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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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.