Review: Stupid Guy Goes To India
Stupid Guy Goes To India
Rs 395 pp 230
Obsessed as we are about how the Anglo-American writer sees facets of India and presents them to readers in that part of the world, this comic book description of a Japanese man’s dealings with contemporary India is a change. Yukichi Yamamatsu visited India for the first time in 2004 as a 56-year-old manga artist with a sole purpose: to sell manga comic books in a country that doesn’t have them. This conceit forms the basis of Yamamatsu’s comedy routine as a stranger in a strange land.
This isn’t a book for those looking for confirmation about India being an ‘!ncredible’ land for tourists. “I had no interest in sightseeing, so I refused,” Yamamatsu tells us in a panel about shooing away a hotel guide. “But no matter how much I said ‘no’, he stubbornly persisted. So I kept saying it in as many ways as I could.”
For those who squirmed at the news of the recent episode of the BBC programme Top Gear making fun of Indian hygiene habits, I suggest you stick to watching your Slumdog Millionaire DVD. For as soon as Yamamatsu lands in Delhi airport, he starts his adventures that increasingly resemble classic cross-cultural slapstick comedy. There is much situational comedy, heightened by the fact that Yamamatsu never stepped out of Japan before. Standard tropes such as clingy touts, ever-following beggars, smarmy streets and smarmier public toilets acquire some freshness courtesy cartoon depictions.
Our Ulysses’ search for a translator — from Japanese to Hindi for the clutch of manga books he’s come to sell — is accompanied by other micro-odysseys: search for a chappal, search for an apartment, search for a spot “through which many people can pass by”... Most of these end with Yamamatsu shouting out ‘Gyaaah!’ and its variants in despair.
Some of the gags are repetitive. After all, how many incidents of haggling can be made entertaining? But Yamamatsu’s depictions of most of the people he encounters as shouting — making him think they are angry at him for no reason — is funny. (It certainly made me notice how loud people here can be.) The right to left reading of the panels takes a while getting used to. But Yamamatsu and his Indian publishers are successful in getting many of us our first taste in the mainstream manga format.
This story is as much about a funny foreigner bumbling through Delhi as it is about how an Indian city can be for unsuspecting tourists. What Stupid Guy Goes To India, published originally for a Japanese readership in 2008, should be is mandatory reading for every Paharganj hotel owner and every mandarin in the tourism ministry.
Kavita Lal is a Delhi-based writer