Vijay Kranti: The story of the Dalai Lama in art and words

Vijay Kranti poses for a photo with his comic book in McLeod Ganj

Vijay Kranti poses for a photo with his comic book titled: "Dalai Lama — The Soldier of Peace" in McLeod Ganj, India, on 6 August 2013. Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

MCLEOD GANJ, India, 24 August 2013

Photojournalist and Tibetologist Vijay Kranti has been associated with the Tibetan cause for more than 40 years. Vijay’s latest work is a comic book titled Dalai Lama — The Soldier of Peace, based on the life of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Vijay recounted the production of Dalai Lama — The Soldier of Peace to a group of Tibetans in McLeod Ganj earlier this month. Here is his story.

Vijay had done a similar comic book in 1982, but that one was a very small publication, and the art work and production quality were in his opinion “quite shabby”. That book was part of a series on some leading personalities of India, who included Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh, Mother Teresa, Subhash Chandra Bose, Veer Savarkar, Swami Ramkrishna Paramhans, and Lala Lajpat Rai.

The publisher of the book was an old friend of Vijay, who was very enthusiastic to tell the stories of great Indians to the younger generation. When Vijay asked if the Dalai Lama was in this series, he said no. His reason was that “Nobody knows much about the Dalai Lama.” But he knew that that Vijay had links with HH the Dalai Lama, and that he’d been writing about him. The publisher told him that he was willing to include a book of the Dalai Lama if he agreed to take the responsibility, and Vijay agreed.

He began by writing the whole story, and then want to work on images for it. He discovered that the publisher’s artist was a brilliant person, but had no idea of Tibet and Tibetan art. So Vijay not only wrote text for each block, but also wrote down every detail for each image. He also collected a lot of Tibetan images to give the artist some visual ideas.

In those days colour photo printing or photocopy were too expensive to handle. Also Vijay was very busy planning for a three-year assignment with German radio Deutsche Welle. So it was a lot to do, but he was quite excited about this comic book, and wanted to do it justice.

Finally, just before Vijay left for Germany in 1982, his friend published the book in English as well as in Hindi. Later when Vijay returned to India in 1985, the publisher told him that of all the books in the series, the Dalai Lama book was the only one which was sold to the last copy. That was great news, and Vijay was happy that this book must have helped many readers to know more about the Dalai Lama and Tibet.

But he was not happy about the overall quality of the book. Since then he had been thinking of a much larger book on the same subject, which would be of international quality and could meet the level of the famous Tintin In Tibet. His current book Dalai Lama — The Soldier of Peace is that very dream coming true.

Initially Vijay engaged a very talented Bengali artist to do the drawings. But again, this artist also did not understand Tibet, and his line work was nowhere near Tibet. So much so that, Vijay says, the characters did not look like Tibetans: “Most of the lamas looked like Bengali Brahmins at the best.”

Then luckily Vijay happened to discuss this issue with his friend Jamyang Dorjee (ex-TIPA Director). Jamyang introduced him to the artist Sodhon la. Vijay says that when he saw the first two pages of sketch work from him, he jumped with joy. This is exactly what he was looking for. He was very impressed by Sodhon la’s many other comic books which were already published, and he and Sodhon clicked very well. He found a happy experience interacting with a young Tibetan artist.

Sodhon finished all the art works in 2002 and 2003. But by that time Vijay had got involved in his new office work so much that he could find hardy any time to take the book work ahead. There were times when he worked on the book for a fortnight and then could not attend to it for the next six months. There was a stage when he misplaced all the art work and most of his other materials of this book. At another stage, his computer developed a serious snag and he lost almost all his data.

For around three years Vijay didn’t know what was going to happen to the book. He says he felt it was such a shameful situation that he “had no guts even to contact Sodhon la or to tell Jamyang Dorjee about the fate of the book.”

Luckily, one day he discovered a printed copy of the text of book in a pile of his old records. He then retyped the entire book on his new computer.

After Vijay retired in 2011 he decided to bring himself “back on the rails”. He streamlined all the materials. One day his fashion designer-turned-photographer son saw the art work and jumped with excitement. His view was that this would make a great comic book, especially because it was all in hand-drawn sketches and watercolour images. His opinion was that the book would stand out in an international comic market which was flooded with computer-generated images. Vijay’s son helped him by creating some basic templates for the art pages, and gave him some basic coaching on the editing software so that he could rewrite the text according to the available space in each piece of art.

Vijay now discovered that the artist Sodhon had long ago shifted his base from India, and was nowhere to be located. He desperately needed his help to add a few important missing links in the visual story of the Dalai Lama. Finally Jamyang la’s son Thupten Chakrishar (who also happens to be a famous painter and friend of Vijay). Thupten “proved himself as a real angel for me”, and helped him to locate Sodhon la.

But once found, Sodhon la was too busy with his own professional exhibitions, with one coming up in May of that year. Vijay desperately needed at least four new pages for the book from him. By the middle of May, Vijay had finished the book, but there was no happy news from Sodhon’s end. Finally Vijay wrote to him that he had sent the book to the press, but that he would like to include at least two pages on the boy Dalai Lama’s hobbies. To his surprise, two days later the pages landed in his email.

Vijay recalled the files from the press and inserted the pages. He thinks that was the real Sodhon in action once again. That was a typical artist: He was so thrilled on hearing that the book had already “gone to press” that he could finish the same work in less that two days, that he has been postponing for over a year.

Vijay says that the best compliment for the book came from a Tibetan mother in Australia, where the Australia Tibet Council had launched it at his photo exhibition in Sydney during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Australia in June. She had purchased one copy of the book, and returned the next day to buy three more for her three children.

“My kids know everything about Australia, but they don’t know anything about Tibet.” After reading the book during the previous night, she believed that this book would tell them about Tibet what they never had the patience to hear from her.

Why did Vijay write Dalai Lama — The Soldier of Peace? He says, “Because we have such a wonderful leader and such a wonderful story to tell to the world. But most of our international audience has no time and patience to listen this story in a public gathering. This book will tell it to them in an entertaining manner.”

Vijay says he is slowly discovering that this book does have the capacity to do this. For example, he says he has a friend who is a member of the Indian Parliament, and who is even sympathetic to Tibet. But still, whenever Vijay talked about Tibet, he didn’t have the patience to listen. But he read this book on his own initiative, and called Vijay to say that this was first time he came to know of Tibet in such detail.

Vijays’ wife too has been aware and appreciative of his involvement with Tibet. Yet for over three decades, she had never shown enthusiasm to hear from him the case of Tibet or to understand the Tibetan story. But she read the book in one go and stumped Vijay by asking some intricate questions on Tibet. “How the Tibetans could be so stupid to keep aloof from the rest of world to such an extent that they did not have even one friend when they needed them most?”

Another, “Why the Tibetan leaders should have presented a little boy (Dalai Lama) to face a giant, aggressive neighbour in the most serious crisis of Tibet’s history?”

Then there is an Australian friend who wrote to Vijay especially to thank him, because after reading the book his friend “finally understands what we know about Tibet.” He added, “Congratulations on making it so accessible.”

So, Vijay finds that his greatest satisfaction about this comic book is that it can independently tell the same message that a Tibet supporter or a Tibet Support Group (TSG) would love to tell, in a much more simple and entertaining manner.

Vijay says he would love to see this book in many other languages, especially in Tibetan, Hindi, and Chinese.

Dalai Lama — The Soldier of Peace
Centrasia Publishing Group, 2013
76 pages. Price Rs 350.00 (In India). Others USD 15 (postage extra)

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