Sunday, April 18, 2021

Wild Pig Mandibles and a Drawing: An Adventure in the Bay of Bengal

Once a while something good comes your way and you wonder why you have not heard of the artist before. Except that Wild Pig Mandibles and a Drawing: An Adventure in the Bay of Bengal is Amitabh Deshpande’s first book and a very laudable attempt. The title could be catchier (one cannot really tell what the story is about from it), but this a minor complaint. 

Amitabh is a software engineer from Pune, India who worked for many years in America. But he has always been writing and drawing. He recently returned to Pune and drew this story in a month and self-published it on Amazon using their Self-Publish Kindle platform. 

For a first attempt at a long form story (the book is 53 pages), Amitabh has done a good job. Based on a trip he took with friends to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India in February 2019, the story fits in well with the travelogue genre in comics. Ambitah draws in a sketchbook style using watercolors, which makes reading the story a dreamy experience. And it makes sense because Ambitabh’s travels to the island of Little Andaman is almost like a dream, one which pushed him to question his own thoughts and memories and maybe even to re-evaluate his life. I won’t spoil the ending, but things do turn slightly macabre when Amitabh encounters the pig skulls referred to in the title. It was an uneasy revealing. 

There is a poetic quality to the writing. It is easy to read, a light flow in the narrative and some interesting observations and quick turn of phrases.

The absurdity of asking the driver to reset the fare-meter didn't strike me till later. Here is the middle of the Bay of Bengal, on an island that was just a pinprick on the map, my mind brought all the suspicion and caution of urban India with me.

My favourite is right at the end:

Life throws things at you. Can’t figure it all out. Some things you keep. Some things you let go.

That is very true. People romanticized the freedom and liberation of letting go. But some things, you do want to keep and hold on to. 

I enjoy the story, but this might appeal to readers who are more familiar with the travelogue genre. Those fed on a diet of superhero comics will find it too slow. Things don’t really happen till page 13 when narrator decided to visit Little Andaman. But the first few pages set the context for self-discovery despite some typical reflections found in most travelogue comics. 

A suggestion: to have a glossary at the end of the book to help readers wrap their head around the different things, locales and islands. I had to scroll up and down the pages a few times to recall certain details. I had to google what is a dugong too. 

Ambitah has shown he is good at creating moods and evoking feelings of not wanting a leave a place, the respite one finds when traveling. I look forward to his next story.

You can order his book here.

And you can watch a video of the book here.