“Don’t Dream So Much”— a review of Grafity’s Wall by Ram V, Anand Radhakrishan and Aditya Bidikar

There are all kinds of youthful rebellion.  There’s rebellion against your parents, against the state, against the law and against expectations.  This is 

something that’s universal among boys and girls on the edge of being men and women. All of these types of rebellion aren’t necessarily violent or political, although they can be brutal and ideological.  The conflict in these youthful rebellions is often a personal and international kind, between the children we are and the people we are going to grow into. In Ram V, Anand Radhakrishnan, and Aditya Bidikar’s Grafity’s Wall, three friends in Mumbai experience very different lives but are still brought together by the restlessness of youth.  Mumbai is one of the biggest cities in the world and yet these kids feel that there’s something more out there, out of the city and in the greater world that exists beyond the walls that they have spent their lives living in.

This patchwork nature of this book, told in four parts with each one focusing on one of this group of friends, gives us a much bigger picture of the youthful restlessness than it would have if it had focused on just one of the characters. An artist, a drug dealer, a writer and an actress share the spotlight as Ram V’s writing shows how these four very different people cling to each other in a city that’s doing everything that it can to rip them apart.  Grafity, the graffiti artist whose real name is Suresh (but only his parents call him that,) finds the blank walls of Mumbai to be the perfect canvases to share his visions on. Other than the cops who see him as just another criminal, almost everyone recognizes the talents that this boy has. Flipping through Grafity’s sketchbook, his father tells him, “These are pretty good. You’re getting better, eh?” A compliment from the old man? But his father has a cruel lesson for this son.  “Don’t dream so much. It’s painful to watch,” he tells Grafity before throwing his sketchbook out the window of their apartment.

“Don’t dream so much.”

But ultimately, dreams are all these four kids have in their lives besides each other.  Jay, the delivery boy from some drug dealers, dreams of being a rapper. Chasma dreams of being a writer, leaving letters to people all over the city. Saira, the girlfriend of a mobster, wants to be an actress.  All of them have dreams that their world is telling them are worthless. “Why dream because all you’ll be are criminals and losers?” is the message that’s driven into these four kids’ minds over and over again. Ram V’s story builds up these four characters as the rebels in the city as they fight against the oppression of their lives.  They’re constantly told not to dream, not to strive to be something that they’re not as if their lives and paths are already defined for them by their past and their parent’s past. They’re told to be what everything thinks they are and not to chafe against the expectations of the world. And when those expectations are cruel, base, and violent, they’re told to submit unquestioningly to them.  It’s an awful way to grow up, to be told that you’re never going to be more than what people think you are now.

Establishing a personal connection for the reader to the city, Radhakrishnan's art, Bidikar’s letters and Jason Wordie’s colors evocatively recreates the sights, smells and sounds of a hot, summer Mumbai.  The art is messy and dirty, where details weirdly drop out of some panels, leaving lumps and odd shapes for the reader to complete as people and places. There’s a sense of memory cast in this artwork, as if some unseen and unidentified narrator is recalling these events of their past through an incomplete memory.  The large movements of the story are recalled but Radhakrishnan’s art shows that some of the lesser details are fuzzy and only half-remembered. An unseen storyteller is remembering the main moments of these Mumbai days, certain of the happenings but a bit unclear on the specific details.

Creating a lived-in city, Radhakrishnan conveys the spirit of Mumbai on every page.  It’s a cliche to say that the city becomes a character in a story but Radhakrishnan’s Mumbai is a lot like Grafity and his friends in this story.  There’s a sense from the story that everyone knows this city and that what it is now is all it’s ever going to be. Even Grafity is guilty of thinking what the city is now is all it is ever destined to be.  After his father tosses his sketchbook out the window, Grafity meets Jayesh, the drug delivery boy, at a still-standing chunk of wall at a demolished building site. Still dealing with a run in with the cops and his own father’s negligence and having learned their lessons, Grafity begins his latest work by spraying “No One Gives a Fuck” on the wall.  That’s the Mumbai that Ram V. and Radhakrishnan are showing Grafity, Jay and the other live in or at least how they experience it. It’s a city that doesn’t care for its children and its dreamers. But there’s also the possibility that Grafity and his friends are failing to see the potential that the city has to offer just as everyone else fails to see the potential in them.

So as Mumbai becomes the fifth member of this rebellion, the creators of Grafity’s Wall challenge us to look beyond the surface and to dig into the spirits of the people and places around us.  They don’t promise us that everything will be wine and roses but they do encourage us in the audience to allow ourselves to be surprised at what is around us. Sometimes these surprises will be delightful but we also have to allow that sometimes these surprises will cut and hurt us.  In Grafity’s Wall, Ram V. Anand Radhakrishnan, Aditya Bidikar and Jason Wordie tell an unpredictable story of life in a bit city that can be as kind as it is cruel.

Grafity’s Wall

Written by Ram V

Drawn by Anand Radhakrishnan

Lettered by Aditya Bidikar

Colored by Jason Wordie, Irma Kniivila & Anand Radhakrishan

Art Assistance by Girish Malap

Published by Unbound