Author: Amruta Patil
Illustrator: Amruta Patil
Published: 2016 by HarperCollins India
No. of Pages: 256
The graphic novel, Sauptik: Blood and Flowers is a creative retelling of the Mahabharata by Amruta Patil. The main narrative of the story begins with what is the last scene of the great war between the Kauravas and Pandavas. The inversion of such narrative is crucial in understanding the novel, as this is about the event which is of great importance, and impact to the narrator of the story: Ashwatthama.
The author’s choice of having Ashwathhama narrate Mahabharata to us, in the way he sees it challenges many notions we might carry regarding the Mahabharata due to our understanding of it from the victor’s perspective. Ashwatthama is a ‘Chiranjeevi’ (immortal) character whose life has been spent living on the outer margins of the society and tending to his wound. He lives on the cremation ground and narrates Mahabharata to those who work there. Amruta Patil’s retelling of the epic is a conversation between voices whose opinion does not usually make it to the popular narrative of the epic.
This makes way for several other unconventional constructions into the epic. For instance, stories of births and deaths are told in a larger context of ecological shifts, as Ashwathhama has survived thousands of births and deaths in observing his surroundings. This allows us to see Mahabharata as a story of contest between Man and Nature. Even the Gods have been represented as nature’s tendencies, in many places in the Novel.
The novel is full of lovingly drawn figures of humans, nature, inanimate objects etc. The story is brought to life through the textures and the expressiveness of the figures therein. Even as the main narrative is started with the last scene of Mahabharata, it is preceded with a panel on ‘what used to be a magnificent upside-down tree’ but has been degraded with time. As the narrative moves through the entire time-period between Mahabharata and today, the novel is interjected with informative panels which have figures seemingly influenced by modern science and artworks such as the Vitruvian Man and the Doubting Thomas. In some sense, use of such panel enhances the emphasis of the narrative and the seamlessness of space and time. The narrative makes use of several paradoxical but inseparable concepts such as life and death, creation and destruction, battlefield and play-field, to depict the nature of this seamless reality through the eyes of Ashwatthama.
Several materials including petals and clothes have been used to depict various textures and the illustrations are mostly in earthy or dark shades. Shades of blue, grey, red and yellow are dominant in various panels used in the novel.
The symbol of ‘upside-down tree’ makes a recurring appearance. It signifies several themes in the novel. Firstly, it challenges our imagination. Secondly, it signifies life, and also nature. Thirdly, it symbolizes the dualities which are ever-persisting features of existence. The symbol of ‘Fire’ has also been used to signify destruction and carnage, but with a possibility of giving birth to something new. The symbols of ‘Forest’ or ‘trees’ as signifying life, with ‘fire’ often being a means to their destruction, which in the narrative leads to the destruction of the ‘magnificent upside-down tree’, which signifies life itself.