Indian by Choice by Amit Dasgupta

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Indian by Choice by Amit Dasgupta

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A young man leaves Chicago for the country of his origins, India. His feelings of alienation change as - wouldn't you believe it - he hates it, but begins to respect what it has to offer. A polemic disguised as a graphic novel.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 136 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Wisdom Tree
ISBN: 978-8183281362

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Mandy is forced by circumstance to fly from his lifelong home in Chicago to India to represent his family at a wedding. He hates it. The Indians on the flight are brash, noisy, unmannered. The city he arrives in is a sprawling, noisy, polluted, impoverished mess. Everywhere people think Mandy is a daft name and he should have stuck to his name of birth, Mandeep. But he is American by choice, and finds nothing appealing about the prospect of four weeks in New Delhi.

Until of course he gets a nice, warm welcome, and - once the awkwardness of the wedding being an arranged marriage is over - gets shown round by a lovely young female relative. He sees the dichotomy in India - the bustle, the poor, huddled masses, the futuristic stores with the latest gadgetry set no real distance from the mass tourist spots, which he realises are ancient tombs for the forgotten, each and every one. Eventually, the month visit still leaves him bewildered, but with a different outlook - and leaves us with a payoff we saw coming a mile away.

A lot of the script of this book is just dreadful. The handy relative has swallowed a guidebook, and no-one speaks realistically. Mandy's thought-bubble, on seeing the Taj Mahal - This breathtaking symbol of eternal love seems to have a life of its own that leaps out of the marble. Mandy, on seeing a gadget shop - Mobile Phones, IPods, Mp3 players of so many brands!!! I say, Gurinder, never thought you could get all this stuff in India! Really cool!

The gist of the book soon boils down to a polemic - India great, disparaging India and India-ness bad. Thus a young student he meets will never risk moving to the USA, as there nobody of his colour could ever reach the top in his career. No inverse of this is even allowed to be considered. (The caste system was never invented, by the way.) Mandy has never seen politicised university students before, as he prefers his college days to be spent on beer, girls and the game. India has trips to beaches, diversity, pride on its national day, Bollywood on German TV... It must be perfect.

Of course it isn't, and the book tries to suggest that. Corruption is mentioned several times, and a visit to Ghandi's home while assassinated leaves us with the regretful taste that his ideology has been too much forgotten. But again there is failure. Twice at least Mandy reports on seeing incredible poverty, and nowhere is this shown. We get a hint of the bustle of the city in some of the pictures, but beyond computer-generated colours all over, the life of India, the sounds, smells, tastes and textures, are nowhere to be found.

The presentation of this diatribe as a graphic novel is almost completely a let-down. The cover blurb suggests the added email asides are unique, when all they do is make one wish to contact googlemail and ask if they knew their design was being purloined with no credit. The Photoshopped snaps show up the crude black line and bland pastels of the backgrounds. The letterer jumps out with his crude, blocked boxes.

You may counter my criticism with the fact I know next to nothing to India or Indian issues, but I've been here in Leicester on Sikh parade days, wondering why the stalls giving free food to all-comers as their faith requests were doling out packs of western popcorn and other sweets, when the many alternatives would have been infinitely better. This book shows the virtues in the old-fashioned Indian lifestyle - arranged marriage - multiple-family households - and points somewhat to ways to improve the sub-continent to provide the superpower of the future it so wants to be, but with the formulaic plotting, dreadful script and naive artwork, will convince few, and appeal to fewer.

It is only with regret that I report that from my Western eyes, this book is unbalanced, artless and a failure. I must thank those responsible for my opportunity to see a review copy.

Modern life in Asia, in graphic novel form, can be done well, and has - witness Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle, which we can recommend to those with an interest.

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Buy Indian by Choice by Amit Dasgupta at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Indian by Choice by Amit Dasgupta at


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