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Teenager offers fresh look at ancient Indian epic

Indian author Samhita Arni.

The annual literary festival in Solothurn this weekend has attracted some 60 authors from Switzerland and abroad, mainly from the German-speaking world. But perhaps the most unusual success story among them all is a 16-year-old from India.

Samhita Arni, who was born in Madras, has been writing since the age of nine and has already published two 300-page volumes. Entitled “The Mahabharata: A Child’s View” – parts one and two – they offer a fresh perspective for both children and adults on a timeless epic.

The first volume begins with the story of how Santanu, King of Hastinapana, proposes marriage to a young woman. She accepts on condition that he will never ask her about her past life. What happens next is the start of an extraordinary tale about people – often with superhuman qualities – who are sometimes forced to make difficult decisions for themselves and others.

Samhita wrote the two books in three years, completing them at the age of 12. They were also illustrated by her.

“Indian children should better understand their own culture and heritage,” she told swissinfo, “because we hear so many stories from western culture such as Hansel and Gretel, and Cinderella. I think it’s also important that western children should learn something about Indian and Asian culture. There has to be a two-way process.”

Her version of The Mahabharata has now been published in German as well as English and looks set to create a new legion of readers of the works of a remarkable young author, who says her spare time interests include Greek mythology and the campaigns for women’s rights and against child labour.

But there is disappointing news for readers eagerly awaiting her next book: “I plan to take a 10-year break from writing,” she said.

by Richard Dawson

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR