Sarnath Banerjee snips history, nitpicks the present, dips them in sarcasm and release them as books.
Sarnath Banerjee delivers his punchlines crackling-ly dry and gets us cackling. He snips history, throws in a collage of the present, juxtaposes his interpretations, and re-knit these montages to tell his tales. He nitpicks on society and its idiosyncracies, weaves in his brand of deadpan humour and has us drawling 'how droll'. He frames his black and white pictures with bold colour borders and fills them with water coloured figures. He sketches line figures in colour photos. He jumps from one style of drawing to another. One idea to another. He defines the word segue. And then redefines it.
Out pops a bigger picture, crystal clear, from the chaos. Read Sarnath Banerjee's The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers to get the drift of what we are getting at. And then his Harappa Files. You can skip Corridor, if you want. But, by then, don't blame us if you get hooked into his brand of storytelling.
In real life, too, Sarnath Banerjee is a lot like his tales. He chases after million thought bubbles. One day, he is in London, working on 'losers' – or 'non-performers', to put it politically correct – for his latest project, a series of 48 artworks commissioned by the Frieze Foundation for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. And the next day, he's in Berlin, commenting on his bourgeois neighbourhood, researching on right wing. He might have gone to Kinshasa 'to do a graphic thesis on child-soldiers and sorcerers in Central and West Africa'. But half way through, another bubble popped up, highlighting the colourful African politics. He was 'fascinated' enough to want to 'create art-work for an African election'. So out went the book.
That he is a nomad, is obvious when you read his books. Urban chaos, obviously, fuels Sarnath Banerjee. His ideas always come wrapped in a piece of a city that he had lived in at some point or the other. Apparently, if one city tires him, he gives himself the challenge of getting to know a new one. His mind, he tells you, thrives from the 'inner workings and the chaos of everyday life'. But he denies any pre-meditative approach to chaos in his books. He says while he is drawing he is having 'conversation with subjects' and invisible factors guide him. Things, apparently, 'unveil itself'.
You think he would laugh with you when you point out the wannabe hipsters in Delhi's gentrified niches. He, after all, had Che Guevara swinging like Tarzan in Congo in one of his artworks - while the world wears him as t-shirts to proclaim its political awareness. But he swears by 'some real people' living in Delhi. While the whole world goes gaga over Berlin's bohemianism, he laughs at the 'hipsters' in Berlin and tells you that they are 'bringing the place down'. He claims – in all earnest – Madras is the best city in India (and it is Madras – and Calcutta – for him, the politicians can take Chennai and Kolkata elsewhere.) He seeks solitude in the chaos of Calcutta, telling you that it is like looking for 'bhelpuri in Berlin'. And when he finds it in the quiet neighborhood of west Berlin, he says the 'dull silence brings out the beast' in him sometimes.
In a world that is 'subservient of objects', he seeks a living that makes sense to him. So, while India's graphic novel scene is getting hotter-than-Delhi, he refuses to make hay. Instead, he leaves to another city seeking, this time, to learn from the Weimer Republic, 'to understand the root of middle class right wing behaviour, found universally, but perhaps more in India'. No, it may not necessarily be a book.
And of course, he is, what he calls himself: 'wonky'. And unapologetically so. There is no way The Barn Owl and Harappa Files would exist in this world, otherwise.