Gandhi: My Life is My Message (2013)
Writer: Jason Quinn
Artist: Sachin Nagar
One of the few areas of human behaviour that psychologists have paid special attention to is the tendency towards psychological or physical violence. Apparently, this really is an area where morning shows the day. If we discount potent additional criteria like cocaine, a real threat to personal safety or an exceptionally traumatic event, it seems that the chances of a quiet, gentle child transforming into an axe murderer are statistically miniscule.
No childhood in India has been written/spoken about as much as that of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. And yet, the opening pages of Jason Quinn and Sachin Nagar’s graphic novel Gandhi: My Life is My Message manage to bring something fresh to the Mahatma’s life as a child: even as a child, Mohan (or “Mania”) understood that one doesn’t need to hit someone to cause them excruciating pain, and that psychological violence was as every bit as horrific as its physical counterpart.
Mohan’s friend Mehtab lures him into eating mutton, knowing that Mohan’s parents were strict vegetarians. The immediate provocation is also interesting: Mehtab points at a battalion of English soldiers marching by and tells Mohan that they ruled India because meat-eating made them inherently stronger than Indians. Mohan confesses: “It soon began to grow on me that meat would make me strong and that if the whole country took to meat eating, the English would be overcome.” However, after Mohan eats a little mutton with great difficulty, he was “(…) haunted by terrible dreams. It seemed as if a live goat were inside my belly, bleating to get out.” Nagar’s illustration is quite brilliant here: a hallucinatory vision of a goat emerging from Mohan’s stomach, with the ghostly figures of his anguished parents hovering a little above the scene. Sometimes in comics, it’s best not to overthink your illustration options and this is one of those situations.
There’s a lot to admire about Quinn and Nagar’s book. To clip Gandhi’s long and eventful life into a smooth, coherent and fast-paced narrative is an achievement in itself. Gandhi goes a step further and brings a fly-on-the-wall feel to some truly momentous encounters: Ambedkar’s grudging respect, Tagore’s warm-hearted appreciation, King George V’s cold confrontation that ended with Gandhi making a joke about the monarch’s finery; these moments are rescued from the neutrality of history pages and made profoundly human. Nagar’s clean lines and superb sense of panelling ensure a smooth ride throughout. Gandhi’s standing or reclining figure is used as a “bridge” at the centre of a three-panel page, hinting towards the man’s seeming omnipresence in 1930s India. These visual tricks are only a small part of what makes Gandhi: My Life is My Message a very enjoyable book indeed.