The Dead Tell Tales
In some ways, for those of us who have spent an entire childhood reading the adventures of Feluda by Satyajit Ray, Ghosts of Kingdoms Past (Penguin, Rs 150), Harsho’s latest graphic novel, is like going home. The Kolkata-based illustrator spins an engaging yarn about a British paranormal expert, Sir Alec Morgan, who arrives in the Bengal capital to celebrate the launch of his latest book and to look for some local ghosts, armed with a tracking device that registers paranormal activity in any location and Joga, a fast-talking guide who takes him on a tour of Kolkata’s most haunted places. Unsuccessful in finding any kind of spooky activity in the Red House of Kalighat and the Nimtala burning ghat, Morgan announces his disappointment at his book launch. A young man in the audience suggests he visit St Mary’s Cemetery.
Harsho is heavily inspired by Kolkata’s South Park Street Cemetery and St Mary’s is filled with the promise of ghosts but it is a fleeing man who piques Morgan’s interest, and a broken tombstone he has been led to. It is of a certain Sir Roger Dowler and Morgan sets off on a mission to discover more about the dead man. It takes him into the crowded intestines of the city and, as he puts together all the clues, Morgan realises that Kolkata is not bereft of ghosts and that the dead do tell tales.
At 70 pages, Ghosts of Kingdom Past is more a comic book than a graphic novel. Harsho Mohan Chattoraj, better known for his work in The Hyderabad Graphic Novel (with Jaideep Unudurti), fills the panels with such density that it takes a while to concentrate on individual elements. He is an accomplished illustrator but the crowded artwork in black-and-white robs his story of impact. It works in panels with marketplaces and crowd scenes but, on the whole, it turns on itself. Harsho has worked with colour before, to great effect, in the graphic novel format of Shirshendu Chakraborty’s Chakrapurer Chakkare in 2014. Ghosts of Kingdom Past would have benefited from colour, bringing alive Calcutta and Kolkata through the ages. Where Harsho succeeds is in the plot, it is new and familiar all at once, right after the first page has been turned.