Thursday, June 14, 2007

blood, gore, conquest and the spoils of war

Actually, we're talking children's books here. I was reading an Amar Chitra Katha after a long time, and I was appalled at its contents.

Not only was it terribly drawn, it told a story in the most unimaginative way possible (this happened, then that, then the other), with little room for word play, fun or the shadow of a thought.

Krishna and Narakasura is the story of how Krishna kills Narakasura after the hapless devas, unable to defend themselves against the son of Bhoomidevi, run to him (as the always do) and beg him to save them and all mankind.

The summary on the inside cover has this little gem of interpretation:

Many who celebrate the festival of lights – Deepavali – believe that they are commemorating the death of Naraka and the consequent emancipation of all
good spirits. In South India, the story of Naraka is laced with a ‘woman’s lib’ edge. As told over there, it is Satyabhama who took up arms against the Asura when, during the battle, Krishna had closed his eyes in momentary exhaustion. The Puranas apparently have no knowledge of this.

'[L]aced with a woman's (sic) lib edge'?! Gosh, how enlightened. I mean, given this huge concession to the representation of women in our puranas, the text and illustrations go on to show Satyabhama (Krishna's consort of choice on this expedition) as petulant and frightened by turns, mere arm candy, clinging on to Krishna's forearm, his chest and at times his bow and arrow and no doubt making it more challenging for him to dispose of said villain. Woman's lib? What's that? We'll show you how things really happened!

Also, pardon me for quibbling, but according to the first page of this katha, "In his varaha avatar, Vishnu lifted Bhoomi Devi from the depths of the ocean. Soon after that, a son was born to Bhoomi Devi. He came to be known as Narakasura."

Far as I can remember the Dasavatara, it is Matsya, Kurma Varaha. So Narakasura was born after the third avatar had done his job and the man terrorised the world for several more avatars until Indra ran to Krishna? The poor man had to stand in queue and wait his turn to be demolished?

The illustrations are also hideous - why did I never realise this when I was a kid? When Krishna agrees to take on Narakasura, he notices Satyabhama sulking - though how he could tell, I don't know. She looks sour and bad-tempered in every panel that I can see. So Krishna decides to take Satyabhama along on this dangerous mission. No doubt he thought it would be a fun aand educational trip for her. Broaden her intellectual horizons, like.

So, "without uttering a word, he caught the pleasantly surprised Satyabhama by the waist..." How we're to deduce this, I don't know, because they're in mid-long shot with Satyabhama's less-than-lovely profile turned to us; and Satyabhama's body language is not all it could be. Krishna is lunging at her. I'm suprised that she was only suprised and not scared out of her wits.

Fiftenn of the 31 pages are about the battle that ensues, a large number of pages being devoted to the conquest of the elements. If this is how ACK cuts to the chase, they need better illustrations and a sense of humour or something. Why would any kid read this when there are any number of exciting graphic novels out there which can supply them with the requisite gore and a good script? Even Tintin and the Shooting Star, or Explorers on the Moon, which are heavy on explanations, make for more exciting reads.

But what is really hilarious is the complete absence of irony the story displays at the end. At the beginning we are told the Narakasura is a Bad Man because he plunders other peoples' wealth and steals their women and elephants. This is clearly Not Done. At the end, after vanquishing the asura army and killing Narakasura, Krishna inspects the palace in the company of Narakasura's son. You'd think he'd rescue the 16, 100 women (the puranas are, apparently, very clear about the number) Narakasura had captured and set them free, wouldn't you? Erm...actually, what he says is, "Have the damsels sent to Dwaraka, properly escorted."

The spoils of war. Good when Krishna wins a battle, but bad when an Asura does.

This is the right time to, perhaps, examine what makes an asura and asura. Or what constitutes right and wrong, good and evil. But Amar Chtra Kathas have always glided over these questions, preferring to spend one half of their pages on battles and gore, decapitations and destruction. Where's the time for anyone to ask questions?

I used to feel nostalgic about ACKs, even though I knew they perpetuated a lot of nonsense in the name of tradition and keeping our myths alive and current. Now, I'll glad to read them only when I want to vent some spleen. Or find out What Happened To The Navels.


Jabberwock said...

Such an intense post! I think we should all start blogging detailed reviews of different ACK comics. Fun will come then.

Think I remember this issue quite well - wasn't it the one with that claustrophobic panel of Garuda stuck in a maelstrom of some sort (or surrounded by mountains?) and Krishna magically dispelling it. Turbulence ahead, fasten your seat-belts, the eagle has landed and all that jazz.

Also, I wouldn't worry too much about the 3rd avatar-to-8th avatar chronology. Celestial time works in unknowable ways. The "soon after that" in "Soon after that, a son was born to Bhoomi Devi" could have meant a period of several hundred thousand years. Or maybe he just took a huge amount of time to grow up and reach the maiden-abducting stage, by which time the other avatars had come, done their jobs and gone.

What I find more troubling is how the splenetic Parashuram (the sixth avatar) keeps cropping up in the stories of the subsequent avatars - in the Mahabharata, for instance. Men who don't know how to multi-task can learn a lot from Vishnu...

Ludwig said...

spacebar, i'm not so sure about the quality of the drawings bit (as i've remarked learnedly elsewhere), but we must close our minds to the socio-political stuff in it, they were always suspect. all baddies are dark, all goodies are fair, all good Godies are a bluish tint in between.

thoda khao, thoda pheko.

craziness is happening this week w.r.t work and Asha and so on. can't wait for weekend to be upon us and be done with the quiz.

Space Bar said...

Jai: Heh...I know. I just got so annoyed reading this one. I mean, there I was, wxing all nostalgic, and here's this crap. Yup, this is the maelstorm one, though it's easy to confuse it with the Garuda ACK (though that has the memorable panel where he eats up the elephant and the...turtle, was it?)

about celestial time - I know. But what gets my goat is, it can take you era to get born (like Garuda and possibly Narakasura) but everyone always dies in clock time.

Lugwig: Heh! But you know, if I was in a serious mood, I'd say we most certainly must not close our eyes to the s-p stuff, since that is probably the single m ost important thing about ACKs.

However, if I was in a silly and forgiving mood, I might just be inclined to laugh at, let's colour, dialogue, jewellery, solemnity and navels. :D

WillOTheWisp said...

But you read them when you did.

But seriously, I would not look at them now. Though, I would like to consider them with a sense of indulgence...

There's an anthology of the Mahabharata that seems to have been released now. A bit steep. The cover was well done in their usual manner aka the traditional calendar artists. Held it in my hand and replaced it with a smile.

Space Bar said...

Will o' the Wisp: Was totally indulgent until I read this one someone gifted my son. Thing is, I really wouldn't care one way or the other, if I didn't have a kid. :D

Cheshire Cat said...

HOW DARE YOU!!! You will not succeed in ruining my childhood memories, you evil person...

Thinking about it, we can only be nostalgic about things that have no aesthetic value.

Space Bar said...

Cheshire Cat: Such violent thoughts!

Didn't Ludwig's treatise on navels (and their sudden, mysterious disappearance that you, at least, ought to empathise with) make up for my sadistic laying waste of a cherished childhood institution?

Not sure I agree with the inverse relationship between nostalgia and aesthetics...

Cheshire Cat said...

You didn't take me seriously, did you? *feigns innocence*

I posited that inverse relationship hoping someone would disagree with me. But it's not enough to disagree, counter-examples are in order.

The point being, children have such awful taste. It used to be fun...

Space Bar said...

CC: counter-examples. hmm...let me see.

Endi Blyton's clearly out (though I still feel hungry every time someone takes out a boiled egg with salt and pepper wrapped in itty-bitty bits of paper).

ditto hardyboys and nancy drews. and bobbsy twins and biggles.


wait! Sujata and The Elephant! (though I haven't re-read it in decades and, in fact, am dying to lay my hands on it again).

Pooh I came to when I was in Class 8 and fell in love with. Guess that doesn't count?

Cheshire Cat said...

I'm unfamiliar with "Sujata and the Elephant". But Milne and Carroll sure do count. There goes another of my theories, but that's a familiar feeling.