In 2000, when B Singh and P Singh (related then by phonetics and bodily fluids; now by marriage, I think), took on the charge of editing the St Stephen’s College yearbook, they roped in a third Singh – Parismita – and created, in my opinion, the best yearbook the college has produced in decades. It was also the first time the hardcore Lit. student in me realised words really could be totally superfluous. The 300-pager was crammed with forgettable text but preciously doodled upon by Parismita, known as Paras to her friends in college (of which I wasn’t one. I think I’ve said about 5 sentences to her in two years but it’s weird to call her Parismita because no one called her that except the professors). The neat little cartoons were unmistakably Paras’. She had a very distinct style of drawing figures even then – they had a feeling of puppets with long limbs and clean angular lines but she drew into every freckle oodles of expression. Using black and white, her work had the smoothness and stark contrasts of traditional block prints (the Japanese ones, even though there’s no similarity in subject). Her funny-faced creations had their own stories to tell and they were clever, cheeky and truthful. Ever rebellious, Paras gave the strongly misogynist college a gangly girl for a mascot. Rah rah rah!
I don’t know what Paras’ debut novel, due to be released this year, is about because I haven’t the faintest where she is or what she’s up to other than being a graphic novelist. It seems, however, that there are far more stories about St. Stephen’s College in Parismita Singh’s black and white world than she let on in the college yearbook. I don’t know if Like Cleopatra, the one work of hers that I found online, is a true story. It could be and while I don’t know Cleopatra, I know a lot of the other people in Paras’ black-lined world. The process of finding it almost felt like the episode she recounts in LC, where a watchman desperately tries to break down a door. He kept banging on the door; I kept clicking on Google.
Paras must have shot to fame when the yearbook came out but I doubt too many of us thought this super-intelligent English honours student would end up being a graphic novelist which has suddenly acquired the aura of coolness. Then again, Paras probably always was on the cutting edge of cool. Her blog calls her stuff “comics” and I wonder if it’s a conscious rejection of the sombre intellectualism that the term “graphic novel” carries. In college, Paras had a Sphinx-like air about her, knew her Nietzsche and looked like she read Rilke for fun. She also had a wicked sense of humour and was rather gorgeous. Now, it seems she’s a comic book writer telling tales of the world she has watched with those “er… small eyes” (from her blog; I know something about political correctness, I’ve been to graduate school).
Till some time back, graphic novels were considered to have none of the gravity of a regular novel. But, to quote Galadriel from The Fellowship of the Ring, the world is changing. And fast, at that. Graphic novels are now considered funky and at least 4 men I know have started working on a graphic novel because they think it’ll get them girls. I’m not sure whether guys find female graphic novelists hot. I suspect they find them a little scary because many men imagine they’re going to show up in one of the works, easily recognizable because it is after all a graphic novel. God forbid she find something other than an ex- to write about, like Paras has.
There’s only the sketchiest of details about Paras on the web. Unfortunately, Paras is very serious about retaining the Greta-Garbo air I remember her for in college. Aside from a few scattered references and one story in The Little Magazine, there’s little of her I found online. She had a blog but hasn’t updated it in years and she has systematically taken her drawings off. She also calls her work “comics”. Is Paras past needing the validating coolness of catchphrases like “graphic novel”? Probably. What I do know is that Parismita Singh is going to release her graphic novel (or is it a comic book?) later this year. She’s won fellowships to develop her graphic novel and, according to Khoj, she doesn’t accept e-mails. She is based in Delhi and Assam. After reading Like Cleopatra, I wish I hadn’t been so tongue-tied around her and had said something more memorable than, “Your drawings in the yearbook are so cool, Paras.” I hope she has a book launch in Mumbai.
(All images from Like Cleopatra by Parismita Singh.)