A few weeks ago, Arjun Jassal, 28, went to a party where he realised his friends were ignoring him. When he asked if there was anything wrong, he was told, “You don’t look at us as people anymore. We’re just material for your book!”
Touché. His friends had a point. In the last year, Jassal and his childhood friend Aazar Anis, had milked every party they’d attended to source content for their Instagram-enabled online graphic novel, Delhi Hectic.
“This city is not like the one I grew up in,” says Anis. “It has become cold and detached.” Jassal felt the same way. He moved back to Delhi in 2011 after 10 years of hopping in and out and realised he no longer felt at home.
Their graphic novel was conceived as an experiment to find a sense of belonging or a connection with Delhi. It seeks to rediscover and celebrate a city that has become ‘alien’ to its residents. The friends made it their mission to attend every possible event they were invited to in the past year so that they could meet as many people as possible. The conversations and observations those excursions resulted in provided ample fodder for Delhi Hectic.
The novel (it’s a work in progress) has seven episodes (chapters) with 13-15 slides in each. Each slide features an Instagram photograph with text imposed on it. The themes covered are varied: parties, history, migration, trends and a nostalgic look at culture.
The beauty of the novel lies in the way it portrays the different people who live in Delhi. There’s the guy with a jhola at an ’80s party who is unhappy because the ‘80s were a bad time for India, the girl with heels that make her look ‘aspirational’, the slim and obviously wealthy woman with “Michelle Obama arms” who believes Biharis are forcing their culture on Delhiites, the eunuch couple who would break up fights and the author who likes to write about liberated, modern young women — “who are non-traditional, want to drink, party and have sex”.
The novel reveals a lot about its creators too. There’s contempt at a book launch party (“enough to create a fucking blackhole”) and cynicism about summer trends like the rage against corruption (“pay the cop when you jump the light on your way to the protest”).
“We have a web comic format, releasing different episodes (chapters) every week. The advantage of this medium is the responses are instantaneous,” says Jassal. Each chapter has already garnered over 3,000 views with people actively sharing them on social media. The reactions are varied — youngsters telling them they stole the idea from their heads, people suggesting new topics to write about, and awkward moments when friends recognise themselves in the book.
When faced with the dreaded “Were you talking about me” question at parties, Jassal and Anis waffle. It works. “Delhi Hectic may be about giving the city a voice, but the behaviour of people isn’t just limited to the city,” says Anis. “That’s what makes it special.”