“For me, there is not much difference between what Kari does and what Aranyaka is doing,” says Indian graphic novelist and painter Amruta Patil. Exploring themes and motifs of death, resurrection and the afterlife, Kari has more than the joint suicide attempt of the protagonist and the beloved. In Kari, the story does not end with death. “We are two, not one. Despite a botched surgery, we are still united,” states the first page of Patil’s 2008 graphic novel, Kari.
Amruta Patil explores resurrections and death in her art
The sense of intimacy runs throughout his stories, whether Aranyaka Where Kari. “Being who I am draws me more to some stories than others,” she said in an interview during SheThePeople‘s Women Writers Fest. India’s first female graphic novelist, Patil, spoke about the imagination behind her polygonal storyline, her conscientious research efforts, her artistic process and how it all led to an enchanting personal transformation. She explains why, as readers, we need to couple old stories with facts.
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Unafraid of creative slowdown or what we commonly think of as an “artist block,” Patil used the everyday way of life – the crows on his balcony, the sea breeze. Nature helps him integrate the visuals into his written word. While reading The Mahabharata at an early age, Patil asserts, “My experience is in many ways similar to that of anyone who feels like they’re drifting away from their culture.” Immersing herself in the world of epics during her years at Tufts University in Massachusetts, Patil knew immediately that she had no idea what culture she came from.
“The only way to fix it was to read our own stories,” she says. Sitting far from her roots in a Boston winter, she immersed herself in the space where jealousy and hatred separated the two branches of Hastinapur’s royal family – the Kauravas and the Pandavas. At 100,000 lines, it is the longest epic poem ever written and composed in the 4th century BCE or earlier. Amruta Patil immersed herself in ancient Indian epics for a considerable length of time until they became part of her DNA and she was ready to tell her stories.
Someone tied these stories tightly to the human psyche and shared the collective wisdom and voices that moved his story forward. For Patil, this aspect of mythology pivots. Its primary concerns are the concerns of human beings. “For any writer, how can you not be interested in something like that? It is not the stuff of our time, it is the primordial stuff. It’s something that’s still out of the ordinary, resonating with how we’re feeling right now and becoming more important,” she says.
Yes, I knew I was the first female graphic novelist – a matter of the right place at the right time, but I taught myself over the years.
“I did what I instinctively knew I had to do. Over time, I’ve paid attention to existing work that others have done. Yes, I knew I was the first female graphic novelist – a matter of the right place at the right time, but I learned on my own over the years,” she says. Read whatever came to hand, transcending the comic book realm of storytelling. She learned to paint and understand color theory. “There has been an evolution. I try not to repeat myself in terms of stories or styles with what I do. It’s mainly for me and I hope along the way others will also care about how they evolve,” she says.
Drawing inspiration from literature rather than pre-existing comics or graphic novels, Patil draws inspiration from both fiction and non-fiction. “Typically, in a book like Kari, I couldn’t keep my credentials,” she said. In Kariher references appear in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and writers like Jeanette Winterson. “There is, of course, the Bible and there are graphic novels that I can use as a reference,” she adds. But these do not inspire him as much as mythology. The Christian mythology that surrounded her when she was in Goa as a child and even the Renaissance painter Botticelli served as her sources of creative inspiration. “I even mentioned some of them in the notes,” she adds.
One can also find resonances of the Sufi tradition in his texts. “I don’t care about purity. I want to tell a story effectively,” says Patil. There are all sorts of references – whether in the text or the words – that run through his work. For Patil, responsibility and discipline are important as an artist. “I have a background in advertising. I fled from there as fast as I could. But, one thing that I got from the universe that I kept is a certain responsibility and discipline. In advertising, your whims and mood on a particular day do not matter. The work has to be done,” she said. “I’m kind of from that school of doing my job.” Of course, there are good days and bad days for an artist or any creative person. If something is urgent enough to say, we will say it, confirms Patil. “For me, my life is not long enough. So if I indulge in a block, for an unreasonable amount of time, I’m being disloyal to the job at hand,” she adds.
You can watch the session here: