My religion gives me the right to question. .. so does my gender. The position of women in our country has been a burning concern
A few years ago, at the time of release of my first book The Summer of Cool- I was asked by a film maker to collaborate with a team of writers for a cinematic interpretation of the Ramayana. They had two male writers on the team already and were looking for a feminine perspective of the epic. Lord rama. The Ideal Indian Man. I refused. The film maker asked why. I told him not only do I know nothing of screen writing, I also do not accept Ram as the ideal man. Moreover the character of Sita that has subconsciously infiltrated our collective psyches & subliminally forced the Indian women’s servitude over the centuries is not someone I agree with either and so unwilling to eulogize.
I remember his eyes widening in shock & the vigorous clearing of his throat as he gruffly told me that in that case I am obviously not the right person for this story.
“Then why did you say you want a feminine perspective? A different interpretation?” I asked. Many women I know feel similarly. Why ask us if you don’t want to hear how we think?
“Yes yes, but I was not expecting something like this. After all Ram is a God. Don’t say what you just told me publically please” he smiled after he had got over his initial shock- “You’ll get beaten up” We laughed and parted with a namaste . I never thought of this again.
Till a few days ago when the same subject came up in a discussion on mythology and the humanization of Gods. It was a room full of people. A writer friend and a celebrated expert on the subject too, extolled the virtues of Ram as an ideal man. Sita the epitome of feminine virtue. Ravan is a fascinating character too.
“Ramayana is not just a religious text. Its one of the greatest love stories. After all Ram loved Sita so much he chanted his wife’s name as he committed Jal Samadhi, surrendering his life while drowning” The writer friend rapturised. For conditions of anonymity let’s call him Mr X
“If he loved his wife so much why did he not treat her better while she was alive? A lady in the room asked. For the same conditions of anonymity let’s call her Ms Y “Was Sita ever happy in this love story? Ram had the glory of a King, what did she have except suffering? Why didnt she protest?”
Mr X looked uncomfortable and adjusted his specs “Ram was a noble king. His first duty was towards his people. Sita understood that. She was an obedient wife and sacrificing mother, the ideal woman too- Celebrated for her compliance. She trusted her husband- There was no need to question him”
“But what about Sita’s feelings? Surely you can be a king and still not have to banish your wife to exile on the suspicion of a dhobi? Sita trusted Ram blindly but he betrayed her trust. Is that love?
Mr X looked impatient “What do you mean “What about Sita’s feelings & why didn’t she protest? Ram was a king for God’s sake. An ideal man. Maryada Purshottam -The ideal follower of rules”
“Whose ideals? Whose rules? Were those rules fair? ” This time the question was mine
“Ramayan is about Ram. Not Sita. That’s the problem with you aggressive feminists Suchitra. Can’t you just keep quiet and not make trouble? ”
Huh? Aggressive feminist? Keep quiet and not make trouble? & No this celebrated writer didn’t see any misogyny in what he had just said.
Images of Indian hero’s dragging his heroine by the hair, the Nirbhaya rapist saying the victim would have been spared her life had she not protested so much, etc etc flooded into my head. I started to feel dizzy. Drama Queen dizzy
& so I along with Ms Y and some other women quickly banished ourselves from the room . Before we started to be told things like we can’t sit there in jeans and can’t possess mobile phones etc. I mean those things were not in the Ramayana either so…
Delighted with our exit, the celebrated writer Mr X continued to regale the others in the room with the glory of the story. His version was unquestionably intact. No need for any other interpretion thank you very much. I could see that that some of the men in the room were turning misty eyed. Jai Shri Ram they chanted a few times
Phew… I suddenly badly needed a cigarette. Felt the insane urge to blow smoke into Mr X’s face.
But then I remembered. Hey I don’t smoke. Out of choice. Bad for health you know. Nothing to do with anybody’s notions of the ideal Indian woman.