As a child when we were made to read Ramayana and Mahabharata, clearly the fascination lasted just enough to get us the necessary marks. Years later, I picked up Mahabharata on my own volition. Ramayana never fascinated me as much. I read it with much more interest, and it was then that I also learned that both epics have been retold innumerable times with certain 'variations' put in every time the author changed.
Author and graphic novelist Vikram Balagopl takes up one of the many 'variations' with Simian - a graphic novel in three parts. Balagopal's Hanuman and Bhim come face-to-face, the two sons of wind god Vayu. One of the renditions of the epic did already have these two meet in the forest, and much like what has already come to be - the two sons, from two epics, discuss war, life and then some.
The first two parts of Simian were published in March 2014 and the third part is awaited. The graphic novel bagged the Best Graphic Novel of the year 2014 at the Comic Con India. So, clearly, when the news of Balagopal's new novel - Savage Blue - came in, the excitement was obvious (we are still waiting for the third part of Simian though!).
Savage Blue is the story of Akila, who disappears when she was 10. Twenty years later she suddenly reappears and slips back into her only friend from school - Shyam's life. Ten years ago, Shyam had disappeared with Akila into the same surreal universe where she spent 20 years flitting in and out. Shyam returned, she didn't. But she's back now and she has a lot to show him.
Balagopal takes you on a trip through universes separated by water, filled with strange creatures and even stranger connections to other realms.
While Balagopal pointed out that he just chose to draw the cover illustration for the book (more about this later) - Savage Blue gives you the sense of realms drawn out in front of your eyes. It is that easy to imagine it all.
We caught up with Balagopal for a quick chat about Savage Blue. Here's what he had to say -
Jhinuk Sen (JS): After Simian, how did Savage Blue come to be?
Vikram Balagopal (VB): I've been developing Savage Blue for years, but began work on it while I was doing Simian. Simian took a long time to complete because of various factors, so Savage Blue was pushed back though I was dying to get at it.
JS: What made you decide to move away from the graphic novel and write a novel instead? Or was that always the plan?
VB: I don't plan my stories that way. I love doing graphic novels and getting the Best Graphic Novel of the Year award for Simian at Comic Con India was a huge encouragement and I'm so grateful for that. In my mind, the story of Simian worked best as a graphic novel, and Savage Blue works best as a novel. It's all about the stories.
JS: The world you created where Akila gets trapped seems very similar (description wise) to the world you illustrated in the Simian (do tell me if I am wrong) - was this deliberate?
VB: I honestly didn't notice any similarity, but that's what is so great about a novel - every reader will see something different in it. Unlike Simian, which is the Ramayana from Hanuman's point of view, Savage Blue shifts between Delhi and multiple worlds. It is a contemporary fantasy adventure with a romantic relationship between a man and a woman at the heart of it.
JS: Savage Blue seems to be a novel you can make into a graphic novel - any plans of that?
VB: I had always intended for Savage Blue to be a novel. It worked best for the structure I had in mind. I also wanted the reader to have their own picture of Akila. I have my own idea of what she looks like and it's never one person's face. That's why I covered her face when I did the front cover illustration.
JS: Between a graphic novel and a novel - which one is easier and why?
VB: They each come with their own unique pros and cons. Again, that will be subjective to each illustrator and writer. In my experience, they're equally difficult in different ways, but what's important is always the story. You can have the most beautifully illustrated graphic novel in the world, but if the story is weak it might as well be a picture-book.
JS: What made you write a story like Savage Blue - where did you draw your inspiration from?
VB: I wanted to express what I drew on the front cover. Her body twists as she pushes back and fights to break free. Every one of us knows what it is to feel trapped by some seemingly indomitable force in our lives that keeps us down through no fault of our own. It can come in many forms, like family pressure or strangling debt or tradition or discrimination or exploitation. I wanted to write about a character's struggle to break free because we are all in that struggle. Akila represents the strength of the women in my life.
JS: What other book have you planned next?
VB: I'm taking a short break before I plan my next move. At the moment I'm thrilled because I've begun to get feedback from Savage Blue readers.