Savia Viegas, the author of two previous novels Tales from the Attic (2007, Saxtti) and Let Me Tell You about Quinta (2011, Penguin) has recently self published two graphic novels, Eddi & Diddi and Abha Nama. The latter, which deals with the life of a Goan Catholic college lecturer in the big and mean city of Bombay, is under review here.
For those of us who have previously enjoyed Menezes’s quaint portrayal of an eccentric Goan Catholic household, are in for a double treat, as we can now more intimately familiarize with the painter that Savia Viegas is along with her writing. This book is crafted on the lines of the namas that were produced, with much ornate finesse in the Mughal kitabkhana (royal atelier). Though its primary template is borrowed from the namas, Abha Nama goes in to reinvent the form and structure of the modern-day graphic novel (though the author claims that her work is not a graphic novel), much like Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability. With its thick and crude lines complementing bold, solid colours, Abha Nama provides two different yet mutually dependent narratives.
Let me focus first on the text. The story opens with the protagonist suffering from a heart attack and trying to stay alive in her crumbling old house as ‘[t]hat is all a cretin on the edge of life could do!’ She is delusional and sees the images of her younger self, at which point the story takes off. A young and rebellious girl, wanting to escape from her overbearing parents, Abha Dias decides to move to Bombay. To keep body and soul together as well as pay for her education, she is forced to do part-time jobs as her mother could not forever pawn her jewellery to meet her expenses.
Abha then gets a teaching position at the Raisingani College—first as a temp. and later full-time. It is here that the young (and what appears to be an idealist) Abha gets exposed to petty and parochial staff-room politics. Abha also has to negotiate and tread carefully due to the larger political currents that were being ushered in the Indian economy post 1990, a time in which this novel is set. Savia Viegas briefly hints at the commodification of education and a large part of the novel deals with how a red-carpet welcome was given to foreign exchange programmes for some believed that the ‘new ...
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