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Two years later, The Mahabharatha: A Child's View was published. “I was 12 years old when Tara Books published it. Having grown up in Pakistan and coming back to India I took a very anti-war kind of stance that comes across in the book. Of course, I was interested in quirky details such as the astras and I kept drawing them throughout the book. It is not a black and white epic, so I could identify with it.” Since then, the book has been translated and published in German, Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan and Greek.
“When I read it now, I cringe,” Samhita laughs, “but the book seems to have a life of its own. I don't write like that now but clearly its gone around, had its own life. I had unconsciously simplified the story.”
Samhita went on to finish schooling in Italy at the United World College of the Adriatic and later double-majored in Women in Film and Religion which she studied in the U.S. Travelling has played a role in shaping her perspectives. “The great thing about what I observed through travelling is that while the Ramayana is considered a Hindu, Indian epic, it's actually pan-Asian and every country has its own version. In Thailand, they have an Ayutthaya city and their king is King Rama,” she adds, “This power of mythology to appeal to many cultures across time is fascinating and also, I think the Mahabharatha spoke to me as a child because of the kind of situation I grew up in. Epics speak to you personally and it is important in our society today. They're not just pieces of literature but prescribe a code for living. If children aren't reading them, it's because we're not making it appeal to them. An epic has so much that you can pick and choose in a way that appeals to everyone.”
Last year, Sita's Ramayana, a graphic novel in traditional Patua style, that Samhita worked on along with Moyna Chitrakar was published and went on to feature in the New York Times ' Bestsellers list for graphic novels. “I didn't like the Ramayana when I was a child because of the way Sita was portrayed. Rama and Sita go back to Ayodhya and live happily ever after, but that's not all. She's banished to the forest after that but very often, this side of the story isn't told. But when you know, what do you make of it? It raises infinite interpretations and changes the way we see Rama and Sita.”
She was writing another book based on the Ramayana when she ran into her old publisher at Jaipur. “They mentioned that they had a Patua artist who tells the Ramayana from Sita's point of view and I immediately decided to work on the book with Moyna. It took us a couple of years to put it together but people seem to like it a lot.”
Samhita's next book is her first novel, a fiction thriller based on the Ramayana . “It's set in contemporary times where Ayodhya is a place with telephones, cars, and an active media. At one point, a journalist asks something about Sita and then realises that it is a question no one wants to ask or answer. This prompts her to find out the truth.”
But why did she choose to become a writer? “When you travel a lot, you are a child who has to make an effort to make friends. You are by yourself a lot and tend to read books. This makes you introspective because you travel through cultures, and are exposed to different environments. You also think about the similarities and this process of introspection could lead to the person becoming a writer,” she says.
If children aren't reading the epics, it's because we're not making it appeal to them. An epic has so
much that you can pick and choose in a way that
appeals to everyone