“It’s not that I have a bad relationship with the mirror. On the contrary, I think mirrors are splendid, shiny things that make great collectibles, whether whole, or in smashed bits. Problem is, I just don’t know what they are trying to tell me. These things can be troubling. The girls are outside the door, telling me to wear kohl, and here I am wondering why I amn’t looking like Sean Penn today.”
Kari, a graphic novel by Goa-based artist-writer Amruta Patil. It’s very easy to fall in love with Kari, because her character is etched as a ‘boatman’ – a rescuer of lost souls – who’ll guide them, hold their hands, listen and love, and want nothing in return. As the lines above indicate, Kari’s not straight, either.
The graphic novel explores simple questions. And the one that I am most interested in, and would love for us to begin our discussions with is, what does it mean to be lesbian? Do we need to be in a relationship with another woman? Do we need to look a certain type? Do we need to be rescuers of other women? Do we need to heroise ourselves, because no one else is doing so? How, in short, do we take our sexuality and make it into our queer gender behaviour?
Once more, we must ask ourselves about the basis on which we make the choices that help define us. And Kari, beautiful short-haired boatman Kari, will hold out the lantern for us while we do that.
There’s another reason why I chose to discuss a graphic novel in a book club, aside from the fact that puncturing the concept of what constitutes ‘literature’ is an activity I take great pride in. Yes, this is a comic book, but it’s beautifully written, and drawn, and for all practical purposes, as literary as Ms Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
What’s really cool is that a visual representation of a character like Kari adds a depth to this work that just words may not have been able to. It shows us, for instance, how the author visualises a gay woman – in much the same way as we do. We all, too, have an image or two in our head, don’t we?
Here’s what I propose we do this time around. After reading this comic book, take whatever’s at hand and sketch out the lesbian in your head. Bring it along if you’d like (yes, stick figures are permitted), so we could probe (pun unintended) the women in our head, a little bit further.
I will shortly put up a glossary of terms that will aid our discussion.
I’m also hoping the author, Amruta, will join us for a discussion about the novel, in our second meeting. She’s very keen to, she assured me.
Looking forward to seeing you all.
QI Book Club Facilitator