book review for south asian women writer's challenge.
by Amruta Patil
My love for Amruta Patil's work is too personal for me to share. Kari spoke to me in ways that I will never speak about. In a tiny corner of my heart live boatmen, disappearing lanes and prickly heartbreaks; panels, dialogues and journeys that have defined entire relationships for me.
But Adi Parva is different from the very beginning. A much grander tale, Patil goes from telling the story of a girl in a city to retelling an epic. While it is still a deeply personal work (a painstaking labour of love), it is not personal in the story but in the telling. And this is where Amruta Patil excels. It has taken me forever to start writing about this book. Mostly because I really don't know where to begin.
How do you write about a book that is so vast in its scope and beautiful in its rendering? How do you write about the possibilities it explores, the mythologies it breaks down, the narratives it builds? How do you talk about storytelling that is about storytelling? How do you ask the questions that it asks? And what is the use of a book without pictures?
It opens in redness: blood red, vultures and death.
It opens: "There are somethings your forefathers didn't want you to forget. So they sent the story down through the mouths of the sutradhaar - storytellers who carry the thread. We are an unbroken lineage of storyteller nested within storyteller. When I open my mouth, you can hear the echo of storytellers past. ..."
It opens in poetry and art, and compelling narrative.
And it effortlessly holds you to it.
Adi Parva also arrives at a time when there is an immense interest in retelling or reimagining mythology. So many people are doing it, yet not too many of them manage Patil's depth or articulation. And hardly anybody else I have read so far (except two that come to mind immediately) has done it with as much self consciousness of the politics of the work.
I remember reading Kamala Subramaniam's version of the Mahabharata when I was in school. It remains one of my most favorite versions of the story, but its task seemed much simpler. It told a story we all knew, and asked very few questions of it. (I say "very few" because Subramaniam's treatment of a lot of characters is quite nuanced. Karna, for example, is the real hero of her story and Duryodhana is wronged by almost everyone he loved.) Around the same time, I also read Ashok Banker's version of the Ramayana and I remember being absolutely stunned by it. Here was a man who took another story we all knew and completely changed it around. He asked questions. Wondered how the hell some of the things that happened could have possibly happened. Traced histories. Rewrote characters. Asked questions. Found loopholes. Messed with language. Turned the Ramayana into a fantasy series. He changed how I saw the telling of epics at all.
Amruta Patil is a different kind of artist and writer. She asks questions not only of how the story is told, but also of how we see it. She asks who sees it and why. She asks how histories shape stories, and how generations reimagine them. And she does this with so much passion.
"Creation is leela. Amusement, play, reverie."