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Until the lions - Karthika Nair

“A jeremiad is a long literary work, usually in prose, but sometimes in verse, in which the author bitterly laments the state of society and its morals in a serious tone of sustained invective, and always contains a prophecy of society's imminent downfall.”

Aravan is the son of Arjuna and Ulupi a Naga princess, born during Arjuna’s one year exile from Indraprastha. There are diverse interpretations of his “heroic” death in the 18-day Krukshetra battle. Tamil traditions dwell on the act of self-sacrifice to Kali, to ensure victory of the Pandavas. Many speak of the the three boons that Krishna gave to Aravan 1)to die a heroic death on the battlefield 2) to witness the 18 day Kurukshetra even after death 3) to be married before death.

It is said that no woman wanted to marry him knowing of his imminent death, and so Krishna, the fixer, takes the feminine form of Mohini and spends the night with Aravan as his wife before he dies. Aravan is also the patron-god of transgender communities in south India (“aravani” also draws its etymology from here).

Karthika Nair’s “Until the Lions” is a miracle of poetic fervour that writes resistance, empathy and subalternity into a fierce critique of the cult of heroism in the Mahabharata. Written in 18 different female voices, Nair uses form to excavate emotion, and repurposes positionalities to fashion a colourful, eclectic retelling out of a much worn out narrative. This excerpt condemns the arbitrariness of death for the “greater good” in the deluge of Mohini’s fury.

“For Mohini, I worked with the ebb and flood of the voice…like an electrocardiogram…the visual shape her rage and grief took, how it reflected the cadence of her heart.” - from Nair’s introduction

As I read Mohini’s anger, I think of Anas and Suleiman, youth murdered by UP police in Bijnor for being Muslim. The police had not released their bodies and have terrorised their family kin. They will not even be allowed their moment of grief. Their rage does not count. This is the india we live in, where the mother of a 21 year old innocent Muslim victim will not even be allowed the consolation of mourning for her son.

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