I’ve been trying to figure out why I read books for a long time. As a kid, I was always sure I wanted to study English ( which is good since I’d never have made the cut-offs for any other subject) and all the number-crunching science students in the family would sniffily say to me, “But isn’t that just reading story books?” Which, of course, it is. But it isn’t just any story book, is it? If it’s a good story book then the story becomes real as you read it, with every word and comma. Authenticity is key to making the reader believe and it’s all in the details.
That’s my attempt at sounding like a cool undergraduate professor and validating what I did after reading Kari. The graphic novel is the unsteady toddler in the family of Indian literature, which is better than being the wanker (this is what the Indian novel in English is fast growing up to be). There aren’t that many graphic novels coming out to begin with, even though you’d think a book with pictures would be the most apt thing for a population that seems to have an Attention Deficit Disorder. So the fact that Harper Collins published Amruta Patil’s Kari is worth cheering for. The fact that they published it on thick paper and did equal justice to the density of the black lines of Patil’s drawings and her occasional touches of vivid colour makes the publishers small-scale heroes in this world where niche is a bad word unless it’s made up of people who can afford Porsche and Louis Vuitton. This, however, is not a book review.
In one little frame, Patil’s protagonist Kari turns to a friend and tells her the toilet paper thing isn’t working. Her friend admonishes her for not being prepared with necessary equipment at the time when menstruation is expected. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to show in terms of characterisation – absentmindedness, recklessness, a high threshold for gore? – but there was only one thing that kept bouncing off the emptiness inside my cranium: Toilet paper, really? Does it make a difference if you use cheap toilet paper because that is less absorbent? How long can that actually last you? Have Whisper and Tampons been fleecing me for more than a decade because they didn’t want me to find out about the multifarious possibilities of Jackson toilet paper?
Serendipitously, Aunty Flow came visiting the next day itself (this is how my uterus reacts to reading about a lesbian protagonist) and I reached for the toilet paper. I also wore white. If I was a character in a graphic novel, this is the detail the novelist would have added to signify idiocy. Anyway, the point is, for about 18 hours of bloodletting, I relied on toilet paper, inspired by Kari. Not just that, I made use of a range of toilet paper, thus proving that my scientist grandfather’s gene hasn’t entirely lost it’s way in my DNA’s double helix. Despite being clad in flimsy white cotton, I’m happy to report there were no embarrassing splodges (that happened after I abandoned the experiment and returned to usual equipment and a navy blue skirt) . Full marks to Ms. Patil for authenticity. The cheaper toilet paper worked better because I was less petrified of it … ahem wilting like the super absorbent expensive TP. Changes had to be undertaken frequently which made the whole process a darn sight more hygienic, I suspect. It was pretty comfortable as well, once you get past the basic oddness of having a wad of paper between your legs. I should have tried the absorbing quality of newsprint. Soaking up bloody discarded bits sounds like the perfect use for The Times of India.