Published: 17th October 2017
Nangeli's Story: How a rather hush-hush part of Kerala's history inspired Orijit Sen to create his graphic novel 'A Travancore Tale'
Sen's basic idea behind his art is to bring to peoples attention the violence of casteism and other social evils — and now he's doing it using a medium that most wouldn't associate with it
Ask the older generation about the legend of Nangeli and they might have an interesting story to tell you. The story of a pretty young woman, who had the spine to stand up against casteism, feudalism and the oppressive caste system. You can tag her as a liberal, a socialist, a rebel, a feminist or an activist. Above all else, she was definitely an unsung hero. But her tale and the values that she stood for, got a new breath of life when artist Orijit Sen decided to give it a revamp through a graphic novel, A Travancore Tale.
Now, let me give you a quick summary of the story. In the 19th century in Kerala, women belonging to a lower caste had to pay a hefty amount of tax if they chose to cover the upper half of their body. Nangeli, a young Ezhava woman, adamant to burst the bubble of misogyny, decided to cover her bosom and not pay the tax. When the tax collectors went to her house, she bravely cut off her breasts and gave it to them. Later, she bled to death.
Hindu politics and right-wing ideologies are taking over our idea of a secular and democratic country. There are so many things my work reflects on
Orijit Sen, Artist
The artist tells us how he found the story symbolic and very relevant even in the 21st century. "By retelling this story, my basic intention was to make people think about the violence of casteism and Brahmanism. My primary interest is to question certain ideas and ideologies that live within our society," says Sen, whose works have sparked off a lot of controversies previously.
The forgotten one: To many in Kerala, Nangeli is revered as a hero who ended the brutal practice of breast tax in Kerala
But Sen says that controversies were never his interest. "My intentions aren't to spark off a controversy, it is to express the message. It is about raising questions looking around. When I do that, it might create controversies," says the artist. "To me, Nangeli's story symbolises the power of extreme violence of casteism. The story itself is very powerful," he adds. Such stories have inspired him to spread powerful messages and go on.
"Hindu politics and right-wing ideologies are taking over our idea of a secular and democratic country. There are so many things my work reflects on," says Sen. He is currently working on a graphic novel that tells the story of a few sex workers in Mumbai.