Wednesday 1 July 2020

Debasmita Dasgupta: It’s Time to Tell the Truth to our Children

Debasmita Dasgupta is a Singapore-based, Kirkus Best Prize nominated illustrator and graphic novelist. She enjoys illustrating fiction, non-fiction, and poetic works for children and young adults. Debasmita is also passionate about art-for-change, and has created an online movement called My Father Illustrations to promote child rights for girls and better father-daughter relationships.

Debasmita’s debut independent graphic novel, Nadya, came out this year. Nadya deals with the subject of divorce from the point of view of a 13-year old adolescent girl living in the mountains. It has just been nominated for the Neev Book Award for distinguished children’s literature.

Despite the fact that divorce becoming quite a common phenomenon in many families in Asia / India, often it is still considered to be a taboo subject. Debasita hopes that her graphic novel will encourage open conversation about difficult family topics. Below, she reflects on the process of writing Nadya and her personal encounters with families going through divorce.
It all started with a conversation. A close friend of mine was going through separation, when someone told her, “Don’t do this. Think about your child”. And she replied, “I am doing this for my child. I can’t let her grow up every single day witnessing an unhappy marriage”. 

Last September, Scholastic India launched “Nadya: a graphic novel”, which I have written and illustrated. Nadya is the story of a 13-year old girl who lives a happy, carefree life in the lap of nature with her loving parents until she comes face-to-face with their separation. To me, Nadya is not a story of separation. On the surface, the story is about a fractured family with fractured emotions. But underneath, it is about finding your inner strength to face reality, head-on. That’s when the journey of renewal begins.

Nadya was with me in bits and pieces for a very long time. I needed some time and space to weave it all together. When I was in primary school, I had a very close friend. I have faint memories of us spending time together and quite a vivid memory of her fading away from my life after her parents went through a divorce. I was too young to understand the significance of the word “divorce”. All I could understand, deeply, was that it changed the course of my friend’s life. She became more and more quiet and then one day never came back to school. There were rumours that perhaps she went to a different school or a different city. Years later, another very close friend of mine went through a divorce. She has a daughter who at the time was eight. Seeing this divorce, I realised the thing that bothered me most about my childhood was that I couldn’t make an attempt to compensate for the loss in my friend’s life. Simply because I didn’t know how to deal with her parents' divorce. Finally, I found an answer in my art and Nadya began. 

Nadya is a story of adolescence. So certainly, its primary readers are not too young. However, because of its simplicity in language, I feel anybody can read it. Not everybody will be able to absorb its complexities, which come with time. But I actually admire such books, which I read very easily as a child and which when I grew up and revisited, revealed a whole new unexplored world before my eyes. I feel these books help start a conversation. A conversation with yourself or with someone else. I want Nadya to become that conversation starter.

When I was creating the story, I felt a strong presence of crossovers between borders. Emotional borders of grief and renewal, as well as time borders of past and present, with a hint of future. As you flip through the pages, you will also come across the colour palette and texture overlaps in the visual story. Even the setting of the story, where you can hardly define the borders between the mountains and the trees and the forest and the mist, will tell you that it’s never black and white. 

There are many open threads in the story, particularly the ending. It’s not a fairy tale ending where everything becomes wonderful. But there is HOPE. 

Details: Nadya is published by Scholastic India, and is available on Amazon UK and Amazon India