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Zee Jaipur Literature Festival panelist Mandy Ord is a Melbourne-based cartoonist who, along with Mumbai-based writer Annie Zaidi, has re-imagined the popular story of Anarkali and Salim from a feminist perspective. Ord has drawn cartoons, and Zaidi has worked on the text of the story, which appears in the anthology of speculative fiction ‘Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean’ published by Zubaan in India in November. In their re-imagining, Anarkali is far from being a defenceless slave girl who has everything taken away from her, her love, her identity and life—in their re-imagining, she is a strong heroine who takes charge of her own life and brings the tragedy to a happy ending. Ord spoke to dna’s Suhit Kelkar about the story, which takes off from the point where Anarkali is entombed alive for the crime of loving the heir-apparent to the Mughal throne.

Q] What attracted you to the story of Anarkali? How were you introduced to it?A. I was drawn to Annie’s telling of the story. We were sitting in a café in Melbourne (a few years ago). I was horrified at the idea that a girl would be entombed alive. It was like Kill Bill (where the heroine) summons up her strength to get out. (While she’s inside) you believe she would make it. I wondered how Anarkali could get out. We thought it would be interesting for her to get out. Q] What is Anarkali to you?A. She is a symbol of when you have everything taken away from you. She finds strength to survive. (When you’re caught up in a dangerous situation) you don’t know what you are capable of. Q] What do you feel about Salim and Akbar?A. I wish he could have done more. Why is he not worried about her? But, he was torn because he had so much to lose. He was going to be king. They (Salim and Akbar) represent some men’s restrictive view that someone was not good enough because their social status was not good enough. I would be frustrated if I was Anarkali, pushed and pulled between these authority figures. Q] In your retelling, Anarkali discovers she has the power to walk through walls and that is how she escapes certain death. She doesn’t die. What made you decide to change the ending?A. It was our job to imagine alternative futures for our own protagonists (for the anthology). We thought Anarkali would be the perfect story. (Even in daily life) when I hear about a woman going missing, I am hopeful for her. I won’t presume that she is a victim. I see her having power in her situation. I am an autobiographical cartoonist but there’s a lot of projection (of myself into the lives of others). Q] You help Anarkali by having her walk through walls. What other endings did you conceptualise before settling upon this one?A. That she would become stone and become a living monument to women. Which (is an idea that) relates to Indian sculpture. In some of the old stories she escapes through tunnels (and we considered those). But we wanted to stretch realities more. Q] Do Salim and she get together in your version of the story?A) They do indeed. She leads him to a place of forests and water where she will hunt and collect berries and they will have their life. I have imagined her on a cliff with her hair loose and blowing in the wind, and straight ahead there is a forest.

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ForestsjobstoriesZee JLF 2015Zee JLF 2015 Interview

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Zee Jaipur Literature Festival: Like Anarkali women have strength in worst of situations- Mandy Ord