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And now, a dapper Ravana: Amar Chitra Katha undergoes makeover

Benevolent kings and their beauteous queens stroll in palace gardens or verdant forests while loyal servants eavesdrop and evil enemies plot. Meanwhile, marauding armies scale impossibly high walls and are beaten back by animals that can miraculously talk. A courtier outwits his king every single time and a poet brings strong men to their knees with his intelligence.

This complex cast of characters operating in a fantastical world held us in thrall every single issue of Amar Chitra Katha that we devoured eagerly. As the legendary comic brand reaches its 50th year of production, with over 450 titles to its credit and an astounding 100 million copies sold in over 35 languages, like any 50-year-old, it is emerging from its own version of a mid-life crisis.

Although adored by two generations of Indians, in the last 10 years, some of the adulation has been countered by scepticism bordering on outrage about what has been labelled Amar Chitra Katha’s ‘regressive’ content, both in its art and script.

A number of scholarly writings have come up, criticising and condemning the comics for reinforcing stereotypes: women characters are too subservient, caste hierarchy is established by skin colour, with upper caste characters invariably lighter toned, and its religious biases are clear. The controversy has been similar to what the Enid Blyton pantheon faced, forcing it to rethink its golliwogs and dwarves.

Beards and saris

If all this had happened in an Amar Chitra Katha, a single word from the superhero (placed in a spiky speech bubble) would have reduced the grumbling detractors to tiny, powerless creatures to be borne away on a tidal wave of nostalgia and affection. But real life is less forgiving. Thus, recently, when young artists in the comic house’s studios pointed out that there were no women in the crowd scene in a new title on Sardar Patel, Reena Ittyerah Puri, Executive Editor, immediately had it rectified by removing beards and adding saris for some of the crowd.

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Book Review: Sauptik: Blood and Flowers by Amruta Patil

By Nilesh Mondal

sauptikMythology 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.

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Chitra Divakaruni’s next: Ramayan from Sita’s point of view

Indian-American author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, who had used Draupadi as the narrator for her novel based on the Mahabharata, is now writing a book which is a retelling of the Ramayana from Sita’s point of view.

Writing about women has been very important for the McDavid professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston and many of her books have women protagonists.

Her latest work “Before We Visit the Goddess”, published by Simon & Schuster, is about three generations of mothers and daughters who discover their greatest source of strength in one another. Read more

Source: The Indian Express


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New release: The Serpent’s Revenge: Unusual Stories from the Mahabharata

serpents_revenge-front Featuring some of the most interesting but lesser known stories of the Mahabharata, is Puffin Books’ new release titled ‘The Serpent’s Revenge: Unusual Stories from the Mahabharata’. The book is authored by award-winning writer Sudha Murty, her first in the mythology genre.

“I belong to the land of Hubli, a city in Karnataka. During my younger days, we didn’t have digital media or electronic gadgets the way we do now. So the best part of my day was the one I spent either in listening to stories from my elders or reading them,” Says Sudha, “These stories were often based on our epics and hence, did not always follow the logic of real life. So I perpetually had questions on the whys and hows about the stories’ sequence of events. However, no one could completely satisfy my curiosity or withstand my endless questioning. Little did I know that my curiosity would follow me into adulthood and culminate into this book for my young readers. My hope is that this book answers at least some of the same innocent questions that I also wondered about as a child.”

‘The Serpent’s Revenge’ is the first book in the series of four and will release on 25th October.

About the author:

Sudha Murty is the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, she has written novels, technical books, travelogues, collections of short stories and non-fiction pieces, and the hugely popular children’s books which have been bestsellers. Her books have been translated into all the major Indian languages, and she has received many awards.

 


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I never stopped reading the Mahabharata: Shashi Tharoor

Shashi_TharoorThe Hindustan Times has published a short interview with author and politician Shashi Tharoor on June 21.  Tharoor’s masterpiece, The Great Indian Novel, is on the paper’s list of greatest Indian novels.

“It was ambitiously conceived and written with all my heart and soul, but “greatness” is a quality for others to judge,” he says when asked if he always knew he was writing a great piece of work. “I am glad it is still in print a quarter of a century later, and after 42 reprints, Penguin is planning to bring out a Silver Jubilee hardback edition in October.” Continue reading


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India: What keeps the mythology genre ticking?

For a decade, Indian authors have been capturing readers’ mind space with reinterpretations of mythology. What keeps this genre ticking?: The Hindu

Krishna UdayasankarThere was a time when bookstores were filled with campus love stories set in IIT and IIM campuses. Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone – What not to do at IIT (2004) spawned many campus capers until readers were fatigued by the genre and the stories had little recall value. Continue reading


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@MeghnaPant to present Mahabharata in 100 tweets

This unique digital storytelling event which is being sponsored by the Association of American Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Twitter (@TWfictionfest) will see Meghna Pant (@MeghnaPant), author of Happy Birthday and Other Stories and One and a Half Wife, retelling the epic Mahabharata in 100 tweets. Not an easy feat by any chance, Meghna is gung-ho about this challenge. She says, “I truly believe that a good story is a good story no matter what the length. Twitter is a challenging medium. Honestly, it’s also my way of making peace with Twitter, as a writer I initially found 140 characters stifling. But I soon realised that it’s one of the most important platforms we have today.” Continue reading


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Criticism: Tagore’s Chitra and Folklore’s Hidimba: Power of the Feminine

Dr. Usha Bande casts a critical glance at Tagore’s Chitrangada, based on the Mahabharata story of the warrior-princess, and Hidimba, a folklore figure from the present Kullu area of Himachal Pradesh in India.

tagoreSomehow, Chitrangada and Hidimba stand out as epitomes of feminine power and feminist assertion in the Mahabharata as well as in literature. The role assigned to them in the Epic (Mahabharata) and in folk and mainstream literatures focuses on their strength, independence of spirit and intelligence. Rabindranath Tagore’s lyrical drama Chitrangada is based on the Mahabharata story of the warrior-princess whose quest for love has both feminine and feminist overtones.  Similarly, Hidimba, the present Kullu area of Himachal Pradesh, is a folklore figure who has become a part of folk psyche and has achieved divinity. These two women are not identical; though contemporary, they belong to distant parts of the land, with different value systems and social set-ups but both are strong and both represent an era that illustrates women’s authority and agency. It is interesting to explore how Rabindranath Tagore makes changes in the Mahabharata story to give his heroine the attributes he would like modern Indian women to possess and how the folklore of Himachal Pradesh elevates Hidimba from the daemonic to the human and then to the divine. Continue reading


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Why is India obsessed with mythology?

Mahabharata – the epic that played out in Kurukshetra is getting a million reinventions: The Outlook

Can you hear the dull throbbing of vimanas in the sky? Can you smell the burning embers of the morning fires? Can you feel the thud-thud of millions of boots on the ground? Assassins, demons, monsters come together on the battlefield  with super-warriors to play out the final battle. There are atomic weapons, lasers, gene­tically engineered super-elephants. The archetypal und­er­­pinning is the story of heroes overcoming hardships and growing in the process. Continue reading


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The Aryavarta Chronicles: Reconciling legend with logic

Krishna Udayasankar is a Singapore-based Indian writer and Govinda, Book 1 of the Aryavarta Chronicles (a trilogy) is her first published novel. According to her blog, The Aryavarta Chronicles are a series of fast-paced novels; tales of adventure, conspiracy and politics, that delve beyond familiar Epic India lore.

Born in Bangalore, India, and educated in India and Singapore, Krishna currently teaches strategic management at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

In this interview with Kitaab, she talks about her novel, her writing process and what writing means to her.

‘Govinda’ is your first novel and part of a trilogy. Did you have to struggle as a first time writer?

Actually, the Aryavarta Chronicles is a series that extends beyond three books. Each novel, though set in the empire of Aryavarta, has its own story arc and plotlines. The process had its own challenges, though it was made easy, even enjoyable, because I have loved what I was doing!

In my not-very-humble opinion, I think the biggest struggle a first-time writer faces is to reach a point of no-return, a point where you are committed to writing, come what may. Not that the struggles end after that, but then they are not very different from what every other writer faces, first-timer or otherwise. At the end of the day, the stories we tell are bigger than us and faith in those tales is never faith misplaced.

At a more pragmatic level, there is a whole world of events that have to take place between writing a book and getting it published. However, I’ve been extremely fortunate, having had a whole host of people from wonderful agents to friends, mentors, my publishers and above all, my family, to support me. So it felt a whole lot easier than it probably was.

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