What drew India’s first graphic novelist, Orijit Sen, to the bustling Mapusa market in north Goa? Sen has dealt with a vast array of subjects, from the environmental, social and political issues surrounding the construction of the controversial Narmada dam (in his 1994 graphic novel River of Stories) to the life and philosophy of the Indian mystic, Kabir (in his contribution to the PAO: The Anthology of Comics). His Emerald Apsara, (slated to appear in the second volume of the PAO Anthology) features a monkey-capped Bengali superhero as the protagonist, a personal tribute to the ubiquitous Bengali tourist. So where does a weekly market in Goa fit into all this? “As an artist, I feel driven to reveal the Mapusa market through the process of mapping. I am excited by its richness and diversity. It is a space that accommodates everything from locally grown pumpkins, to Chinese imports and high-end electronics, crammed within a few hundred square metres in the town centre,” says Sen.
Yet, in the eye of the storm that is threatening to change the nature of the place lies the Mapusa flower market. “Earlier this year, we learned that the Mapusa municipal council plans to demolish the 50-year-old flower market building to make way for a two-storey steel and glass structure. Those who have leases on shops have been told that they will get their shops back in the new building once its ready, but the vendors all know that they will not,” says Sen. Currently, the building houses around 30 small shops dealing in a variety of traditional Goan local produce such as local breads, dry fish, coconut jaggery, traditional sweets and preserves, coconut oil, vinegar, pickles, kokum juice and flowers, of course.
Since last August, Sen, who is also the Mario Miranda Chair visiting research professor at Goa University, started the Mapusa Market Project with his students. “We have documented each and every vendor and shop, their products and skills. We’ve been making drawings, taking photographs and videos and doing interviews. I plan to collect all this data, and hope to tell the story of the flower market in an interesting, visually communicative way, and take it to the public as well as the authorities. We need to preserve a slice of Goan heritage and tradition,” says Sen, who has begun preparing sketches and storyboards.
The market is occupied almost entirely by locals selling traditional products that struggle to survive the competition from the onslaught of factory-made products. “An air-conditioned shopping mall will have exorbitant rents, automatically ruling out the possibility of small-time vendors having stalls there,” says Sen, who has begun sharing the project with the local media and on social networking sites to raise support for the market. “Their protests seem to be paying off and the demolition work which was to be started this August has been stalled for the time being. But it hasn’t been scrapped yet,” says Sen.