Why Lord Ram is no ladies man
An encounter with those who worship the king as the ideal Indian man and defend his misogyny.
- Total Shares
A few years ago, when my first book - The Summer of Cool - was to release, I was asked by a filmmaker 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 the feminine perspective. Lord Ram. The ideal Indian man. I refused. The filmmaker asked why. I told him that not only did I know nothing about screenwriting, but I also did not accept Ram as the ideal man. Moreover, the character of Sita, which has subconsciously infiltrated our collective psyche and forced the Indian women into servitude over the centuries, is not someone I agree with either and so I was unwilling to eulogise her.
I remember his eyes widening in shock and the vigorous clearing of his throat as he told me that in that case, I am obviously not the right person for this story. "Then why did you say you want the feminine perspective? A different interpretation?" I asked. Many women I know feel the same way. 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 publicly please," he smiled, after getting over his initial shock. "You'll get beaten up." We laughed and parted with a namaste. I didn't think of this again until a few days ago when the subject came up in a discussion on mythology and the humanisation of gods. There was a room full of people. A writer friend and a celebrated expert on the subject too, extolled the virtues of Ram as the ideal man. Sita - the epitome of feminine virtue; Ravan is a fascinating character too.
"Ramayana is not just a religious text. It's 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 said. For the sake 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?," asked a woman in the room - 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 didn't she protest?"
Mr X looked uncomfortable and adjusted his spectacles. "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," he explained. "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 now appeared impatient, "What do you mean what about Sita's feelings and 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. We had gathered for a discussion on the subject, but he had obviously assumed it was a dictation.
Images of the Indian hero dragging his heroine by the hair, Nirbhaya's rapist saying that she would have been spared had she not protested so much, et al flooded into my head. I started to feel dizzy. Drama Queen dizzy. And so, Ms Y, some other women and I, quickly got ourselves out of the room. Before we could be told things like we couldn't sit there wearing jeans, or own mobile phones. I mean those things were not in the Ramayana either, so...
Delighted with our exit, the celebrated 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 interpretation, 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 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.