Sunday, February 17, 2013

Adi Parva

On Amruta Patil's 'Adi Parva', one of the most fascinating books published in India in 2012:

For many of us, Mahabharat conjures images of men wearing tinsel, foil, wigs and false moustaches; women encrusted with rhinestones and chariots made of plywood. The serialised version of the Hindu epic poem became immensely popular when it was telecast in the late 1980s and early 1990s and for better or for worse, tubby men wearing theatrical makeup and carrying laughably flimsy “weapons” is what comes to mind when most of us think of the Pandavas and Kauravas. You can’t help but remember the television serial while reading Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva because it’s fascinating to see how two works with the similar starting points can end up to be so starkly different.

Patil, like the writer of the teleserial Mahabharata, Rahi Masoom Reza, approaches the text with great respect and harbours no intention of modernising it. Just as Reza wasn’t interested in demystifying anything, Patil too steers clear of rationalising the myths. Rather, her storytelling and artwork seek to steep the characters and events in mystique and dreamy surrealism. And so, mantras create fully-formed babies, gods emerge from belly buttons, curses come true and magic raises no eyebrows.

However, unlike Reza, who sought to simplify the Mahabharata for the Sunday morning viewership, Patil has no intention of presenting the myths that make up the epic poem as a neat, linear flowchart of events. Adi Parva is a swirl of stories. In this first cycle, the storyteller is Ganga, a mysterious woman clad in white. She dismisses linearity casually and some of her stories, like that of the Samudra Manthan, are from a time way before that of the Pandavas and Kauravas. She also fast-forwards past the bulk of the Mahabharata and tells the reader about Janmejaya, Arjun’s great-grandson. It’s both unsettling and engaging, because even if you know the stories, you can’t predict how Patil will connect one tale to the next.
More here.

The copper of an age-old story is polished with each retelling – it glows warm and beautiful," writes Amruta Patil in the introduction to Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, the first book of her Parva trilogy, a graphic retelling of the Mahabharata. Adi Parva, which releases this week, comes four years after her first graphic novel Kari, which presented the desolate world of its eponymous protagonist as well as her wry commentaries on life and love. With Parva, Patil, 33, has moved to a bigger canvas, dipping into the vast treasure of stories of the Mahabharata and Vishnu Puran and retelling them through striking visuals and sparse text. In this email interview with Alaka Sahani ahead of the book's release, Patil talks about the book's circular structure, her fascination with the Mahabharata and how the ideas that rule her work also dictate her personal style:

With Adi Parva, you have ventured into Indian mythologies. What drew you to them?
The lingering of creative folks at the hemline of the epic has been pre-empted in the very beginning of the Mahabharata: "The tree (of the Mahabharat), inexhaustible to mankind as the clouds, shall be as a source of livelihood to all distinguished poets." The allure is ferocious.

Adi Parva is coming out simultaneously in French. How did that happen?
The French Embassy in New Delhi not only hosted the launch of Kari, but also gave me a grant that enabled a year-long writing residency at Angouleme, the comic book city in France. That is where I started scripting Adi Parva. The publishers of the French edition of Kari were, in fact, the first to commission Adi Parva.
More here.

Amruta Patil blogs here.

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