Mahabharata from a woman’s perspective…the conversation with S yesterday set me thinking. I am not familiar enough with the Mahabharata to comment, but the Ramayana? When I first read the Ramayana at the age of 8, I was quite impressed. A dutiful son, a benevolent king, a handsome prince. A perfect man. I was probably way too young to wonder what kind of a man he really was. But, even at that age, I found myself wondering why a prince should give up creature comfort and go to the forest just because his senile and invertebrate old father wanted him to. Obedience is not a virtue for me. It has never been. Discretion however, is a different matter altogether.
When I re-read the epic ten years later, I was less impressed. But unsullied as I was with feminist ideals and ideas of equality, I still did not question the logic behind the epic. But, at 27, it is a different question altogether. Ram, to me, is no longer the dutiful son. He just obeyed his father without bothering to question the logic behind the order. A lack of discretion on his part. How will a man, incapable of analyzing the whys and wherefores of a decision, prove himself capable of ruling a country?
Later in the epic, Ram chases a mirage, the deceptively beautiful deer. He comes back to find his wife missing. She is abducted. Like any other husband, he sets out to get her back. He hunts Ravan down, kills him and liberates his wife. But wait! Something is wrong. Hasn’t the woman spent a good 12 years (Edit: 12 months, not years…) away from him? How does he know she is still chaste and untouched? Sita, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion, mustn’t she? Ram makes her undergo a trial by fire. If she is consumed by the flames, she is impure. If she gets out unscathed, she is chaste and virginal. Like most Indian women, Sita does it. For her chauvinist of a husband! But, let me ask you something. Did Ram not spend 12 years away from his wife too? (Edit: Dad says it’s 12 months…) Does chastity and purity mean nothing for a man? Or is promiscuity and infidelity excused because Ram is a man. What is sauce for the goose is most definitely not sauce for the gander.
To add insult to the injury, Ram is portrayed as asking for a trial by fire for the people of his country. Just who are the people of the country to ask a queen to prove her chastity? A husband is supposed to protect and cherish. A king is supposed to listen, explain and convince. Ram fails as both. He brings Sita back to Ayodhya, after the trial by fire. Again, questions are raised about her chastity. Is she pure? Is she chaste? Untouched? By now, she is pregnant. Ram, being the perfect king, exiles his wife, pregnant with twins, to the forest. After all, what is more important for a king that the wish of his people? Here, Ram fails again. As a husband.
It really gets my goat when people call Ram the perfect man. He is an average man. An average Indian male, who neither respects nor particularly cares for the woman in his life. An average Indian male who has been pampered all his life by grandmothers, aunts, his mother, his wife and other assorted female relatives. An average Indian man who will never understand, or even try to understand what a woman goes through at the various stages of her life. To me, Ram is not perfect.