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Life is collectible

books Updated: Feb 07, 2011 09:14 IST

Kushalrani Gulab, Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The Harappa Files

Sarnath Banerjee

Harper Collins

Rs.499

PP 216

File # 0491/11C/NANO is one of the stories in Sarnath Banerjee’s new graphic offering, The Harappa Files. It’s rather sweet — and ever-so-slightly subversive.

Narrated by a man who’s been unable to cross the road for 45 minutes because of the traffic, it’s about the (then) impending launch of the Nano, the car priced not much higher than the scooter used by entire families to transport themselves to places like Delhi’s India Gate for picnics and ice-cream.

Wealthy owners of massive SUVs are far from thrilled by the idea of the Nano; it’ll make traffic congestion worse they say, and they could be right. After all, traffic in Delhi is already so bad that the elderly gentlemen Vipin Mathur and Naman Doshi, friends since their childhood, haven’t met for some years — they don’t dare to cross the road.

But what will the effect of the Nano be on people other than wealthy owners of massive SUVs? Well, there will be some benefits. But mainly, roads will be so jammed that pedestrians could actually cross them — and Mathur and Doshi will meet again while the wealthy owners of massive SUVs continue to yammer on in their clubs about carbon footprints and whatnots.

Slices of Indian life — that’s what you’ll find in The Harappa Files, apparently a report by the Greater Harappa Rehabilitation, Reclamation and Redevelopment Commission which is a think tank consisting of “the colonels and admirals of society who operate from the nether regions of the government’s subconscious.” Its purpose? “To conduct a gigantic survey of the current ethnography and urban mythologies of a country on the brink of great hormonal changes. Changes of such enormity, that they are barely comprehensible to its civil society.”

So, in the pages of The Harappa Files you’ll find references to everything from products of the past (Boroline, Vicco Vajradanti, Bullworker and Lifebuoy soap) to a likely future (the Nano). You’ll see signs of the unchanging nature of Indian life (the swish new buildings that have much in common with the crumbling relics of yore — for instance, no plumbing blueprints, and the story of scientist JC Bose who demonstrated wireless telegraphy two years before Marconi did but who was done out of the Nobel Prize because news of his discovery arrived late thanks to bureaucratic delays). And you’ll relate to life as it is today (the landlady who regulates every aspect of her tenants’ lives).

In typical Banerjee style (he is the author of two earlier graphic books — Corridor and The Barn Own’s Wondrous Capers), there is no narrative as such in The Harappa Files. You jump from idea to idea within a certain theme, in this case, India.

So it isn’t a good idea to read this book at one sitting. Do that, and you’ll be distinctly underwhelmed and feel, as Banerjee has said in the introduction, “not good, not bad, just okay”. Dip into it every now and then, however, and you could find little gems.