The first Bhagat Singh graphic novel unveils its riddle

Ikroop Sandhu’s work, the first graphic novel on Bhagat Singh, tries to demystify the character of the revolutionary

Ikroop Sandhu’s work, the first graphic novel on Bhagat Singh, tries to demystify the character of the revolutionary

On the last day of her artist residency at Preet Nagar Ladi, near Amritsar, in March 2019, illustrator-author Ikroop Sandhu (40) was offered the opportunity to work on a graphic novel about Bhagat Singh. Yoda Press editor Arpita Das had piqued Ikroop’s curiosity about the revered ideology of the revolutionary. . Although much has been written about Bhagat Singh, he still remains an enigma. Ikroop’s predicament was primarily to demystify his character—while constantly connecting the narrative to his uncompromising ideology, the issue of violence, and the depiction of machismo—through words and art.

With only four of his original photographs for reference, a few scholarly papers, his own writings, and an array of literary works about him, Ikroop’s three-year journey to discover Bhagat Singh culminated in Inquilab Zindabad: A Graphic Biography of Bhagat Singhthe first-ever graphic novel about the freedom fighter (published by Simon & Schuster India in association with Yoda Press).

“When Das approached me, I was already reading a British gazette published in 1919. Throughout the residency also, I was reading about the state and had made a pamphlet on Punjab. Das left me not only the offering but also a book on Bhagat by S Irfan Habib. I read it, then I read a few other books and articles. I was deeply inspired by Chris Moffat’s account of him and that is reflected in my book as well. Strangely, I haven’t found a single book on Bhagat written by an Indian woman,” begins Ikroop, who lives in Dharamshala.

In almost every book she read, Ikroop encountered the image of a hyper-masculine hero, which she says Bhagat was not. “I wanted to bring a woman’s point of view. None of the violence interested me. I was more interested in his ideology. Bhagat was against erratic acts of violence,” she says. To elaborate on his point, Ikroop states that his book does not show that Bhagat regrets everything he has done. His book includes excerpts from his writings. “My intention was to make people realize that Bhagat had a strong mind. He was smart. His plan was not blind violence. There was an intellectual rigor in everything he did,” she explains.

A greater challenge was to recreate the era which reflected Bhagat’s ideological evolution. Among the four original photos of Bhagat, one showed him as a child wearing a small turban; in the other he poses with his college theater group, the third was taken when he was first arrested, and in the fourth he dons a hat. “His pictorial accounts make you oscillate between two perspectives: one where you perceive him as a Sikh icon wearing a turban and the other where he appears as a communist icon with a hat. In fact, he was all of those things. I think that today we must understand that everyone must go through an evolution in their own journey of being. In my book, Bhagat stops wearing a pagri after his first arrest.

To ensure his art reflects the era in which the book is set, Ikroop deliberately chose to steer clear of colors and instead used pencil sketches. “The illustrations on the first pages show Bhagat’s youth. They are drawn in pencil and are raw. Subsequently, when Bhagat grows older, the illustrations become sharper, the inking darkens. His eyes become sharper. At the end of the book there is a lot of gray as most of his time was then in prison. I avoided making it look like a cartoon because it’s not a comic,” she says.

Ikroop believes that the graphic novel form has come a long way in the last decade. “The variety of stories has increased, books like Sarnath Bannerjee’s Harappa Files at Malik Sajid Munnuto the newly launched comic book anthology Long form to the webcomics available on Bakarmax, There is something for everyone. The idea that comics are for children is also changing. I think we’ll see more diverse voices and content from creators and I’m very excited to see the future of comics in India,” she concludes.

Irene B. Bowles