Hand-drawn beasts are the star of a new book series about life in India, finds Bijal Vachharajani.
When cartoonist Ananth Shankar looks at people, he sees them not as bipeds; but as animals. When I met him (and co-author Nidhi Jaipuria) to talk about their latest book, The CrazyDesi Book!, he pronounced that I looked like a Sarus Crane to him and proceeded to describe the characteristics I shared with the bird. Then he asked me to draw a squiggle on a blank page, and the S-shaped line was turned into an elephant, sloth bear, owl and tiger, in just a few minutes. Shankar is nothing if not prolific. And this is evident in the book, a series of animal cartoons that are focused on the theme of travel.
Planned as a series, the first volume is rendered in black-andwhite by Shankar and written by Jaipuria. “Each CrazyDesi Book! is a take on a typical Indian slice of life looked at by the most unique animal characters that come alive as ‘Man’imals!” A range of characters – ‘Cow’alli, ‘Cat’reena, Yo!bra, Ratappa, ‘Woof’adar Bhai, Durga Murga, Goa‘tee’, KA Raddy and ‘Ullu’da – navigate the perilous Indian roads to narrate stereotypical travel anecdotes. The cartoon book is presented in an alphabetic manner, with each letter attributed to a word. For instance, N stands for “Naturalist”, and it talks about how “the naturalists [are] ‘pee’s-fully working at keeping our highways green!” And this is accompanied by an image of a car parked on the highway and four “naturalists” peeing on the green patches.
Each page presents questions such as environment degradation and social conduct and takes a gentle dig at some of the typical behaviour of Indian tourists. “It’s a velvet glove within an iron fist,” said Jaipuria, who has been an English teacher with Mallya Aditi International School in Bangalore for a decade, and now conducts a range of workshops for children. “The series uses an unusual style of cartoons and wit to present India back to Indians.”In many ways the book manages to do that, but we could do without the many quotation marks that are used to emphasise the obvious puns in the text, which only serves to distract from the narrative.
Shankar and Jaipuria said that the book grew out of their daily banter, which usually revolves around puns. In the book, Shankar dubs himself as Draw Dog, Jaipuria is Word Bird and the book designer Vivek Krishnappa is called Tool Toad. Travel is the first in a series for The CrazyDesi Book! Next, the authors are working on the theme of shopping.
The CrazyDesi Book, WagsintheBags, Rs1,000 for a limited-edition Collector’s Pack (set of four). Rs300 for each book. Visit wagsinthebags.comfor details.