Amongst a bevy of thoughts that arise from seeing Amruta Patil in person, the one that fights to surface is, ‘India’s first female graphic novelist’. Amruta Patil, a writer and painter, is the author of books Kari (2008) and Adi Parva (2012).
So, quite naturally, one initiates the conversation by asking her about her ‘India’s first female graphic novelist’ tag. “These things have to be taken with a pinch of salt. With different luck and timing, this title could easily have been someone else’s. I would rather aspire to be remembered, eventually, as a good storyteller - regardless of my gender or the medium I work with.”
She then goes on to talk about the role her illustrations play with her writing: “In my work, illustration is scaffolding; it is an ally of the text. It says what the text cannot, in ways that are unique and alluring. A work with images offers so many more doors and windows from which a reader might enter.”
From the very beginning, Patil was clear that her life’s calling would manifest in, both, pictures and words, “Used in myriad combinations”.
“I had an idyllic childhood - my father was in the Indian Navy and my parents ensured my brother and I had an interesting, outdoorsy upbringing in small towns, but cosmopolitan settings. I did not grow up around huge bookstores or libraries, but there was always an instinctive love for writing and drawing,” she recalls.
Moving to her books, the analysis of which is a part of the Chandigarh Lit Fest, she says, “Kari and Adi Parva, both are literary stories told in pictures and words. I think of myself as a writer primarily; so, the text comes first in my process - regardless of what the end result may seem to the audience.
Kari is a contemporary story, set in Mumbai, where reality periodically dips into magic realism, and where the city is as much a protagonist as Kari or her roommates. Kari is an intimately told story about all the things that form the preoccupations of the youth - friendship, love, sexuality, death. Adi Parva is about as different in scope from Kari as a book can possibly be. It is sprawling, polyphonic, based on a story that belongs to the multitudes - the Mahabharata. Adi Parva is in lush, full colour; unlike the grey-and-black of my first book. It is also the first part of what is to be a trilogy, and I am currently working on its sequel, Sauptik Parva. To summarise, the journey from Kari to Adi Parva has been the journey from looking inwards, to looking outwards.”
While signing off, Patil doesn’t forget mentioning the surge in creation (and readership) of graphic novels in the past decade in India. “At this point, we have over a dozen people working on auteur projects - the past two years have seen three anthologies of graphic stories and most publishing houses have at least one graphic novel in their list. Not bad at all! And, there have been a pretty wide range of themes and styles that have emerged. It’s an exciting time for the graphic novel in India, and since it is fresh territory, there are no rules; readers have open minds. There are more men than women in most professions - barring education and Indian publishing – so, that is not surprising.
When themes that are pertinent to women start emerging, the readership will grow. We are also one of the few countries in the world where graphic novelists are routinely invited to literary festivals, and often share the stage with writers who work with only text. It’s very egalitarian and promising. Let us hope we do not lose this in our quest to seek global approval and become wannabes and clones!”