Sriram's graphic novel 'MAI' tells the story of a bomb blast survivor

Sriram is currently working on a graphic novel on the Kargil war veteran, Major DP Singh, popularly known as India's first blade runner.
Sriram's graphic novel 'MAI' tells the story of a bomb blast survivor
Sriram's graphic novel 'MAI' tells the story of a bomb blast survivor
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When Sriram Jagannathan first decided to work on a graphic novel, he was undecided on the story he wanted to tell. A multimedia artist who has been with an e-learning firm for the over 16 years, Sriram has always wanted to bring out graphic novels. “Having read books like Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Maus by Art Spiegelman, I’ve been wanting to create one,” says Sriram.

And so when he heard about Malvika Iyer for the first time from a friend, he was inspired by her resolute courage in the face of adversity. Malvika, a grenade blast survivor, is a motivational speaker and a social worker. Having lost both her hands when she was 13, Malvika is a disability rights activist today.

Inspired by her spirit, Sriram decided that his first graphic novel was going to be on Malvika’s story. “I wasn’t very sure if she’d agree, but Malvika was very forthcoming from the very beginning,” he shares. 

Malvika Iyer

Around April last year, Sriram wrote to Malvika on her LinkedIn page, hoping to make her acquaintance. He was about to lose hope when he hadn’t heard back from her for close to a month. When she finally did get in touch, the two began discussing over Skype, spending a couple of hours every day for about a month.

Sriram shares that it was the mother-daughter bond, the one that helped her sail through difficult times, that he wanted to focus on in his story. “If you’ve seen the cover, the pattern seen on it is the same design that’s on her mother’s dupatta. On the day she was taking her to the hospital, Malvika’s mother wiped her blood with this very same dupatta. She treasures the dupatta even today,” says Sriram.   

Therefore, Sriram also met Malavika’s mother in Chennai. “I had a bit of an apprehension, trying to get them to go through those traumatic days. I later heard that her mother broke down after I left,” he says. The graphic novel MAI, named after her nickname, focussed on Malavika’s achievements and spoke of her bond with her mother.

“There are two instances of which she’s mighty proud. The time when she scored 100 in math and science during her tenth boards, preparing for it in just three months, and the time she met former President APJ Abdul Kalam. These are two major events I focussed on in the book as well,” shares Sriram.

In the end, things turned out great for Sriram with many appreciating the book. “While I had targeted the book for ages 13 and above, the medium and the story made it possible for eight and nine-year-olds to like it as well. Interestingly many mothers, some above the age of 60, liked it too,” shares Sriram.

The biggest feedback, however, came from Malvika’s mother, who wrote, “Sriram was a stranger for Malvika and me a year back! But today I feel he was traveling with us in our life’s hardships. He has portrayed Malvika’s character exactly!” on the book’s online shop page on Amazon. 

“I grew up reading books like Tinkle, TinTin, and Asterix. In a way, comics and graphic novels lead you to pick up bigger novels and literary pieces,” says Sriram adding, “While we have a better market for it in the West and in Japan, India is yet to explore it to its fullest.” He also adds, “The way I see it, the publishers will have to create the market for graphic novels so more people come forward to try it, thereby creating good demand.”

Sriram Jagannathan 

Sriram’s working method was one with unique plans and restrictions. “I wanted to keep the page count to 100, to signify her 100 marks. Also, I wanted the story to flow between two pages and not get carried over. The panels on any two pages would be self-contained. It was quite a challenge to work around these mandates,” he says with a chuckle adding, "However, keeping it brief, conveying the most with very little words was my biggest challenge."

The book was launched online on April, close to a month after Malvika was awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar, the Highest Civilian Honour for Women for outstanding contribution to women’s empowerment by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind. 

Sriram is currently working on a graphic novel on the Kargil war veteran, Major DP Singh, popularly known as India's first blade runner. “I’ve just started working on this. I’m co-authoring this book along with an associate. We hope to bring out this book early next year,” says Sriram.

So does he prefer writing on real-life heroes, rather than fictional heroes? “Well, I haven’t looked at it like that. We’ve got such good, inspiring stories all around us. I wanted to utilise that,” he finishes. 

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