Today, cartoonist Nidhi Chanani announced that her first graphic novel, Pashmina, has been picked up by First Second to be released in 2017. Pashmina is the story of a Indian-American girl named Priyanka Das who lives in Orange County and seeks to reconnect with her mother’s Indian roots. She finds a pashmina shawl that whisks her away from America and takes her on a “fantastical journey to understand her heritage – and herself.” Think 1001 Arabian Nights meets Persepolis.
Chanani describes her story as an attempt to undo the decades of misconceptions surrounding India. Instead of a land filled with “poverty, hokey gurus, and the kama sutra,” Chanani wants readers to experience the India that she knows, filled with “strong family ties, deep spirituality, and beautiful landscapes.” Unlike other graphic novels that deal with topics of “otherness” from a racial perspective like Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, Chanani’s book does not seek to cut or scathe. She does not seek to confront a group of oppressors, but rather empower children that currently share the struggle that she once faced in her youth. From the announcement:
My teenage understanding of India was tainted by poverty stricken, third world imagery. How wonderful would it be if a young person learned about their culture through only positive representations? That’s the root of Pashmina; opening a suitcase and traveling to a fantasy version of India where a character can learn about their heritage in a favorable light.
Chanani is a newcomer to the world of comics, but is well known as an illustrator and social activist. She was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for Asians and Pacific Islanders and runs a portfolio and studio site called Everyday Love. As a first generation kid myself, I think it’s great to see stories that seek to embrace the duality of the culture minorities live in in America rather than seeking to separate from one or the other.