A lost op­por­tu­nity

Sar­nath Ban­er­jee takes on too many nu­ances of a wa­ter cri­sis that are dif­fi­cult to in­te­grate in his graphic novel

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - SHREESHAN VENKATESH @shree­shanV

A new graphic novel on wa­ter-starved Delhi fails to con­nect the dots

IN THE past few years, there have been spo­radic in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence across the coun­try due to acute wa­ter scarcity. Sev­eral re­search stud­ies also pre­dict an in­crease in the fre­quency of these “wa­ter wars”. Ev­ery year, Delhi wit­nesses sev­eral acts of com­mu­nity and in­di­vid­ual vi­o­lence over ac­cess to wa­ter. Wa­ter has also been used as an in­stru­ment to voice protest. For in­stance, the Jats from Haryana have of­ten held Delhi to ran­som by cut­ting off sup­ply dur­ing their reser­va­tion stir.

In Sar­nath Ban­er­jee’s graphic novel, All Quiet in Vikaspuri, Delhi is in the grip of a crip­pling wa­ter short­age. Res­i­dents are forced to re­sort to vi­o­lence to fight for their rights over the de­pleted re­source. Mean­while, a quest is on—to lo­cate the myth­i­cal Saraswati river so that the on­go­ing wa­ter cri­sis and vi­o­lence in the city can be brought to an end.

It is a fic­ti­tious ac­count of dystopian Delhi in the throes of a seem­ingly never-end­ing wa­ter war. The author at­tempts to il­lus­trate the trail of dis­tress and dev­as­ta­tion that fol­low short-term en­v­i­ron-

men­tal and eco­nomic poli­cies de­signed purely to profit a few. The im­prob­a­ble pro­tag­o­nist, Girish, is a plumber from cop­per-rich Tam­ba­pur. Af­ter the cop­per in­dus­try in Tam­ba­pur is pri­va­tised, Girish is forced to move to Delhi in search of work, as his home­town is stripped of its econ­omy and dig­nity. He lands up with a job of lo­cat­ing the mighty Saraswati river in the depths of “mid­dle earth”. The story fol­lows Girish in his search and chron­i­cles his en­coun­ters with oth­ers who have been ex­iled for their role in cre­at­ing Delhi’s wa­ter woes. There are many twists in the plot; there is even a vig­i­lante su­per­hero; and, the story heads to­wards a fi­nal con­fronta­tion be­tween the mot­ley crew of out­casts led by the “psy­chic plumber” and the forces that are or­ches­trat­ing the dev­as­tat­ing wa­ter wars. Ban­er­jee’s idea of us­ing the trickle-down fa­tal­ism to ex­press the dis­as­trous con­se­quences of plan­ning purely for profit is re­mark­able. The author at­tempts to in­ter-weave the oft­heard nar­ra­tive of re­source-rich towns and vil­lages being ran­sacked of their wealth with ar­ti­fi­cial scarcity in the cap­i­tal de­signed to ma­nip­u­late peo­ple to turn against one an­other. As the story peaks with amus­ing, and at times even hi­lar­i­ous, il­lus­tra­tions of res­i­dents from dif­fer­ent war­ring lo­cal­i­ties of Delhi pre­par­ing to go into con­flict, the dan­gers of short-term plan­ning be­come too ap­par­ent. While the story grap­ples with the ex­tremely per­ti­nent is­sue of short-ter­mism and its pit­falls, the author fails to wrap it up in a neat nar­ra­tive, and in­stead, hands us a shabby pack­age that fails to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions. Though one can re­late to the cen­tral theme in the con­text of as­pi­ra­tional growth that has in­fected our so­ci­ety in the past few decades, the story fails to en­gross the reader to a point where the ex­tremes de­scribed are not in­ter­wo­ven in the nar­ra­tive. The il­lus­tra­tions do their job of hu­man­is­ing sit­u­a­tions and char­ac­ters up to a cer­tain ex­tent, but fail to fill the void left by a flimsy plot. The at­tempt to of­fer dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives bring­ing out the main char­ac­ter’s in­ter­nal con­flicts and dilem­mas are un­der­mined by poorly de­vel­oped char­ac­ters who zip in and out of the plot with­out giv­ing read­ers a chance to con­nect. Ul­ti­mately, the drama and the emo­tional weight of the story are lost on the reader, and the events de­scribed seem too far-fetched and fan­tas­ti­cal. The prob­lem with this graphic novel is that it takes on too many nu­ances that are dif­fi­cult to in­te­grate in a sin­gle story. In his haste to join all the dots, it seems like the author neglects the need to step back and take a look at the big­ger pic­ture. In the end, the fi­nal prod­uct is an un­for­tu­nate hotch­potch of seem­ingly hol­low con­nec­tions. All Quiet in Vikaspuri is noth­ing but a missed op­por­tu­nity.

Sketches from the graphic novel

ALL QUIET IN VIKASPURI Sar­nath Ban­er­jee Harper Collins In­dia | 152 pages | ` 548 (hard­cover)

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