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Humanising the Mahatma in the pages of a graphic novel

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Tales of Young Gandhi, Janhavi Prasada’s new graphic novel, shifts focus from the public persona of Mahatma Gandhi to his formative years as a student of world politics

Tales of Young Gandhi by Janhavi Prasada
(224 pages, Harper Collins)

Review by Keith Gomes
There are two aspects which are pivotal while approaching a work of literature: form and matter. The two were proposed by Aristotle for all physical reality. But, in literature they act as means of accessing the work so as to make it more comprehensive. Matter is what the text constitutes and coveys, while form is the shape or medium it must use to convey meaning. In the case of most of literature, it is the written word that becomes the form, but in the case of some works the medium could differ from the usual. In Janhavi Prasada’s Tales of Young Gandhi, a graphic novel, the form is more complex: composit of the written word and artwork. The challenges of this form are multifarious, and can be easily neglected by most; a task that Prasada has taken on, quite bravely. Prasada’s work wishes to understand the Mahatma as an ordinary human being.
Tales of Young Gandhi takes the Mahatma (Maha= great, Atma= soul/spirit) and humanises him to the extent of making him accessible, comprehensive and demystified. Gandhi’s struggles of becoming a Mahatma are openly narrated, with utmost attempts made to maintain integrity and honesty. There is an evident effort made to stay as close as possible to how Gandhi saw his life and not how a third person, who tries to act as narrator, saw it.
The introduction of the work, which is in the form of a series of panels, where the author tries to ask her father about Gandhi, enables the reader to gain a direction and grants a purpose to the whole act of reading and visually indulging in this graphic novel. What is also worthy of acknowledgement is the fact that the author sets the introduction in terms of the contemporary state of affairs, where reality has become too “abstract and hard to grasp”, especially the problems that plague us. This sets up another important facet of the work: the story is made palpable.
Prasada’s graphic novel uses simple visuals: on white background, black marks are made to draw the characters and, over this, shadows of black and deep brown are added to provide depth. The visuals work successfully at representing the story of Gandhi. The visuals in a graphic novel act as an appendage to imagination by granting them more definition and it is this goal that is successfully met. In Gandhi’s story there are many facets which glean through brilliantly via the artwork. Matters like the locations, which range from London, South Africa to villages in India, are simple in their pictorial representation and the clothing which is of significance is represented precisely to help the reader understand Gandhi’s varying outlooks.
Tales of Young Gandhi, is in accord with Prasada’s aims to make Gandhi comprehensive, so as to make him palpable and thus inspirational. The book makes for a riveting read of an endearing Gandhi who resembles us all, but outdoes most due to his dedication to work on himself and society, always with the aim of improvement. (-The Sunday Guardian Live)


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