Monday, November 29, 1999

Toxic trysts

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Heavy, bland, insipid—these words pop up whenever one even attempts to address social sector literature. Though they might deal with issues that affect our very existence, these books mostly don't receive a second glance. But that's not the case with Our Toxic World: A Guide to Hazardous Substances in our Everyday Lives, a graphic book that discusses environmental issues staring us in the face on a daily basis.The book has been conceived and scripted by Aniruddha Sen Gupta while illustrations has been provided by Delhi-based illustrator Priya Kuriyan and is a project by the Environmental rights group, Toxics Link.Talking about the idea behind the book and its development, Aniruddha Sen Gupta feels this information had to be placed in the public domain in an effective manner and that is how the idea of a graphic book developed. "We thought till we don't put the information in context of people's lives, it just might not be that effective. Everyone can't be an activist. The whole point is about accessibility. If you look at the content in the book, it sure is heavy. So, to invite and urge the reader to read it, we had to make it accessible," he says.Kuriyan explains how graphic narratives can take a message forward effectively. "Illustrations have the freedom to put things into perspectives and bring it as close to reality as possible, which might be too difficult to achieve in a photograph or film," she says.This book revolves around the Sachdeva household in Delhi, representative of the enormous middle class of the country. It brings to light their daily tryst with toxic substances and pollution and tries to provide answers to them. Kuriyan concurs as she herself saw a great change in the way she looked at these issues after the project. "The bigger picture is that small changes in people's life can help things around," she says.The book is so structured that each chapter focuses on an environmental issue and links it to the Sachdevas and the problems they face in their daily lives due to these issues. The approach is quite simple and the message is delivered loud and clear and without any confusion—thanks to the illustrations that lend further comprehension to the script.Another interesting aspect of the book is that it freely takes pot-shots at some of the things that are mostly considered to be symbols of India's growth story. The list includes the Delhi Metro as well as the Tata Nano, with the script hinting at the environmental damage they would be and already are leading to. So, was it a deliberate effort or an obvious component of the script?"It came naturally to the story. There's a certain way the majority thinks and there is of course the truth that goes beyond that perception. People don't really examine these issues as it becomes a part of the overall development story. The full picture never comes to the fore. We should be able to take a comprehensive view of situations around us," says Sen Gupta.Sen Gupta feels "A lot can be done with the book such as translations in regional languages, or 12 separate chapters of the book can be produced as individual booklets or animation films." Says Kuriyan, "This book is a great example of how graphic novels can cut across various genres. The popularity of graphic books and novels is on the rise and they have a potential market."

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