Paris-based poet, author, dance producer and curator Karthika Nair was born in Kerala. She began her career as a journalist, before moving to the France in 2000 to study art management. Nair’s first book, a collection of poetry titled Bearings, was published in 2009. In her latest book, Until the Lions, an experimental retelling of the epic Mahabharata, Nair writes poetry in the voices of those whose narratives remained untold. She calls them the “downtrodden of history.” The title of her book is derived from an African proverb: “Until the lions get their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunters.” Through the book, Nair attempts to conduct an “inquiry of power” through the eyes of those who do not possess it: most often, the women of the Mahabharata. The 18 voices she employs belong to characters such as Gandhari, the wife of Drithrashtra and the mother of the hundred Kauravas; the unnamed mother of Drithrashtra’s half-brother, Vidura, who she names Poorna; Mohini, the female avatar of Krishna; and Shunaka, a dog.
In the following excerpt, Nair writes in the voice of Kunti, wife of King Pandu of Hastinapur and the mother of the five Pandavs. In the poem, titled “Ossature of Maternal Conquest & Reign,” Kunti is talking about her sixth son Karna with her daughter-in-law, Draupadi.
No mother can ever love each of her sons
alike. You should know, Draupadi, you who own
two five-chambered hearts, the smaller for your sons,