Book review: Story of 14 Indian women and their lives in graphics

Hindustan Times | ByKanika Sharma
Mar 21, 2015 10:51 PM IST

Drawing the Line is a powerful journey of women finding their voices and of artists discovering their art.

Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back
Edited by Priya Kurian, Larissa Bertonasco and Ludmilla Bartscht;
Zubaan Books
Rs 695, PP 162


A female is just like a flower. It gives a good-looking, very softness pleasant performance. But on the other hand, a man is just like a thorn," says defense lawyer ML Sharma in the controversial documentary, India's Daughter. He is not alone. "Just because India achieved freedom at midnight does not mean women can venture out after dark." "To my understanding... Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance evoking an urge to indulge in [rape]." These are statements by politicians and community leaders.

Though the December 2012 gang rape case was a turning point in public consciousness, a variety of opposing and ridiculous opinions have since been articulated. While the men who gleadh the country pontificate on how women should live, 14 young women . roughly the same age as the December 16 victim . have sought to reclaim the narrative on their bodies, minds and lives in Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back.

Some are design students, others have no experience in creating comics. But they sketch effectively their deepest anxieties, fears and fantasies, all in black and white. The idea for the book was born at a workshop held in Delhi in April 2014. Conducted by Indian graphic artist Priya Kuriyan, and Larissa Bertonasco and Ludmilla Bartscht, German co-editors of Spring - an annual publication that combines comics, illustrations and free drawings in a variety of media - the event was attended by the contributing artists. Envisioned as part of a larger expression, the book was intended to hone the talents of young women comic artists in India.

In angsty superhero avatars — some subtle, others with serious attitude — the women present tongue-in-cheek narratives. Harini Kanan’s That’s Not Fair has a sassy female foetus defy norms. Reshu Singh’s The Photo explores a fraught mother-daughter relationship as a young woman refuses to step into her mother’s shoes.

Turning the trope on its head, Neelima P Aryan recreates her mother’s short story Pennezhuthu (A Woman’s Writing), originally written in Malayalam. Retold as Prey, it subverts the linear equation of prey and predator, women and men.

Priyanka Kumar illustrates a wordless universe filled with phantasmagoric images that start in a dream, and make up one of the most haunting visuals in the book even as she brilliantly captures the flow of conversation between a couple.

The graphic collection is a rich reservoir of insight from today’s young women.

There is even a dose of humour, in Inner Beauty and Melanin by BSR. The wishlist in Kaveri Gopalakrishnan’s mini comics that contributed to the title is another liberating portraiture of women’s so-called quotidian wants: “Going nude, not dressing to impress, bra-less at work, scratch in public anywhere, spreading their legs when sitting” will likely have women chuckling with approval.

And Vidyun Sabhaney’s Broken Lines is a critique of how the deluge of rape reportage made voyeurs of us all. Unable to place the source of a story where a woman’s fingers are chopped off (was it a newspaper article or a Patachitra folk tale?), Sabhaney illustrates how mythological ‘traditional’ tales were ‘warnings’ for women — quite like the rapists of today, who assert rape as a public spectacle.

All in all, Drawing the Line is a powerful journey of women finding their voices and of artists discovering their art.

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