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Book review: SIMIAN by Vikram Balagopal

SIMIANStory-telling is one of the most oldest traditions of the world, a way to pass on information and ideas from one generation to another. India is a land of many tales, be it mythological, historical or general bedtime stories which grandmothers narrate to their grandchildren. Off-lately all the religious myths and stories are re-appearing in different versions like illustrations, historical fictions and graphics. In recent times, we have read many recounts of Mahabharata and journey of Lord Shiva but what was missing was the grand saga of victory of good over evil, what is known as the Ramayana. Taking cue from the very first Yug – Satyug; author, film-maker and cartoonist Vikram Balagopal has given shape to SIMIAN. It is graphic novel with various shades of black and white with little colours here and there.

In this first work by Balagopal, Hanuman takes the centre stage as a baboon and sun is the moon. Though there are little similar distractions, the novel is a classic revisit of Ramayana which stays true to its characters, though a little partial towards Hanuman, we all at some point had an inclination towards the monkey god. Balagopal’s experience as a film-maker has helped him to apply the aesthetics of cinema into the novel hence giving it a more visual appeal.

The story starts with an encounter of Hanuman and Bhima in a banana orchard. Bhima gets to know that Hanuman is his own brother, one of the greatest heroes of his time and Ram’s closest ally, and there starts a discussion on the ever-growing topic of war. Both narrate their own experiences of war. As Bhima recounts his cousins and their false ways, Hanuman reminds him that war eventually gives one two options— either to die for morals or to live compromised morality till the dying day. The book tells that our ancestors were well aware of the consequences of war but were still obsessed with it and were unable to avoid it.

Reading through the preface one can know that Vikram Balagopal has taken information from various sources such as his grandmother’s oral accounts to famous publishing and intellectual translations and finally, put them all together is his own mould. And that is what gives his story-telling an ability to induce old narrations in a very modern way. Like an old wine served in a new bottle but very beautifully. Balagopal’s boldness in story-telling can be easily gazed in the visuals of the book and his inclination towards cinema is also evident through the pages.

Raw and inventive, Simian is a look back by one of the most enigmatic characters in mythology and literature.




Text by Supriya Aggarwal

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