I picked up a copy of the graphic novel, Moon Mountain, a year ago, but got around to reading it only last week. Moon Mountain is an adaptation of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s classic children’s book Chander Pahar (1937). I have always been fascinated by his Pather Panchali, especially his sensitive depiction of the unfortunate Durga.
The art work of the graphic novel is dominated by dark colours, speaking of a brooding personality, and perilous adventures. At first glance, I wondered whether children would find it appealing, especially since the adaptation has stuck to the linear perspective employed by Bandopadhyay, and begun with Shankar’s disappointment at having to work at a dead-end job in a small town after his college years in the dazzling metropolis of early twentieth century Calcutta.
The story unravels rather slowly in the first few pages, but the action panels on page 2 provide us with a hint of the adventure to come. I especially liked the way in which the illustrator, Mukherjee, has made use of repeated figures to indicate the flow of time. Soon enough, a few pages later, our intrepid hero is in Uganda in East Africa, working for a construction company laying new railway lines.
Shankar faces many adventures both at the hand of predatory and dangerous animals. The excitement picks up when he rescues a veteran explorer, Diego Alvarez, who tells him of how he had traced the fabled diamond mines of Richtersveld. Soon enough, Shankar is infected with the gold-and-diamond fever, and he sets off with Diego to explore the wilderness, and also, find himself.
Other than the protagonist, Shankar, a central character is Diego Alvarez. Like Kurtz of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Diego is a complex person who also believes in the Empire’s mission and modus operandi of claiming all that the natives own as his. Like a good coloniser, he even draws Shankar into the enterprise of the Empire. But during the resulting adventure, Shankar learns to think for himself and while he loves and respects Alvarez, chooses to strike out a path different from that of his mentor.
It is interesting to note that while the author of the original text, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, had never travelled to Africa, he researched the place considerably. Thus, the narrative strikes very few false notes.
When Bandopadhyay first published his novel, it seized the imagination of readers with its descriptions of Africa, its velds, its mountains, its wildlife and, of course, the allure of gold, silver – and diamonds! Chander Pahar was translated into English in 2002, reimagined as a film and as a graphic novel in 2013-14.
The script for the graphic novel is by US-based Saurav Mohapatra and the illustrations are by Sayan Mukherjee. Children are sure to find this an enjoyable read.
(All the images are taken from the book)