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 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.