June 11, 2007

In the Land of Ram

Keh Gaye bhaiya suno Seyane
Ram ki batein Ram hi Jane.

Ram. Maryadapurushottam Sri Ram. The one name that evokes the figure of God in Human form. The one story that forms our great epic. The one story that perhaps also chronicles the Aryan intrusion beyond the Vindhyas. But leaving aside who he was, for the average Indian Ram remains one of the most revered names and for them utopia is still called Ram Rajya, the kingdom of Ram.

It’s said that we mortals barely understand the wills of God. While the old human civilizations attributed our misfortunes to the whims and fancies of their primitive Gods, the Indian Philosophy describes a larger scheme of things, a cosmic design, by the will of the One, which we are yet to understand.

In the Hindi heartland, the name of Ram can be heard even in the breaths of the person who has just passed you on the streets, yet his Godliness comes into question at times. Our old Indus Valley Civilization worshipped the Mother Goddess, the old Vedic texts spoke of the female power as the source of all energy, Shakti. But in our first epic, we see our God asking for a trial by Fire, Agnipariksha from his female counterpart, Sita. I do not know Cosmic Design, I do not also know the will of The Gods, but it seems to me that it is unfair. Ram was the ideal ruler, the greatest son one could hope for, but to me he was never the perfect deity.

If we look closely at our other epic, the Mahabharata, we see much more powerful characters. Starting from Satyavati, to Kunti, to Draupadi and ultimately to my most favourite female character Gandhari, we see a different place for women in the matters of the kingdom and society. Draupadi does not meekly accept the decisions of her husband, she vows to destroy a dynasty, something we do not ever see Sita doing.

Perhaps that is why we never worshipped Draupadi.

The main reason why I wrote all this was simply because of the stark contrast I have seen between the metros and other parts of India. In Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai or even Calcutta, I have seen more women on the streets than I have seen here in Muzffarpur or other parts of interior India that I have visited recently. I do not know the reason behind the same. Maybe it’s a self imposed or society imposed ‘purdah’, maybe it’s just that we are going through a phase like the America of the 70s, where women were mostly confined to the houses.

But as I thought more about it, two not so recent movies came to my mind. The first one Lajja, though suffering from highly clichéd themes and dialogues and forced into a Happy Ending as demanded by Bollywood, was one of the most powerful depictions on the atrocities against women by society. The other much much scarier was Matrubhumi. If any one of you have not seen the movie yet I beg you to watch it for the sake of our future.
A nation without women... if steps are not taken immediately, we might become one very very soon.

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