comic books

Jugaad, traffic jams and quiet nights: A French illustrator captures the many faces of Bengaluru

Simon Lamouret’s book ‘Bangalore’ is a result of the sketches he made of the city while living and working there.

While working as teacher at a design school in Bengaluru, Simon Lamouret was prone to taking long walks around the neighbourhood he lived in and he always had his sketchbook with him. The artist would stop to observe and sketch anything that caught his fancy – flyovers, interactions between people during traffic jams and market places. Everyday life as it unfolded around him. And these sketches evolved into a French comic book, titled Bangalore, which was released by Lamouret earlier this year.

Lamouret, who taught at the LISAA School of Design till recently, describes Bangalore as a travelogue comprised of 24 short stories, each one relating to a specific hour of the day, plus one bonus story. “Since the book is built as a mosaic of characters and places, it seemed important to include time as a factor,” said Lamouret. “I do believe that a city like Bangalore has a different character according to the time of the day – densely populated, bright and loud during the day, but deserted and muted at night. These are extremes but there are variations that can be observed throughout the day which I find fascinating.”

Illustration by Simon Lamouret.
Illustration by Simon Lamouret.

A keen observer

Lamouret’s India, as he draws it in his comic strips, is not a validation of what tourists travelling to the country seek. It doesn’t take forward the Incredible India image. It does, however, reflect the daily lives of Indians, complete with quirks, foibles and warmth. On his first trip to the country in 2006, the French illustrator visited Zanskar Valley in Ladakh and spent several weeks in the isolated villages in the valley to document Zanskari customs.

“Although it was physically in India, I spent time in a region that’s pretty removed from the culture of the Indian subcontinent and is closer in nature to Tibetans,” said Lamouret.

Almost seven years later, Lamouret returned, this time to visit two of India’s major cites – Kolkata and Bengaluru. He ended up living in Bengaluru for four years and moved back to France only a few months ago.

Illustration by Simon Lamouret.
Illustration by Simon Lamouret.

“Unlike the dense web of Calcutta, which I knew well by then, Bangalore seemed more spread out,” said Lamouret. “Since I was fairly new to India, there were of course a lot of strong impressions but none that would count as specific to Bangalore. There was that generic feeling of a westerner in India though.”

A record of daily life

Lamouret’s illustrations are rooted in what he witnesses. In one strip, for example, he describes a scene in which he was travelling in an auto-rickshaw and the driver stops to help another rickshaw driver whose vehicle has broken down. The two discuss the problem while their passengers patiently wait and eventually, they arrive at a solution that can be best described as jugaad, or a very flexible approach to solve a problem.

His illustrations are often detailed. A particularly striking work shows a thoroughfare on a rainy day – commuters taking cover from the rain and two friends, who are annoyed by the downpour, as opposed to two lovers who are enjoying it.

“When characters and their environment interact, it’s usually something I want to try and capture,” said Lamouret. “I seek contrast, a contradiction, a dissonance. Some people like to draw beautiful harmonious images. I like to dip into something that seems to be unstable. It can be architecture, light, textures. Drawing the unbalanced is a way to, if not resolve it, comprehend it better.”

Illustration by Simon Lamouret.
Illustration by Simon Lamouret.

Lamouret’s next book, The Alcazar, will tell the story of migrant workers who live and work in the city.

“It’s hard to not notice construction workers in Bangalore,” he said. “Right from the beginning they offered a visual narrative that left a strong impression on me. In Cooke Town, there was a construction site at the corner of my street. With a friend who could translate, we started visiting them regularly. I would sketch and she would ask questions about their work. I saw a strong story potential in all these characters and was fascinated by the set, that is the site of construction, that evolves day by day.”

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