Rukhmabai, an educated child bride, went on to question the intolerant society of the 1860s about why a woman cannot chose to leave her husband. She did this by incessantly writing letters to the then-editor of the Times of India. Muthulakshmi Reddy, the first woman legislator, after receiving the permission for education from the Maharaja of Pudukkottai, was pelted with stones while walking on the road for daring to study. Janaki Ammal, a woman from a tiny hamlet in Kerala, went on to become the first Indian woman botanist, and then the Director-General of the Botanical Survey of India shortly after. The list goes on...
How many of these names are familiar to us? How much information is left on these iconic women to research on? Zilch. How many of them could easily replace the male names of acclaim that time and again have been spoken of, even in our school textbooks? Probably, all. Amar Chitra Kathas ambitious graphic volume, Women Path-Breakers: Stories of Success and Strength unearths the names and stories of such phenomenal women who have paved the way to a lot of the rights that todays women enjoy.
Ideated by Reena Ittyerah Puri and scripted and researched on by Tripti Nainawal, the comic volume digs deep into the lives of seven women who have changed the course of the fields they were involved in.
Reenas mother often told her stories that more or less proved as inspiration to this volume. My mother, who will turn 101 soon, became a doctor in the 1930s. She was a path breaker herself who left Kerala at the age of 15 and travelled to Agra to study Medicine at a time when the British were encouraging women to become doctors because Indian women refused to visit British male doctors. She would later tell me the stories of her colleagues who had braved many odds to make themselves seen, Reena recalls. Later when she joined Amar Chitra Katha as executive editor, she realised that a lot of the biographies that they did were of men.
A few exceptions were there, of course. But we wanted to talk about ordinary women from India, who did something for themselves; to be independent. I started off with just a handful of names, but we found over 50 women who we have not heard of, despite their accomplishments, continues Reena.
The collection which was released at the end of December 2019, had been in the works for close to a year- and-a-half: the time of research and dearth of information are responsible for the time frame, she says. Though we had marked the book for readers of the age group of eight to 16, Amar Chitra Katha is also read by a lot of adults. So this book is for them as well, continues Reena adding that this volume is relevant to everyone, thanks to its content.
For Tripti, this was an eye opener: What I found appalling about our own documentation was the fact there was absolutely nothing other than surface information. Take Muthulakshmi Reddy for instance: she has very many firsts and I just happened to find her. She was not even there in our first list, says Tripti.
Writing a full fledged script with limited resources was a mammoth task; and the fact the comic books dont have straight narratives did not help. However, to make the narratives more action-packed, a tad bit of fictionalisation has been done, only in terms of dialogues and interactions.
As in the case of all Amar Chitra Katha books, in this one too, the illustrations play a seminal role in the narrative. They were worked on panel by panel, after the editorial team went through the entire narrative, says Reena. Costumes, settings and the portraits of the women were referred to, with the limited amount of pictures they could find. This was another challenging process. For instance, once they get the reference portrait, the artists would have to envision how they looked as a two-year-old, explains Reena. Each of the stories has been illustrated by a different artist. Reena hopes that more of such stories will see the light in the coming days. As for now, they are working on a volume of women freedom fighters in a similar format.