A missed opportunity

A missed opportunity

Sahai’s illustrations certainly show off an eye for detail, capturing monuments and thoroughfares, busy markets and narrow bylanes, each accompanied by the barest snippet of information about that geographic locale.

The aforementioned starkness, the lack of colour or even shades of gray, draw Delhi, Billy Pilgrim-like — ‘unstuck in time’, bouncing from past to present and simultaneously in-between.  

Delhi On the Road, then, becomes an odd publishing choice. It’s not an artist’s book. It’s not a graphic novel (though curiously, I’ve seen it stacked as such in at least four bookstores), it’s not a travelogue, nor is it a guidebook. All it is, is a collection of sketches, very detailed, skilled, sketches but at the end of the day rather mundane, sketches. That’s when you see the missed opportunities.

Wouldn’t you like to be publishing a unique, well presented, idiosyncratic, visual guide to the city  at a time, when Delhi struck by the Commonwealth Games fever, expected a huge influx of tourists (we didn’t get them, but that’s a column for someone else to write) ? No?

So then who were the intended audience for the book? The lack of textual information renders the documentary nature moot. The lack of visual information (due to that starkness again) makes the textual information necessary.

The closest homegrown example of this kind of documentary illustration would be the fantastic Rathin Mitra, presenting Bengal in all its architectural glory and steeped histories. And with such a strong precedent, one can’t ultimately help but be disappointed by the missed potential on display on the bookstore racks here.  

As a book design — and I think its important to look at this since Supriya Sahai, is, in fact, a designer of books, with a number of designs for many of the better known publishers to her credit — Delhi On the Road works.

The big complaint I would make here is for the lack of breathing spaces.
One full-bleed illustration leads to another, camera angles vary only marginally and after a while you would like an interesting shift in scale or perspective, even something as ordinary as a chapter break or a page of reverse printing just to break the visual monotony.

And to speak of monotone, there were many opportunities missed with the typography in the book. What works for the cover, a simple unadorned black, serif typeform, made impressive by its relative scale and rich blackness against an empty white sky, is sadly ignored on the insides, the captions done in a faux-comic style (which is what probably stymied those bookstore owners).

Finally, at the risk of sounding overly analytical, one must compliment the choice of paperstock. It’s a lovely crisp white that’s shows off the black printed line; It holds that ink rather well. So as a visual book, ultimately the standard by which Delhi On the Road shall be held — Yes, it works. It stands out on the shelf.

It asks for you to pick it up, open its pages and to start walking — through its illustrated streets, past its ink-hatched monuments and its markered marketplace crowds.

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