Beyond the man we call Mahatma was a young Gandhi whose early life was full of the same vices and virtues as ours is. Eating, smoking, having a time of our life and being somewhat brash. But just when did the god-like Gandhi start emerging in Mohandas? What was his transformation led by? When did the wisdom arrive? An insight into Gandhi’s early years lies in Janhavi Prasada’s new book. It’s a graphic novel that’s wants to connect Gandhi to the masses. To put the spotlight on his realities and reverence.

Janhavi, who is also at the Jaipur Lit Fest, speaks to us about her inspiration, the growing awareness of the graphic novel genre, and what it means to live the Gandhian way.

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Why Gandhi and the idea behind the book?

I had read his autobiography in school, and couldn’t go past the first 4 chapter. I remember picking it up again when I was around 28 or 29 and at that time it really held me. It was tough to read, but the story was so riveting, that I wanted to know more. I was gobsmacked. I had thought that Gandhi was almost god like while growing up, but I realised that he was a rather ordinary man with ordinary whims and fancy. He smoked, ate meat, and even went with his friends to a brothel.

Millions of people like me are forced to read about him, but we don’t know the real man. So I thought that there needs to be a book where his story is simplified.

There are Gandhians Around the World!

Before the book, I set about travelling to different parts of India, and around the world to find living Gandhians. I was really surprised- Gandhi was revered much more outside India, than within it- and it felt heart breaking. We don’t realise what we have, and the power of the man and his philosophy.

 I had thought that Gandhi was almost god like while growing up, but I realised that he was a rather ordinary man with ordinary whims and fancy. He smoked, ate meat, and even went with his friends to a brothel.

I met people from all walks of life who followed his philosophy. In London, a homeless man, who was selling Big Issue magazine on the curb, told me that he had gone to jail, and it was Gandhi’s philosophy that helped him reform himself. I met another American whose 13 year old son was shot in blank range while delivering a pizza. After reading up about Gandhi, Azim the father, found it within himself to forgive his son’s murderer.

There were so many people who revered him. When I came back , I was determined that the book needed to come out.

Who is the audience for the book?

I want this book to reach as many young adults as possible. I feel that character building is weak in India. I want the book to help them think about basic values of being truthful. It doesn’t have to be huge, it an be small, like saving water while brushing your teeth. Everyone can learn to do their small bit.

Why a graphic novel? What do you think this medium can convey?

Today’s generation has low attentions spans and no time to read a book. You have to take a holiday to read a book. I wanted to create something that you could pick up anywhere, with enjoyable visuals- people tend to remember visually. I wanted it to be brief and impactful.

Most of my reading, my knowledge is through graphic novels. I learnt about BR Ambedkar, Nazi Germany, and Iran through graphic novels. Graphic novels can be serious books that move you, and aren’t necessarily comic books as people understand them to be.

I wanted the book to have a serious tone as it is dealing with a serious subject, even the sepia colours I picked are meant to convey that this is a serious subject.

I wanted to create it as Gandhi would have liked it.

Tales of young gandhi
Source: HarperCollins

What was it like working with your illustrator, and the process of transforming your ideas from words to pictures?

My illustrator [Uttam Sinha] was great. I also have background of filming, I was a TV news producer, so I knew how to write a script for a graphic format. I wrote out the script with every camera angle in mind,where the sun is coming from,  what the characters’ body languages would be, where they would be seated. Everything was put to paper,

We worked on a number of styles for the book as well. I did not want it to be synthetic looking, like so many other illustrations are, but wanted rough textures and rough lines.

This book took 6 years, and I am glad it took it so much time. You cannot write everything in one go. Every writer and illustrator has their moods.

Can you tell us more about your activism?

Though my activism has taken a back seat the past few years, I try and promote Gandhian values in children by using media and technology.  I give them mediums of photography, audio, text, and video and ask them to use any medium to express an idea or thought.

Everyone knows the values of truth and integrity, but may not follow them consciously. Everyone has a Gandhi within themselves- this way of life is basic to everyone. It is common sense. It is simple.

Also Read: Meet Writer and Gender Specialist Antara Ganguli

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