Author: Amruta Patil
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: Rs 799
"Is there a curse coming up? I sense a curse coming up. People in this tale fly into a rage at the slightest thing."
Playful gods, angry sages, deceptive women, men who don't want to grow old, stubborn kings, jealous wives: Amruta Patil's Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean is full of passion, beauty and age-old characters seen in a brand new light.
The original Adi Parva (The Book of the Beginning) – the first part of the Mahabharata - detailed the story of creation, history of the Bharata race, the birth and early life of the Kuru princes.
In Patil's graphic novel, the sutradhar is the lovely Ganga who tells you her version of the great story of creation. Her stories are as ageless, spell-binding and timeless as she is - so don't bother asking her logical questions like "when exactly, or where exactly". The style of story-telling is circular, and one story flows into another – sometimes with ease, sometimes abruptly.
The book is Patil's interpretation of the essence of the great story - which survives because it has been told and retold and given fresh life numerous times. "Tales must be tilled like the land so they keep breathing", says a character.
Ganga's audience is a brand new generation with a short attention span who live fast in their attempt to live hard. But like people everywhere at all times, they want to hear their own story.
The characters and the sutradhar of the book speak in a tone that we recognise - You'll find Americanisms, playful twists, digs at sexism and little jokes that depend on the modern idiom - like the one about a jealous Parvati trying to get Ganga out of Shiva's hair.
But the text remains true to the core, and the woman's perspective appears subtly throughout the book: "How about a subplot in which women aren't just pots in which semen is deposited?" asks a weary listener. And the sight of a woman holding an audience captive is as shocking as it always was: "Who is this woman sitting brazenly, talking to strangers in the middle of the night? Shouldn't she be on her way home?"
Patil's Shakunthala doesn't weep or flinch when her lover fails to recognise her: "I want none of your world...I will not knock myself down for being rejected by the man I loved." The famous ring that rekindles Dushyant's memory of Shakunthala doesn't make an appearance in the book.
You do wish some of your favourite stories were given more space: For instance, it's hard not to feel cheated when the story of Vishnu's Vamana avatar speeds by before you can even imagine the first giant step he takes.
The highlight of the book, though, is the beautiful art that illustrates the story. Patil's women, demons and gods are none of the caricatures you might see in an Amar Chitra Katha or calendar art.
The scenes with the sutradhar are done in stark charcoal, and the rest of the book is awash with rich, jewel tones. The bold and brilliant colour sequences are primarily done in acrylic paints, with collage used as the background some of the illustrations.
The vivid imagery and style occasionally reminds you of greats like Klimt, Matisse and Botticelli.
Watch out in particular for the illustrations of Ganga flowing down Shiva's locks, of Indra's net, of Menaka breaking Vishwamitra's penance, or the attention to detail that goes into the depiction of the palace at Kandahar where Gandhari lives.