Thursday, May 07, 2015

Stupid Guy Goes To India - A Graphic Novel

Stupid Guy Goes To India by Yukichi Yamamatsu is my first manga. While my desire to read manga grew in direct proportion to my increasing engagement with Japanese doramas and films, most of which are based on manga, I did not know where to begin. By this time, I had even forgotten my excitement at seeing this book at a Comic Con in Delhi, some years back.


So, I was justifiably thrilled to see it at my library. With my new strategy for catching up on reading, including a self-imposed challenge, I finished this graphic account yesterday.

It is hard to say if I would have enjoyed it as much had I not been such a fan of J doramas and films. Perhaps I would still be enchanted with it as my recent search is for books from other voices.

Even today, most people, the world over, read "White". Most best-sellers, most books which get some exposure, are either by authors of European origin or have been endorsed by bodies in lands with European origin population majorities.

Of late, I'm on the lookout for authors outside this circle and for accounts by non-White authors which explore other non-White cultures. One reason for this is that we have been brainwashed to think that we, the victims of racism, are the most racist. It is pointed out that we behave most intolerantly to the other. This is not so well borne out by traveler accounts from among our many nations which pre-date colonialism.

Published by Blaft Publications Private Limited in association with Tranquebar, this 230 page book reads from right to left and from back to front. That, in itself, made this a gourmet experience.

Author Yukichi Yamamatsu, was already a recognized name in the world of Japanese manga when he first came to India. The result of this visit is his autobiographical account, first published in Japanese in 2008.

Translator Kumar Sivasubramanian, an Indian-born Canadian, who has translated over sixty volumes of manga to English,  has done justice to the incredible task at hand.

The cover, it seems, has been changed to avoid the usual Hindu fanatic uproar.

In 2004, 56 year-old mangaka, Yukichi Yamamatsu, who, very uncharacteristically for a person from Japan, cannot even use a cell phone, comes to India to introduce us to mangas by getting them translated into Hindi and selling them. This book is about the trials and tribulations that he faces in this Herculean task. He has scant funds and an even scanter knowledge of either English or Hindi. He has diabetes and some terrible bowel condition.

Called Indo e Baka ga Yattekita, the outcome of that visit was translated into English three years later by Blaft Publication, in Chennai, as Stupid Guy Goes to India.


His irreverent humour which does not even spare himself peppers the book. Delhi and its denizens are described most mercilessly, yet with incredible affection. Right from the word go, he is swindled, but he learns to bargain fiercely, travels in all forms of public transport, gets lost and meets many bizarre adventures in his quest.  

The graphic narrative follows his search for a place to live, food to eat as our food is too spicy for him, locating a clean latrine when his bowel condition needs attention or buying sandals and many other mundane pursuits which turn out to be almost phantasmagorical.

And then he has to locate a translator. From landlords to auto drivers, cops to shoe sellers, he meets all kinds of typical Delhi "namoonas" (specimens). It's an education in itself to go through his struggles to find a translator, paper, to get the manga printed and to find out how and where to sell it.

Reading the many Indian reviews on this book, I smile. The slightly shocked tone shows me that they have not cut their teeth on Japanese humour.

I can imagine an Indian fuming at his representation of our typical head shakes, his "graphic is right" description of our toilets and even getting apoplectic at his depiction of his visit to a brothel.

The remarkable contrast between Japan and India comes through as he finds that Indian cello tape is not easy to peel off and otherwise handle for his purposes and other instances where perfection is not a priority in India. Obviously, he invents a cheap solution but no one will buy it just as he can find no takers for the manga.

It's soon apparent that he has done no homework for this visit, but with all the dreadful misunderstandings, he finds time to play marbles with urchins and even bet on horses.

Mostly, it's an account of all that goes wrong: a bewildering time at the airport on arrival, frustrating interactions at the first hotel he had booked into, cow dung on the streets, greedy guides and auto drivers.

The manga he's trying to get translated into Hindi and sell here is Hiroshi Hirata's Chi Daruma Kenpo (“Bloody Swordplay”), which seems fairly obscure even by world manga standards.  

All he has is a Hindi phrase-book and, for some time, a kind of guardian angel to bolster him against all sorts of mishaps in putting the translated Hindi words into the speech balloons, and delays, publishing goof-ups, the cost of paper, trouble with fonts, missing colours and oily smudges. The Samurai confronts the mighty Indian Chalta Hai.
“Aren’t Indian people interested in anything? What’s going through their minds?”
I could not put better this fine balance between his outrage and the real bonding that happens between us, the "others", than these lines from Rrishi Raote

"Indians in these drawings often look angry and appear to be shouting. The mangaka illustrates his incomprehension by showing Hindi words as little geometric symbols. But the settings, whether streetside, indoors, in a marketplace or a small businessman’s office-workshop, are closely observed and credible. One doesn’t feel the sting of an outsider’s summary judgement."

I wonder why we get hurt at his view of us. After all isn't our view of the Japanese as jaundiced? 

And I wonder why he did not head for the arty farty sections of Delhi but all my admiration goes out to him for finding the real people and coping there.

Convulsively hilarious are his attempts to make money - manga drawing classes, producing, or trying to sell little tin things to tear cellotape at Rs 10 each.

We have to admire his persistence and perseverance though he achieves nothing on this trip. Well, his six months here were not entirely fruitless as his manga did well in Japan.

And we now have a sequel.


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