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Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translator(s)/ Editors(s): Anjum Katyal
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8170462908
‘As the warriors are cremated, the skies above Kurukshetra are dark with circling birds of prey. Reek of rotting flesh. Row upon row of oil-soaked wood pyres piled high with decomposing bodies. They are set alight. The pyres burn for days.’
With the ancient epic Mahabharata as her source, and the battle of Kurukshetra as a central motif, Mahasweta Devi weaves three stories in which we visit unexpected alleys and by-lanes of the traditional epic saga, and look at events from the eyes of women marginalized, dispossessed, dalit. Their eyes condemn the wanton waste and inhumanity of war. This Kurukshetra is not the legendary Dharmayuddha of the popular imagination but rather a clod-blooded power game sacrificing countless human lives.
How do the women’s quarters of the palace, a colourless place of shadowy widowhood, appear to five peasant women whose lives are no less shattered by the Kurukshetra massacre, but who are used to dealing with trauma in a more robust manner? How does their outlook on life and survival influence the young pregnant princess who is abruptly plunged into the half-life of upper caste widowhood?
How does a lower caste serving woman, who was brought in to service king Dhritarashtra when his queen was with child, view her half-royal offspring and his decision to perform the last rites for a father who never acknowledged him as a son? How does an ageing Kunti, living out her last years in the forest, come to terms with her guilt over her unacknowledged son, Karna? And, having finally voiced her shame aloud, how then does she face up to a crime she has not even remembered: the murder of a family of nishad forest dwellers?
These tales, brewed in the imagination of a master story-teller, make us look at the Mahabharata with new eyes, insisting as they do on the inclusion, within the master narrative, of the fates and viewpoints of those previously unrepresented therein: women and the underclass.
The Five Women
Kunti and the Nishadin
(Kunti o Nishadi)