It all began with trying to sell a car. Graphic artist Vishwajyoti Ghosh was trying to dispose of his old wheels but met with no success even after placing several classifieds in newspapers. Then a trader friend of his, “a classifieds pro” in Ghosh’s words, stepped in and reworded his copy. Among other things, he added the word “shiny”. The car was sold.
Pop art: Ghosh adds his own touch to the original classifieds.
This was two years ago and it was then that Ghosh realized that classifieds have their own culture and operate within a specific psychological and social code. He began collecting the oddest ones and a book was born: Times New Roman & Countrymen, an illustrated book of 25 postcards inspired by classified ads.
Ghosh has been illustrating children’s books for Penguin and Tulika over the last decade. He has contributed to graphic anthologies such as When Kulbhushan met Stockli (Phantomville/HarperCollins) but his first book allows him ample room to express a unique brand of kitsch, layered with intertextuality and pop culture references.
While the advertisements retain their original form in terms of content and lettering layout, the illustrations bring them alive in different ways, evoking codes one might otherwise have missed.
For instance, one marriage classified for a “teetotaler” has a young boy straight out of one of those instructional charts used in Indian classrooms in the 1980s. Two goddess-like mother figures hold out milk bottles for him. A halo of fresh fruits frames his head. The illustration for another classified for a telephonic chat that promises “pure and sure friendship” shows a phone cord leading to an apparently chaste woman from the painter Raja Ravi Verma’s stable. “Soft silky escorts” and “smell-free pesticide solutions” are similarly illustrated by borrowing from cinema posters, more Raja Ravi Verma images, instructional picture charts and old calendars.
In using antiquated visual references for relatively modern-day services, Ghosh creates a schism. And it is this paradox that elicits a laugh, or at least a wry smile.
The format of the book is neither coffee table nor art brochure. The rationale was to make it usable and interactive. Readers can tear each of the 25 postcards off a dotted line and actually mail them. Or even frame or pin them up. Blaft Publications, a year-old independent publishing outfit based in Chennai, earlier produced a book of Hindi pulp-fiction covers in the same format. Kaveri Lalchand, director, Blaft Publications, says this postcard book is meant to offer an insight into the real India.
While that might seem like a far-fetched claim, the book’s content has much to offer in terms of incisive humour and outrageous kitsch. Ghosh’s artwork is intricate and arresting, and in keeping with this, Blaft also plans to make a travelling art exhibit of them.
While this isn’t the first Indian visual concept book or the last, Times New Roman & Countrymen occupies a very niche sector both in terms of publishing and buyers. The postcard format might be on shaky ground—how many of us send postcards any more? But there is nothing not to love.
One can only wait to see on which shelf bookstores display this book.