Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata

by

Published: Coming October 2019

Book Description

A dazzling and eloquent reworking of the Mahabharata, the ancient Asian epic, through nineteen voices on the periphery. With daring poetic forms, Karthika Naïr breathes life into this ancient epic.

In Until the Lions, Karthika Naïr retells the Mahabharata through the embodied voices of women and marginal characters, so often conquered and destroyed throughout history. She captures the richness and complexity of the Mahabharata, while illuminating lives buried beneath the edifices of one of the world’s most venerated books. Through shifting poetic forms, ranging from pantoums to Petrarchan sonnets, Naïr choreographs the cadences of stray voices. And with a passionate empathy, she tells of nameless soldiers, their despairing spouses and lovers, a canny empress, an all-powerful god, and a gender-shifting outcast warrior. Until the Lions is a kaleidoscopic, poetic tour de force. It reveals the most intimate threads of desire, greed, and sacrifice in this foundational epic.

In this retelling of the Mahabaratha from the point of view of its hitherto minor female characters, Karthika Naïr uncovers a seminal feminist text. Until the Lions makes dazzling use of concrete verse and surreptitious rhyme to tell a story you think you know. By poem’s end you understand, with gratitude, that you know nothing and the old world has been made new. This is nervy and accomplished poetry. Listen.
Jeet Thayil


Karthika Naïr has given us the most eloquent meditation on the Mahabharata in this generation—a lyrical, unflinching exploration of the souls embodied in many of the great epic characters, a moving and intricate weaving together of their destinies and desires, a stunning attempt to create a language commensurate with those destinies, and a profound lament for the suffering that all human beings must know. In her hands, the ancient epic assumes new life, one that is somehow close to our own experience of the world, familiar yet also utterly strange and new. Hers is a voice of clarity and passionate empathy; no one has read the Mahabharata this way before her.
David Shulman


Here's a work that's galvanised both by human and divine history and by the history of the epic itself. The result is a narrative poem of great imagination and incandescence, about a subject at once deeply familiar and deeply strange.
Amit Chaudhuri


Karthika Naïr explores the contrapuntal stories of the Mahabharata in a virtuoso collection of dramatic monologues. Queens, warriors, sages, slaves and peasants, even wolves have their say, as the tales of rulers and lovers, parents and children, gods and humans, are retold in metered prose and poetic forms of myriad origin: the Spanish glosa, the Malay pantoum, the Provençal sestina, the Pashtun landay, shaped stanzas and nonce forms. This is a glorious work of storytelling and a poetic tour de force.
Marilyn Hacker


Until the Lions is a triumph of narrative and poetic risk-taking. Five years in the making, Naïr’s collection of poems, written in the voices of women in the Mahabharata, has been rightly hailed as a magnum opus by the critics. The most recognizably remarkable thing about the books is its beautiful, languorous, old-world English that blends right in with her subject matter.
Aditya Mani Jha, Wasafiri


Naïr’s intervention – a series of dramatic monologues that give the epic’s women psychological depth, wrath and despair – is brilliantly executed. Expressed in a range of poetic forms from the concrete to the glosa, Naïr’s voices give one a sudden fluency with a complex narrative that is immediate and surprisingly subtle—so alive are her voices, so chilling are the prophetic leaps into the chaos of prehistory.

Sandeep Parmar, Times Literary Supplement


It is fabulous and that’s the reason this book can’t be reviewed properly. You need to read it.

Bibek Debroy, OPEN Magazine


Until the Lions is a powerful lesson in how the legacy of hate can flow from one generation to another. Nair’s writing is constantly informed by the intricate structures of choreography and, at the same time, has had a profound influence on several prominent dance artists of this generation.

Alistair Spalding


Until the Lions is a triumph of narrative and poetic risk-taking. Five years in the making, Nair’s collection of poems, written in the voices of women in the Mahabharata, has been rightly hailed as a magnum opus by the critics. The most recognisably remarkable thing about the books is its beautiful, languorous, old-world English that blends right in with her subject matter.

Aditya Mani Jha, Wasafiri


There is a dazzling range of forms from pantoums and ghazals, to Spanish glosa and sestinas; all of which is carried off with considerable aplomb and bravura technique… But what Nair has done in Until the Lions is recast the Mahabharata in language which reaches deep into the core of the original and makes it triumphantly, vibrantly new.

Ian Pople, Manchester Review


A fascinating and creative interpretation of the Mahabharat.

Salil Tripathi, The Hindu: The Author's Choice


Karthika retells the Mahabharata in many voices, each hitherto unheard of, and it is impossible not to be captivated by them. A brilliant poetic tribute to the epic.

Anees Salim, Deccan Chronicle


The Mahabharata will always take you back to the deepest existential questions. It continues to instigate superlative writing as well. Karthika Nair’s Until the Lions (Harper Collins) is an unshakeable masterpiece of modern poetry, and one of the great retellings of the text.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Indian Express


Yet beyond its blood-soaked destinies and edgy verse is a moving humanist call to better understand history and epic, and our own violent impulses that (mis)shape both. Naïr’s raw representation of emotion, metaphysical meditations and technical artistry make her one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Indian poetry in English today.

Sneharika Roy, Journal of Post-Colonial Writing


...Until the Lions was a revelation about the kind of power that can be held within lines of words… The lines of Amba, for instance, are so intense it felt like they were faintly vibrating before my eye.

Raghu Karnad, Deccan Herald: Favourite Reads of 2015


Read an interview with Naïr in The Citizen here.

Tishani Doshi and Naïr discuss dance, poetry, and the legacy of mythology for Granta Magazine here.

Read an excerpt of Until the Lions over at Live Mint here.