Once upon a time in India, there was a girl who was promised a job and a better future but sold instead as a bride to a family thousands of miles away from where she lived.
With a dearth of young women in the village, she entered a world where abductions, forced marriages and enslavement were acceptable methods of propagating family trees.
And her story is fact, not fiction.
It is part of a new anthology of graphic non fiction that has brought together over two dozen Indian writers, artists and illustrators to tell such stories of life in India through comics.
“The medium of comics is fantastic for this.
It allows readers to engage with characters, locations and circumstances, as if they were doing it first hand,” said Vidyun Sabhaney, one of the editors of the anthology, First Hand.
Citing the example of Maus (Art Spiegelman), Palestine (Joe Sacco), Barefoot Gen (Keiji Nakazawa) and Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi), Sabhaney wrote in the preface, “These books have been startlingly radical for readers not just because of the medium that they use but the stories that they chose to tell.”
The project that began two years ago focuses on stories about migration and trafficking, poverty, caste and LGBT discrimination and the impact of environmental damage that often go unreported.
One powerful narrative in the book is about the young girl trafficked and sold as a bride.
“In a trafficking situation graphic illustrations are all the more useful to give the reader a sense of the remote places people are trafficked from with a different language, culture and practices to the final destination which is completely unfamiliar and traumatising,” Neha Dixit, author of the story ‘Girl Not from Madras’, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In another story, artist Ita Mehrotra explores the life of a woman she has known for a decade.
Chetan is an overworked and underpaid construction worker in India’s capital New Delhi.
“I felt through talking with her that she held a history of the city’s past that was more real than others I have read it was about how she and others actually built it from scratch,” Mehrotra said.
Field research by environmental group Chintan is the basis for E-Waste Sutra, a story about “urban gold diggers” recycling electronic waste.
With data punctuating the narrative, the story is about young boys who use their bare hands to take apart machines and women who sit with magnets to pull out iron components.
“A wise poet once said that the universe is made up of stories not atoms,” editor Orijit Sen wrote in the preface of the book, the first of a planned series.
“That line has always stayed with me as one that beautifully captures the essential paradox of truth-telling in narration.”