In an Indonesian re-telling of the Ramayana, the bridge that Rama tries to build to rescue Sita keeps collapsing – a direct indictment of contemporary corruption and the Suharto rule.
Indonesia, India, Thailand, Guyana: the epic has travelled widely, morphed, mutated and survived across time and space. Writer Samhita Arni, who has written different versions herself, delved into this aspect of the story while speaking with writer-painter Amruta Patil at a panel discussion "Myth and the Graphic Novel", on Sunday at the Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2014.
"The Ramayana isn’t just restricted to Indian territory or Hindu territory, there are so many traditions of other stories from it," she said. "There are so many retellings."
Both writers have attempted graphic retellings of two major epics, and retellings from the standpoint of hitherto less-represented female characters. In Patil’s work, "Adi Parva", the narrative shifts to Ganga. "Getting a character to the forefront as a woman, that itself means a different kind of filter," said Patil, who both writes and illustrates.
In Arni’s book, "Sita’s Ramayana" the narrative centre is Sita. "We miss Sita’s perspective in the Valmiki Ramayana," said Arni. "You see Sita, as a demure, ideal woman, but you don’t read things from her point of view."
She continued, "I want to see Sita’s perspective, I want to see her choices."
The book, a collaboration with a Bengali artist working in the Patva tradition, is powered by its images.
"What I learned in this process is to write less and let the images speak," she said. "The most difficult thing in this process is to say fewer things but say more."
You also need to leave some things unsaid. "Who wants to stuff a bunch of resolved material down your throat?" said Patil. "It’s very important to leave things open-ended if longevity is to be ensured."