One of the most enjoyable things I read this weekend was Manjula Padmanabhan’s Double Talk, a collection of some of the comic strips that appeared under the same name in the Sunday Observer, Bombay, between 1982 and 1986. The strips were built around the character of Suki, a free-thinking, 20-something young woman, who, as her creator puts it, “started life as an alter-ego but soon developed a persona of her own”.
One tends to be patronising about the (lack of) with-it-ness of previous generations, about how we’re so much more clued in today than people were earlier. Which is why I was surprised to find that a comic strip like this was possible in the early 1980s; “Double Talk” is wryly irreverent (and consequently insightful) about topics like work, feminism, atheism, vegetarianism and political correctness in general, and it’s easy to see why it generated so much hate-mail (the book’s back cover includes a collage of the letters to the editor, variously accusing Padmanabhan of self-indulgence, swollen-headedness and a good many other things).
While the collection tapers off towards the end - some annoying characters, like a lovesick frog and an extraterrestrial get too much space for my liking - it’s still great fun on the whole. I also liked what the author says in her Introduction:
“Unless local strips are actively critiqued and appraised by their readers, local cartoonists will remain minor curiosities, never becoming the pop-sociologists that the best international strip cartoonists are. More than anything else, cartoonists need engaged and intelligent readers.”
It is a bit strange, this lack of quality indigenous comic strips, especially considering the large fan following here of international strips like “Calvin & Hobbes”, “Dilbert” and “Non Sequitur”. Quite likely it’s because this country has so many sacred cows that talented writer-illustrators prefer to stifle their creativity rather than risk getting into trouble with the moral police. And of course, I’m not sure how much encouragement would be forthcoming from the editors of mainstream newspapers anyway.
A final word of endorsement: Double Talk took me less than 30 minutes to get through (though of course it will be reread soon, as all good comics should be). That isn’t the best thing about the book, but it’s a major bonus where I’m concerned.
P.S. Manjula Padmanabhan’s blog is here.