Adaptation – Retelling, Rewriting, and Renewing

By Anya Shenoy, Grade 10

The excitement hung in the air on Day 2 of NLF. Some fresh faces appeared, while others returned for a fun-filled day. Of the numerous activities available, some of the most insightful were the masterclasses. Authors from far and wide gathered to talk about their stories. 

One of the masterclasses was held by the award-winning author Samhita Arni, best known for the books, The Mahabharata: A Child’s View (Tara Books, 2014) and Sita’s Ramayana (Tara Books, 2018). The names of the books indicate what its contents would be in a straightforward manner. These books retell mythology from new perspectives. It breathes fresh life into ancient tales, making them relevant and accessible to modern audiences. While the importance of the cultural heritage and timeless wisdom provided in these texts cannot be undermined, the biases of the time tend to show through. When approached from new vantage points, retellings allow for a reexamination of the narratives, characters, and themes within the mythological framework. That being said, reimagining narratives while staying true to the characters is no easy task. 

From the moment she began to speak, there was something so compelling about the author. Dressed in a silver sparkling cape with a blue wand, she truly captured the essence of a fairy godmother. After she told us a short tale of her life growing up in Pakistan before moving to India, I felt more connected to her, as though I could relate. This story of the girl caught between her lives in India and Pakistan, was not only emotionally charged, but also served as a great analogy for the Mahabharata. 

Once she finished her monologue, the session took flight. Using her wand as a pointer, she began a more interactive session. She posed the question of which literary character we most related to. Slowly but surely people raised their hand and answered, finally reaching a momentum where people felt more comfortable to talk openly about their lives. Samhita Arni responded positively to all of them, a motivation that was needed to get more people to open up. 

Finally, the culmination of our learning arrived in the form of a modern retelling of the Mahabharata. As everyone was familiar with the basic story beats, we tried to reimagine this story as being set in a high school. What ensued was a laughter filled activity where everyone had ideas. Samhita Arni had an effect on the entire room. We went from a closed off room occupied by strangers to a room that was filled with collaborative participants and camaraderie. 

While the final story was certainly not fit for publishing, it brought us together. It taught all of us so much about adaptation, and why it is needed. While the tales of the Kauravas and the Pandavas are set in times that have long since passed, the issues within them remain culturally significant to this day. In particular, the comparison drawn between India and Pakistan, and the Kauravas and Pandavas, were striking. One person, stuck between two sides of themselves. One is loyal to their home, the other is loyal to their citizenship. By nature, these two sides are at constant war with themselves, trying to reconcile with the cognitive dissonance. In a sense, we have all experienced similar conflicts, either within ourselves or with others. Even if we consider these tales to be ancient, we cannot ignore them, because the fact remains that they are not obsolete. In Samhita Arni’s mind, adaptations should be viewed as an addition to a tapestry that is the original work, as opposed to its replica. 

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