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  Life   More Features  20 Mar 2018  Seeing Indira in different light

Seeing Indira in different light

Published : Mar 20, 2018, 12:13 am IST
Updated : Mar 20, 2018, 12:13 am IST

The life of former pm to be presented in graphical format in a new book.

Devapriya and Priya
 Devapriya and Priya

It is quite possible that book lovers would at times secretly allow themselves be charmed by idly beautiful covers — a certain drawing or a dull colour of the background, a building or bridge or even the font of a title. Indira would fit that bill — it is a drawing of Indira Gandhi as a child on the cover, against a lighter background. The only bright colour is on her hair bow. And the red font on the authors —Devapriya Roy and Priya Kuriyan.

Devapriya wrote and Priya illustrated a book on the only woman Prime Minister India has had. It was Karthika’s idea, they both say. Karthika, editor at Westland Publications, put the two of them together. Devapriya calls it a kind of arranged marriage and Priya says it worked because they didn’t end up killing each other. Priya who shuttles between Bengaluru and Kochi would travel to Delhi where Devapriya is and together they would go to the places Indira had spent her life and times —Parliament, the Swaraj Bhavan and Anand Bhavan in Allahabad where Indira grew up.


“There are two elements in the book — one is the biography which is entirely graphical, the other is a fictional story about a young girl called Indira Thapa, her teacher Reema Das and an artist Priyadarshini (or Piya) who is creating this graphic biography,” Devapriya, much-loved author of ‘The Vague Woman’s Handbook’ and ‘The Weight Loss Club’, two humorous quirky novels. Priya was full of doubts to begin with. What she knew about Indira Gandhi was very basic. But then Devapriya suggested a few books to read and she realised there was more to Mrs. Gandhi that what was told to us. “I thought she was very cool. She had a very difficult childhood. The way she dealt with powerful men like Richard Nixon, led an army to war in 1971… those were the highpoints in her career. Somewhere you feel, Oh god I wish she hadn’t done the Emergency. I wish that blot wasn’t there,” the illustrator says.

It has been the Emergency that she found most challenging to depict as an illustrator. “There were people who thought it was good, and others who didn’t. We wanted to put both points of view in the book. So we brought in these characters who would just discuss the Emergency. It is up to the reader to choose which team to go for. But then the mood is entirely dark in terms of the visuals, so it is pretty evident what we (as authors) think of the Emergency,” Priya adds.

Devapriya’s favourite part was Indira Gandhi’s meeting with Nixon. That comes in the Bangladesh chapter. She was also surprised by certain characteristics of the late Prime Minister. “I really admire her eye for details. She would look at menus and seating arrangements and the rooms in which foreign dignitaries were to be put up. When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir came in 1972 for the Shimla Summit, she inspected their rooms herself. She was very annoyed to find some of her own photographs hung on the wall,” the writer says.

They got the maximum help from Priyanka Gandhi, Indira’s grandchild who was 12 at the time of her death. “She was very generous, told us stories that have not appeared anywhere. Indira Gandhi’s assassination day was in fact written from the perspective of the grandchildren.” It is a lovely ending that the two authors chose for the book, even as they show moments before the assassination of 1984, without adding the gory details but slipping onto a more nostalgic moment as the grandchild remembers it.

If you count Priyanka too, there are quite a few Priyas in the book. The two authors, the central characters, and the grandchild. “Piya—the artist in the book—Devapriya made her a combination of hers and my character. It is through the prose part of the book that the book itself is made. The artist in the book is writing a book about Indira Gandhi and we are looking at the pages she created,” Priya says. Indira Thapa, the child from the fictional part is also looking. She becomes an endearing addition to a serious biography, meant for a young adult audience. But they don’t avoid any part or treat anything lightly because of that.

“Proper biographies are out there. They weren’t just accessible to children. We didn’t try to cover it up. I didn’t show her dying. But children get it. And there is something about not telling. A beauty in that too,” Priya says.

Tags: indira gandhi, anand bhavan