artists as well as those just breaking into the field, and asked them to interpret their relationship to the city. “I started by asking writers and artists whose work I admire, like Appupen, whose first graphic novel I actually read in Bangalore at a café called Thulp, which used to stock comics,” he said. “I encountered Prashant Miranda’s work when he had an exhibition in Hyderabad and I got to meet and talk to him. I was familiar with Devaki’s work, and aware of Solo and Ojo through their work on StripTease Magazine. I’m a regular at Goobe’s Book Republic, and got talking with the owner Ravi Menezes, who suggested I contact George Supreeth. George’s alternate history of the city captivated me. I knew that a slice of that had to show in this book,”

A poster asking for contributions led Unudurti to CG Salamander, Sumit Moitra and Ramya Ramakrishnan. Some extraordinary collaborations occurred on the pages of the book too – for instance, the 11th Main, 9th Cross between Sreejita Biswas (aka Solo), Oz and Karn is a black and white tale that follow a dark stealthy vigilante atop Bengaluru’s roofs and lanes.

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” said Sreejita. “The three of us who made the comics are cats in real life. We’ve been around for centuries and have realised that no one really recognises our bravery and valour as it really is. So we felt it was time to let people know that we are the real superheroes. The little victories are what matter.”

CG Salamander, who collaborated with artist Devaki Neogi and letterer Aditya Bidikar for the book, wrote a powerful story titled 81 Richmond Road on a gruesome Bengaluru murder in 1991. Asked how he chanced upon the story, Salamander said, “I was initially looking for something colonial, but the internet having a mind of its own led me to some of its darkest memories. What drew me to 81 Richmond Road over so many of the other stories was a single line from the court hearing against the murderous godman Swami Shradhananda that read: He continued to live, like a ghoul, in the same house and in the same room.”

Salamander added that it was such a pleasure working with his collaborators that he is now working on a full-length graphic novel, Goodbye Blue Monday. “Devaki and I were on the same page right from the very beginning,” he said. “Jai suggested we bring out a resonating feeling of claustrophobia throughout, and that’s exactly what Devaki’s done with her art. Aditya coming on board only added to the eeriness of it all.”

What are the future plans for Syenagiri? “What we have now is a palimpsest, something that will be effaced,” Unuduri said. “It is merely the starting point of an exploration. For me, a city that exists only in dreams would be a strange melding of the beachfront of Vizag (my hometown), Church Street in Bangalore with all its bookstores, the streets behind the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Colaba for the memories they contain, the by-lanes of Triplicane in Chennai with their mad energy... Each volume has differed from its predecessor and it’ll be fun to come up with new models and approaches for each new city.”

Bangalore: A Graphic Novel will be out in July.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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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.