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Amruta Pati1

Amruta Pati1

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Published by Pia Sharma

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Published by: Pia Sharma on Apr 03, 2012
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04/03/2012

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In the opening panel of Amruta Patil's engrossing and touchinggraphic novelKari, the author depicts two women - Ruth and Kari - just before they commit suicide. The panel is an homage toFridaKahlo's searingLas Dos Fridas, painted after Frida was abandoned by her long time partner Mexican muralistDiego Rivera. It depicts twoFrida's - two versions - one rejected by Diego and the otherembraced by him. Frida's heart is bleeding her to death.It's an opening that absolutely pulled mein. Ruth and Kari's attempt to end their life is a metaphor for a gutchurning breakup. But if you're familiar with the painting on whichthe opening panel is based, you can read in a lot more about whatAmruta might be telling you about her protagonists. Kari and Ruthmay be the same person - or portions of each reside in the other.(Kari is listed as a work of fiction, but it reads like a reconstitutedmemoir)Ruth and Kari both jump from their respective buildings - youassume their decision to end their relationship happens over thephone. Ruth lands in a safety net below her building, hops on a flightto a foreign land and starts a family (she is depicted as holding achild in a panel). Kari lands in a sewer where she must pick up the
 
pieces of her life again and carry on.The novel then settles into the story of a young woman finding herequilibrium in Mumbai (the sewer). Often in order to becomememorable, a slice-of-life story has to depict a significant event asbackdrop to the central story (the Holocaust inMaus, the Iranianrevolution inPersepolis). Kari doesn't have anything of this nature,except for a well defined sense of the grimy breakdown of Mumbai.But it manages to be tender and engaging - and there are severalreasons for that.First is the way Amruta structures hersequential art. A variety of drawing techniques embellish her words.She uses pencils, charcoal, pens, markers, crayons and water colors.A couple of times she uses photographic images and incorporatesthem in her drawing in scrapbook style. She uses action transitionsbetween her panels sparingly, almost rarely. Often Kari feels like adiary embellished with pictures. Her characters are designed loosely,but Kari herself is a rich, fully realized person. She's strong, she'sstraight forward, she's devil may care,she's not above getting hurt,but she doesn't wallow in misery. Interestingly, Kari's eyebrows areconstantly knit to give her a no-nonsense personality. This leavesAmruta with Kari's mouth to convey primary emotion - somethingshe does quite successfully in the novel.Sometimes Amruta will render a panel like a design. It's a fine thingto watch but if there is one critique I have about Kari it is in the waythe drawings change their character. I couldn't detect any sense of 
 
rhythm when the author switched between color to black and white,or pen drawings to marker and graphite. A change in visual style is just as strong a story telling tool as words are in a graphic novel. InKari you get the feeling that Amruta Patil is still discovering her visualtechnique.Back to the good stuff. Second is the way Amruta writes. She has afine sense of lyricism in her prose. "What is it about snow globes" sheasks at one point, "that makes them fascinating and terrifying atonce?" In written work, this can tend to come across a bit heavyhanded. But thanks to the magic of a visual medium such as graphicnovels, this feels deft and touching.There are also bits and pieces thatconnected me to the story. In several panels - two of which seem tobe rendered with pencils and the finger smudges, Kari describes thesmells of the city while traveling in a train. Earlier, Kari describes hercramped living quarters by sketching out a floor plan. There areamusing details about Kari's work with an advertising agency.Somewhere, Kari is shown exploring the boundaries of her sexuality.What Kari lacks in terms of immersive drawing, it makes up for interms of vivid story telling.Kari ends with a declaration of independence and an acknowledgmentof the emotional ties that bind. (This is done in a flurry of panels thatfeel a bit unfinished.) There is a reference to a sequel that, given howmuch I enjoyed Kari, is one I'll be happy to wait for.

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