At the age of eight, Samhita Arni took it upon herself to rewrite the Mahabharata from a child’s perspective. The book, Mahabharata: A Child’s View was published in 1996, when Arni turned 11. Now 26, the writer has taken to another gargantuan task — that of rewriting an age-old mythological tale and doing away with its all-pervasive male voice.
And while Mahabharata’s Draupadi has been a subject of feminist and literary interest for ages, Arni’s latest book, Sita’s Ramayana, aims to give voice to the docile archetype. “For many years, I preferred characters like Draupadi or Kunti. But when I returned to the Ramayana, I realised that Sita needed a great deal of courage and inner strength to have been through what she experienced — exile; kidnapping; imprisonment; the Agni Pariksha, the humiliation of having her husband suspect her chastity in public; and then worst of all, being abandoned during her pregnancy,” points Arni.
Arni’s work borrows from the latest trend of graphic novels opening up to folk art. Like Bhimayana, a graphic novel that retold stories about Ambedkar and untouchability through Gond art, Arya’s 149-pager comes alive with illustrations in Patau art from Bengal by Moyna Chitrakar. “In this book, images are primary; words come later. Moyna’s images are so strong that readers can get lost just looking at them. I had to weave words to suit these images,” Arni says.
Although Bhavabhuti’s Uttararamacarita was one of the earliest texts to address Sita’s story, the recent past has seen many offshoots like Campfire’s graphic novel, Sita: Daughter of the Earth and Nina Paley’s film, Sita Sings The Blues. But for Arni, this is just the beginning. The graphic novelist is currently also working on a “speculative fiction feminist thriller” that features Valmiki as a celebrated journalist. Set in modern-day Ayodhya, Arni adds, “Its story is set in modern times and revolves around a young journalist.”
Sita sings the blues
A rage on the download circuit, the 2008 animated musical film by Nina Paley features a plot where the ancient mythological and a modern biographical plot run parallel. The film, which fared well at the international film festivals, features tracks by jazz singer Annette Hanshaw and traverses from Ayodhya to San Francisco and Thiruvananthapuram.