|Narayan Debnath sketches his star character Bantul on stage during a session on Day One of the Kolkata Literary Meet; Pico Iyer chats about his writings and his travels at KLM. Pictures by Anindya Shankar Ray
A brush with humour and tales of travel starred on Day One of the Kolkata Literary Meet (KLM), held in association with The Telegraph, as part of the Book Fair.
They wield the brush to hold a mirror to society or to regale children with the exploits of heroes. For veteran comic-strip artist Narayan Debnath, cartoonist Chandi Lahiri and illustrator Debasish Deb, the brush is proverbially mightier than the sword.
This was evident at their session Boi Chitro: Bangla Sahitye Chhobir Bhumika with Tridib Chatterjee from the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, on Day One of KLM.
The nonagerian Debnath recalled how he spent his childhood sitting on the roak (ledge) of his house on Shibpur Road watching the local boys playing pranks. “When Subodhbabu of Deb Sahitya Kutir asked me to do comics I would draw upon these childhood images.”
If Debnath has regaled youngsters through the years with the exploits of Bantul, Handa-Bhonda and Nonte-Phonte, Lahiri’s pocket cartoon Tirjak added spice to the Anandabazar Patrika reader’s mornings.
Deb was visibly excited to share the stage with the two veterans. “I grew up on their work. They created a world for me. I would read and reread stories only to look at their illustrations,” he said.
Their drawings were so detailed that they even mirrored how costumes had evolved over time. “The typical parar mastaan (the local hoodlum) would be in something called drainpipe pants and zebra printed shirts,” pointed out Deb, who was influenced by the American magazine Mad and who worked with Satyajit Ray on editions of Sandesh.
The high point of the jam-packed session in the Google Dome on the Milan Mela grounds? When Narayan Debnath drew an impromptu sketch of Bantul on stage.
People and places
“Every writer’s dirty secret is that they write the same story again and again; just change the characters a bit like costumes,” revealed Pico Iyer, with a twinkle in his eyes, as he engaged the audience in an hour-long session at KLM.
Titled Pico Iyer’s Journeys, it took those in the Google Dome to the many places and people who have been a part of the travel writer-author’s life.
Sample this: “As soon as he meets you, he would suddenly pull your hair, tickle you, and make you feel like an old friend. When he met me, he bowed so deep, I felt like I am the eminence rather than him.” That’s Iyer about the Dalai Lama!
If the chat with journalist Sandip Roy began with Dalai Lama, who Iyer has known for years, it went on to a variety of anecdotes that drew peals of laughter from readers armed with his last book The Man Within My Head — on Graham Greene — waiting to be autographed.
When it came to a Q&A session, the British-born, California-raised, Japan-based author was asked everything from the Greene novel he would save if his collection was getting burnt to his first 36 hours (the formative time he said he needs to develop an impression of a foreign city or place) in Calcutta and the impression of the city. While the first question drew the answer, The Quiet American, the second one named St. John’s Church and Park Street Cemetery as he hadn’t quite been in the city for those many hours.
Signing off, the man on the move had another one-liner ready: “I am a traveller at heart, but I travel mostly on my desk or in the books.”