Author: Amruta Patil
Illustrator: Amruta Patil
Published: January 2008 by HarperCollins
No. of Pages: 124
Genre: Sexuality, Identity
Sub Themes: The Recession (2008)
Timeline: The Recession (2008)
The plot begins spot-on with it’s main theme – Kari’s story of her love life and breakup, and her struggles with her sexuality. The first frame is a picture of Kari and her girlfriend, something very similar to The Two Fridas, a 1939 painting by Frida Kahlo. Using this painting as metaphor for the break-up, Kari starts her story by describing how Ruth had left her – ready to jump off a cliff, but no safety net to save her. She falls into a sewer, and emerges – stinking, but intact and alive. The dirty sewer also brings us to the theme of the Great Recession of 2008 in the story, which is emphasised by the presence of mostly black and white frames in the book.
The plot then begins its journey through the timelines of the past and present, and this movement is not demarcated by separate headings, but through the presence of certain characters and objects. The novel puts Kari in different situations, and it moves as a personal view of her experiences, rich with her emotions throughout the text and the pictures in the novel. Kari continuously struggles to grapple with her identity in these different situations – when her mother questions her about Ruth, her experience with her roommates and their boyfriends, defining a space for herself in the constantly busy and running world, and her boss, Angel, who is shown suffering from cancer, and later, dies of it. Set in the background of the Great Recession of 2008, Amruta Patil’s Kari is the story of a girl in the suburban city of Mumbai, who is struggling with the idea of her homosexuality, and a recent breakup. She lives multiple lives in the story – of a girl, of a daughter, of a girlfriend, of a working woman, of a roommate, and many many more, and the black and white frames of Kari depict this struggle with identifying herself – and in a way, the reader’s struggle to find his/her identity.
The story, therefore, revolves around Kari’s life, using everyday objects and experiences as metaphors to emphasise on how simple things could affect the question of one’s identity quite drastically. Kari emphasises on the importance of not looking at sexuality as a factor of determining one’s ‘human nature’, and pleads for equality, choosing to depict its message through a middle-class girl’s black and white story.
Amruta Patil’s Kari brings in the idea of sexuality through images of Kari’s relationship with Ruth, and her boss, Angel. Kari is shown to share a very intimate space with Ruth – there are frames where they are nude together. The space that she shares with Angel is also very intimate – she gets invited into Angel’s home, where Angel can finally remove the mask of being a strong woman despite what she is going through, and be herself. The conversations they have also seem to be bringing up one of the other main question the text seems to be grappling with – the question of identity. In the novel, Kari (and through her, Amruta Patil, as she mentions in her interviews) struggles with identifying herself with the different roles she plays. The question of identity also is prominently shown through the last chapter, “The Exit Route”, where she is imagining herself jumping off the terrace when she is fed up of the battle with her identity. This time, there is no gutter to save her. Unlike Ruth, no safety net saves or or there is no plane to whisk her away. This brings in the idea of class divides in a relationship.
The symbol of the gutter brings in the theme of the recession that was happening in the background as Patil penned Kari. The black and white frames, with the occasional colored frames seem to bring to stark reality the black and white lives of the people who struggled a lot at the time of the recession. It also seems to try and represent the hard lives of the LGBTQ+ community.