When Big Mommy Went Bad

Urgent art Author Vishwajyoti Ghosh and illustrations from Delhi Calm
Urgent art Author Vishwajyoti Ghosh and illustrations from Delhi Calm

DELHI CALM is a welcome addition to what continues to be an inadequately researched event in Indian political history — the ‘Emergency’ of 1975. In a different light, it’s an evocative portrait of Delhi’s minutiae — Daryaganj streets, kulfi sticks, Lutyen trees, and Dilli street talk. An ode to a contemporary love for Dilli that finds full expression in the format of a graphic novel.

You find within the pages of Ghosh’s graphic novel, an uncanny resonance between 1975 and 2010. No doubt the beautification of the city or the war on the urban poor found unique expression during the Emergency, but the political culture that sustains the urban imagination of beauty that excludes the poor, is irresolutely a thing of our times.

Delhi Calm opens in medias res — Vibhuti Prasad, a writer walking Delhi’s streets on June 26, 1975; painted mostly in sepia, the story charts the lives of idealistic youth who find themselves caught in both the revolution (Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution) and the counter-revolution (the articulation between the Hindutva movement and the people’s socialist movement). The book is a tad heavy on symbolism — Indira Gandhi as Mother Moon, Sanjay Gandhi as the Prince and JP as the Prophet! But the portrayal is mostly surface and fails to flee the usual clichéd representation of political power. Even ordinary characters seem cardboard — is it necessary that the only woman in a young group of revolutionaries decides to marry and settle down while others take up ‘shady’ jobs?

Fortunately, the art affords more nuance. The carnival masks of the Congress workers; the ‘manipulation’ of illegal family planning by a sadhu; torture interspersed with newspaper clippings and government fonts; a hot air balloon advertising the revolution and faux TV clips — all signs to look out for the aesthetics of politics.

Chatterjee is doing his PhD in Anthropology at Emory University, US


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