By Nilesh Mondal
Mythology remains a vast source of interesting and sometimes intimidating stories that writers have constantly been trying to draw from. Whether it is the subtle parallels drawn from mythology, or the more direct approach of retelling or reimagining epics and adapting them into more contemporary narratives, both have been tried by many writers to varying degree of success. However, Amruta Patil’s second attempt to combine the tales of Mahabharata and the knowledge from Puranas, after the highly successful Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, is neither of the two. It is one which deals with Indian mythology head on; narrating the epic we’ve known and loved always with glorious precision and straight-forwardness.
This is why Sauptik: Blood and Flowers sets a precedent for a very different kind of mythological retelling, one that is both devastatingly thought-provoking and disarmingly honest, one which depends entirely on the epics themselves to impart readers with lessons on life and justice, and the art of war.
From the very beginning, we know this isn’t going to be the usual run-of-the-mill bit of story-telling, since Sauptik is first and foremost, a graphic novel. I’d leave the analytical scrutiny of Amruta Patil’s artwork to those more experienced in those fields. To me, the usual reader, the artwork serves both as a reminder of a bygone era of paintings done by artisans in a king’s court, done on fabric and papyrus and other media, and a sense of aesthetics that is a complete departure from the prevalent genres of digital manipulation of art. In her art, done as a mixture of techniques ranging from watercolour to acrylic paints to charcoal to collages, battles and scenarios come alive in their entire magnificence. She also drops the conventional rectangular structure used in most comic books, instead experimenting with various alternatives, sometimes splaying the art over the entirety of the pages, sometimes having multiple scenes unfold on the same page, etc. The use of motifs and symbols of importance as depicted in the epic and Puranas are layered and repetitive. All in all, it is a visually stimulating collection of artwork rich in colours and details, which keeps the reader riveted throughout the entire book.
The book has been divided into segments, each dealing with occurrences leading up to the fateful war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, as well as the aftermath of it. The narrator here is Aswatthama, the son of Guru Drona and a warrior on the Kaurava’s side. Sauptik means the “sleeping ones”, referring to the sleeping sons of Draupadi whom Aswatthama killed in retaliation after the war was over. Starting with the training of the Pandavas at Guru Drona’s camp, the rising animosity between the Pandavas and Kauravas, to the swayamvar and eventual molestation of Draupadi, every facet of the Kurukshetra war is narrated in an almost dreamlike way, with stories from the epic mixing seamlessly with the author’s thoughts. The stories from Puranas are narrated and explained in the same way, with themes both ancient and contemporary blended in together, with environmentalism (Lord Vishnu taking care of Bhoo Devi, and how natural calamities are necessitated to purge the Earth in times of grave wrongs) and feminism (Draupadi being one of the most influential characters of the whole epic, making her own choices and driving forth the narrative at times), being a few of them.
The influence of this book on its readers deserves a special mention. The book starts as a slow paced mythological retelling, with reiteration of stories and morals told to us in our childhood. The artwork is still just as captivating, but the narrative is simpler, with the usual blend of stories from Puranas along with the author’s observations and perspective about the same. It is not until the author delves into the biography of Krishna, that this book reaches its true and impressive potential. The artwork here takes a lush and rich tone, and the text, however brief, portrays Krishna in his captivating, blazing glory. Whether he is romancing his Gopis, lifting the Mountain Govardhan, or slaying his enemies, the narration here takes on a soul of its own, hypnotic and beautiful.
After this, the rest of the book is a tour de force, breezing through the intricacies of the Mahabharata, with characters both emotional and flawed, art that carries a sense of emergency and foreboding, and the author not missing any opportunity to explain the workings of Dharma throughout the Kurukshetra war. The ending of this book resonates with the essence of this war as well, both devastating and unflinchingly tragic.
Amruta Patil’s graphic novel thus, isn’t just a mere mythological retelling, it incorporates in itself beauty and spirituality, and shouldn’t be simply read but experienced by readers, fans of this genre or otherwise.
The reviewer is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Power Engineering. When he’s not overwhelmed by the intricacies of engineering, he lets himself sink in a quagmire of unfinished stories and unwritten poetry.