Samhita Arni, the daughter of a diplomat, was born in Madras, India, in 1984, and grew up in India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand. Making lasting friendships was difficult, not only because her family was constantly moving, but also because of the tense political relations between Pakistan and India, which made carefree relationships with her classmates in Karachi, Pakistan, almost impossible. Exclusion and antagonism were characteristic of her daily life as an Indian in Pakistan.
Instead of meeting other children, Samhita Arni began reading Greek myths and occidental tales, most notably the innumerable versions of the two Indian national epic stories. Almost every child in India knows the stories of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana – be it from oral narrative, comic books or movies. The Mahabharata is considered the more significant and extensive, as well as the older of the two epics. It is a complex religious, philosophical and simultaneously literary work, which tells the tale of a feud between two related ruling families, of rival princes, humiliated princesses and all-powerful gods. One of its most famous stories is the Bhagavad-Gita, which has inspired the likes of Goethe, Nietzsche and Hesse.
When Samhita Arni returned to India at the age of eight, she used her remaining school holidays to start putting her own version of the famous epic into writing on pieces of paper, in notepads and in her diary. Following the suggestion of a publisher, she completed the collection of texts and pictures a few years later. ´The Mahabharata. A Child’s View´ was published in two volumes in 1996 – the result of an encounter between ancient subject matter and an Indian girl living in the present.
Samhita Arni "feel\s that the real message of the Mahabharata has to do with war. It tells us that war is futile". It is with this in mind that she rewrote the epic. The omissions and the decision to add particular episodes lie in a deep understanding of the characters and the overall plot. Thus Arni’s serious and simple language and the alternately beautiful and grotesque characters complement each other in a unique way.
In 1999 the German translation was published in the children’s book series BAOBAB and, like the original, was accompanied by a dictionary and a family tree of the characters and gods. Samhita Arni’s debut has already been translated into numerous languages and has received multiple awards, including from the German Academy for Children’s and Young Adults’ Literature Volkach, and the first prize in the National Level Art Competition in Thailand. The author is studying film and religious studies in Massachusetts, USA.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)