It’s the season of Kolkata’s annual tryst with books and ideas. Venues across the city are brimming with words as literary festivals draw a steady stream of eager attendees and interesting speakers. Devapriya Roy and Priya Kurian launched the cover of their graphic biography on former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which will be out next month, during the course of an evening at Victoria Memorial recently.
Roy is an established author who has been appreciated for her novels, The Vague Woman’s Handbook, The Weight Loss Club and, The Heat and Dust Project: The Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat, co-written with her husband Saurav Jha. On the other hand, Kurian, a comic artist and illustrator, has directed educational films for the Sesame Street Show (India), the Children’s Film Society of India and has won The Hindu Young World — Goodbooks Best Illustrator Award for her work in Princess Easy Pleasy.
The duo’s latest effort is partly fictional and partly graphic with vivid and insightful takes from the fascinating life of Gandhi. The story is about a young girl Indira Thapa who has been assigned to write an essay around her name and find out the legacy behind it. Over the course of the narrative, young Indira develops a friendship with an artist called Priyadarshini, who is compiling the biography of Indira Gandhi. Roy and Kurian sat down for a freewheeling chat about how the book came to be. Excerpts:
Q. In the current scenario of divided opinions about the Gandhi family, why did you choose Indira Gandhi as your subject?
Roy: Before starting the project both Priya and I read a biography each of Mrs Gandhi. Anyone reading her biographies, which were not commissioned but independent writings, would realise the fascinating life she lived and her importance to India.
Kurian: The most interesting aspect was her complex character that made her more human. Apart from a being a political leader she had a very interesting persona. The complexity of her personality attracted me towards her.
Q. What qualities of Indira Gandhi do you relate with?
Roy: The thing I admire most in her personality is that nothing was small enough for her and nothing was so large to phase her out. Every time she was down, she would get up and fight back. In her meeting with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at Shimla in 1971 and even during crucial geo-political negotiations, her attention was equally on the poaching taking place in jungles and she wrote a strict memo slamming the negligence of the chief minister concerned. This ability to multi-task is one of the major qualities I admire in her.
Kurian: Look at the large things she did keeping small things in mind, which is incredible in a person. But she never boasted and would just do the job without caring about the propaganda around.
Q. What were the challenges you faced while compiling the biography?
Roy: One of the challenges, process-wise, was putting the minute details of her vast life into images and illustrations. For example, the Central Hall of Parliament and her house at Swaraj Bhawan have been illustrated with their detailed features and that was difficult.
Kurian: One of the biggest challenges was deciding what to put in the story and what to discard.
Q. Who is your target readership?
Roy: We kept in mind people of all ages but definitely more of younger people. A text-only biography of 700 pages is likely to bore younger readers but the graphics and illustrations would make it livelier and help in drawing their attention.
Kurian: We wanted to make her life more accessible to anyone who would be interested and graphics was the best way to do it.
Q. Apart from being your hometown what is that one thing that attracts you to Kolkata?
Roy: I think it is the food that attracts me the most and also the geography. In times of stress I close my eyes and see College Street where I spent my college days.
Kurian: I think as an artist I find a lot of characters in Kolkata in the form of heritage buildings, the iconic Howrah Bridge and other such places.