Mahasweta Devi’s short story Panchakanya was first published in 2000 in Bengali. The 2018 Seagull Books translation into English, by Anjum Katyal, of After Kurukshetra is a compilation of three short stories portraying the time of the Mahabharata (3137 BC) in the aftermath of the epic Kurukshetra war. from the perspective of the women.. The story of “The Five Women '' is a poetic and moving femenist portrayal of the difference of moral, economic, psychological, and spiritual values of women of royalty and tribal women.
The Kurukshetra, as described in the ancient Sanskrit epic, The Mahabharata, has been considered a “righteous war” fought between two royal cousins (the Kaurava and Pandava princes). Historically it may have been only a small dispute that was written down as a gigantic epic to illustrate the four main values of Hinduism, the puruṣārthas: Dharma (righteousness, moral values), Artha (prosperity, economic values), Kama (pleasure, love, psychological values) and Moksha (liberation, spiritual values, self-actualization).
Mahasweta Devi, illustrates how war between cousins, war of greed of men, created a whole class of widowed women. Widows of the princes who died in “valor” and widows of the foot soldiers who died by the droves, senselessly are brought together for a short period of time, while “the earth of Kurukshetra was scorched rock hard by the funeral fires” (p2). Her understanding of tribal culture is apparent as she illustrates how Adivasi women, connected to nature, face a dramatically different reality from that of the stifling, silently, decaying widowhood of the Hindu queens and princesses. Though both cultures are subject to patriarchal power structures that seem to perpetually lead to senseless wars, the Adivasi widows’ future is more vibrant and alive than that of the royal women, who are destined to continue their lives as if they were dead and decaying.
Ironically I attended a conference on trauma just after I had read “The Five Women”, that characterized three types of trauma in every human life. The Christian Counseling perspective of the conference had so many parallel conceptions, in some of the details. It spoke of human trauma that leaves us like: the Orphan (betrayed and abandoned), the Stranger (broken and powerless), the Widow (love lost and abuse). The spiritual lesson is how to move past suffering and have it reveal one’s true calling as: Priest (to manage the rituals of grieving)t, Prophet (to tell the truth and be creative), and Queen/King (to lead and make space for flourishing).
The parallels to how Mahasweta Devi exposes the differences between Hindu and Adivasi approaches to trauma may not be immediately apparent. I am only just beginning to ponder the similarities. But through the telling of stories we often are exploring the process of trauma and the prospects of hope. It would be a most interesting debate to have with those of these particular various persuasions, that I will continue to ruminate over and hope to someday tell a story that brings these world views together in discourse through my next book (a novel- anticipated title: “Lives We Cannot Keep”)
There is certainly so much more for me to write about both the conference and the short story, but I wanted to simply capture how my many worlds that I navigate through sometimes intersect. How all our worlds and our worldviews are constantly moving away from and towards each other. If you have the opportunity to read “After Kurukshetra” please join me. There remain two more stories in the collection of 54 pages, that I trust will bring more commentary on the Mahabharata and inspire more thoughts on Trauma Informed Narrative Theory.