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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Two Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation

How many Ramayanas ? Three hundred? Three thousand? At the end of some Ramayanas , a question is sometimes asked: How many Ramayanas have there been? And there are stories that answer the question. Here is one. One day when Rama was sitting on his throne, his ring fell off. When it touched the earth, it made a hole in the ground and disappeared into it. It was gone. His trusty henchman, Hanuman, was at his feet. Rama said to Hanuman, "Look, my ring is lost. Find it for me." Now Hanuman can enter any hole, no matter how tiny. He had the power to become the smallest of the small and larger than the largest thing. So he took on a tiny form and went down the hole. He went and went and went and suddenly fell into the netherworld. There were women down there. "Look, a tiny monkey! It's fallen from above? Then they caught him and placed him on a platter (thali ). The King of Spirits (bhut ), who lives in the netherworld, likes to eat animals. So Hanuman was sent to him as part of his dinner, along with his vegetables. Hanuman sat on the platter, wondering what to do. While this was going on in the netherworld, Rama sat on his throne on the earth above. The sage Vasistha and the god Brahma came to see him. They said to Rama, "We want to talk privately with you. We don't want anyone to hear what we say or interrupt it. Do we agree?" "All right," said Rama, "we'll talk." Then they said, "Lay down a rule. If anyone comes in as we are talking, his head should be cut off." "It will be done," said Rama. Who would be the most trustworthy person to guard the door? Hanuman had gone down to fetch the ring. Rama trusted no one more than Laksmana, ________________________________________ ― 23 ― so he asked Laksmana to stand by the door. "Don't allow anyone to enter," he ordered. Laksmana was standing at the door when the sage Visvamitra appeared and said, "I need to see Rama at once. It's urgent. Tell me, where is Rama?" Laksmana said, "Don't go in now. He is talking to some people. It's important." "What is there that Rama would hide from me?" said Visvamitra. "I must go in, right now." Laksmana said, "I'11 have to ask his permission before I can let you in." "Go in and ask then." "I can't go in till Rama comes out. You'll have to wait." "If you don't go in and announce my presence, I'll burn the entire kingdom of Ayodhya with a curse," said Visvamitra. Laksmana thought, "If I go in now, I'll die. But if I don't go, this hotheaded man will burn down the kingdom. All the subjects, all things living in it, will die. It's better that I alone should die." So he went right in. Rama asked him, "What's the matter?" "Visvamitra is here." "Send him in." So Visvamitra went in. The private talk had already come to an end. Brahma and Vasistha had come to see Rama and say to him, "Your work in the world of human beings is over. Your incarnation as Rama must now he given up. Leave this body, come up, and rejoin the gods." That's all they wanted to say. Laksmana said to Rama, "Brother, you should cut off my head." Rama said, "Why? We had nothing more to say. Nothing was left. So why should I cut off your head?" Laksmana said, "You can't do that. You can't let me off because I'm your brother. There'll be a blot on Rama's name. You didn't spare your wife. You sent her to the jungle. I must be punished. I will leave." Laksmana was an avatar of Sesa, the serpent on whom Visnu sleeps. His time was up too. He went directly to the river Sarayu and disappeared in the flowing waters. When Laksmana relinquished his body, Rama summoned all his followers, Vibhisana, Sugriva, and others, and arranged for the coronation of his twin sons, Lava and Kusa. Then Rama too entered the river Sarayu. All this while, Hanuman was in the netherworld. When he was finally taken to the King of Spirits, he kept repeating the name of Rama. "Rama Rama Rama . . ." Then the King of Spirits asked, "Who are you?" "Hanuman." "Hanuman? Why have you come here?" ________________________________________ ― 24 ― "Rama's ring fell into a hole. I've come to fetch it." The king looked around and showed him a platter. On it were thousands of rings. They were all Rama's rings. The king brought the platter to Hanuman, set it down, and said, "Pick out your Rama's ring and take it." They were all exactly the same. "I don't know which one it is," said Hanuman, shaking his head. The King of Spirits said, "There have been as many Ramas as there are rings on this platter. When you return to earth, you will not find Rama. This incarnation of Rama is now over. Whenever an incarnation of Rama is about to be over, his ring falls down. I collect them and keep them. Now you can go." So Hanuman left. This story is usually told to suggest that for every such Rama there is a Ramayana .[1] The number of Ramayanas and the range of their influence in South and Southeast Asia over the past twenty-five hundred years or more are astonishing. Just a list of languages in which the Rama story is found makes one gasp: Annamese, Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan—to say nothing of Western languages. Through the centuries, some of these languages have hosted more than one telling of the Rama story. Sanskrit alone contains some twenty-five or more tellings belonging to various narrative genres (epics, kavyas or ornate poetic compositions, puranas or old mythological stories, and so forth). If we add plays, dance-dramas, and other performances, in both the classical and folk traditions, the number of Ramayanas grows even larger. To these must be added sculpture and bas-reliefs, mask plays, puppet plays and shadow plays, in all the many South and Southeast Asian cultures.[2] Camille Bulcke, a student of the Ramayana , counted three hundred tellings.[3] It's no wonder that even as long ago as the fourteenth century, Kumaravyasa, a Kannada poet, chose to write a Mahabharata , because he heard the cosmic serpent which upholds the earth groaning under the burden of Ramayana poets ( tinikidanuphanirayaramayanadakavigalabharadali ). In this paper, indebted for its data to numerous previous translators and scholars, I would like to sort out for myself, and I hope for others, how these hundreds of tellings of a story in different cultures, languages, and religious traditions relate to each other: what gets translated, transplanted, transposed. Valmiki and Kampan: Two Ahalyas Obviously, these hundreds of tellings differ from one another. I have come to prefer the word tellings to the usual terms versions or variants because the latter terms can and typically do imply that there is an invariant, an original or ________________________________________ ― 25 ― Ur -text—usually Valmiki's Sanskrit Ramayana , the earliest and most prestigious of them all. But as we shall see, it is not always Valmiki's narrative that is carried from one language to another. It would be useful to make some distinctions before we begin. The tradition itself distinguishes between the Rama story (ramakatha ) and texts composed by a specific person—Valmiki, Kampan, or Krttivasa, for example. Though many of the latter are popularly called Ramayanas (like Kamparamayanam ), few texts actually bear the title Ramayana ; they are given titles like Iramavataram (The Incarnation of Rama), Ramcaritmanas (The Lake of the Acts of Rama), Ramakien (The Story of Rama), and so on. Their relations to the Rama story as told by Valmiki also vary. This traditional distinction between katha (story) and kavya (poem) parallels the French one between sujet and recit , or the English one between story and discourse.[4] It is also analogous to the distinction between a sentence and a speech act. The story may be the same in two tellings, but the discourse may be vastly different. Even the structure and sequence of events may be the same, but the style, details, tone, and texture—and therefore the import—may be vastly different. Here are two tellings of the "same" episode, which occur at the same point in the sequence of the narrative. The first is from the first book (Balakanda ) of Valmiki's Sanskrit Ramayana ; the second from the first canto (Palakantam ) of Kampan's Iramavataram in Tamil. Both narrate the story of Ahalya. The Ahalya Episode: Valmiki Seeing Mithila, Janaka's white and dazzling city, all the sages cried out in praise, "Wonderful! How wonderful!" Raghava, sighting on the outskirts of Mithila an ashram, ancient, unpeopled, and lovely, asked the sage, "What is this holy place, so like an ashram but without a hermit? Master, I'd like to hear: whose was it?" Hearing Raghava's words, the great sage Visvamitra, man of fire, expert in words answered, "Listen, Raghava, I'll tell you whose ashram this was and how it was cursed by a great man in anger. It was great Gautama's, this ashram that reminds you of heaven, worshiped even by the gods. Long ago, with Ahalya he practiced tapas[5] here ________________________________________ ― 26 ― for countless years. Once, knowing that Gautama was away, Indra (called Thousand Eyes), Saci's husband, took on the likeness of the sage, and said to Ahalya: 'Men pursuing their desire do not wait for the proper season, O you who have a perfect body. Making love with you: that's what I want. That waist of yours is lovely.' She knew it was Indra of the Thousand Eyes in the guise of the sage. Yet she, wrongheaded woman, made up her mind, excited, curious about the king of the gods. And then, her inner being satisfied, she said to the god, 'I'm satisfied, king of the gods. Go quickly from here. O giver of honor, lover, protect yourself and me.' And Indra smiled and said to Ahalya, 'Woman of lovely hips, I am very content. I'll go the way I came.' Thus after making love, he came out of the hut made of leaves. And, O Rama, as he hurried away, nervous about Gautama and flustered, he caught sight of Gautama coming in, the great sage, unassailable by gods and antigods, empowered by his tapas , still wet with the water of the river he'd bathed in, blazing like fire, with kusa grass and kindling in his hands. Seeing him, the king of the gods was terror-struck, his face drained of color. The sage, facing Thousand Eyes now dressed as the sage, the one rich in virtue and the other with none, spoke to him in anger: 'You took my form, you fool, and did this that should never be done. Therefore you will lose your testicles.' At once, they fell to the ground, they fell even as the great sage spoke ________________________________________ ― 27 ― his words in anger to Thousand Eyes. Having cursed Indra, he then cursed Ahalya: 'You, you will dwell here many thousands of years, eating the air, without food, rolling in ash, and burning invisible to all creatures. When Rama, unassailable son of Dasaratha, comes to this terrible wilderness, you will become pure, you woman of no virtue, you will be cleansed of lust and confusion. Filled then with joy, you'll wear again your form in my presence.' And saying this to that woman of bad conduct, blazing Gautama abandoned the ashram, and did his tapas on a beautiful Himalayan peak, haunt of celestial singers and perfected beings. Emasculated Indra then spoke to the gods led by Agni attended by the sages and the celestial singers. 'I've only done this work on behalf of the gods, putting great Gautama in a rage, blocking his tapas . He has emasculated me and rejected her in anger. Through this great outburst of curses, I've robbed him of his tapas . Therefore, great gods, sages, and celestial singers, help me, helper of the gods, to regain my testicles.' And the gods, led by Agni, listened to Indra of the Hundred Sacrifices and went with the Marut hosts to the divine ancestors, and said, 'Some time ago, Indra, infatuated, ravished the sage's wife and was then emasculated by the sage's curse. Indra, king of gods, destroyer of cities, ________________________________________ ― 28 ― is now angry with the gods. This ram has testicles but great Indra has lost his. So take the ram's testicles and quickly graft them on to Indra. A castrated ram will give you supreme satisfaction and will be a source of pleasure. People who offer it will have endless fruit. You will give them your plenty.' Having heard Agni's words, the Ancestors got together and ripped off the ram's testicles and applied them then to Indra of the Thousand Eyes. Since then, the divine Ancestors eat these castrated rams and Indra has the testicles of the beast through the power of great Gautama's tapas . Come then, Rama, to the ashram of the holy sage and save Ahalya who has the beauty of a goddess." Raghava heard Visvamitra's words and followed him into the ashram with Laksmana: there he saw Ahalya, shining with an inner light earned through her penances, blazing yet hidden from the eyes of passersby, even gods and antigods.[6] The Ahalya Episode: Kampan They came to many-towered Mithila and stood outside the fortress. On the towers were many flags. There, high on an open field, stood a black rock that was once Ahalya, the great sage's wife who fell because she lost her chastity, the mark of marriage in a house. 547 ________________________________________ ― 29 ― Rama's eyes fell on the rock, the dust of his feet wafted on it. Like one unconscious coming to, cutting through ignorance, changing his dark carcass for true form as he reaches the Lord's feet, so did she stand alive formed and colored again as she once was. 548 In 550, Rama asks Visvamitra why this lovely woman had been turned to stone. Visvamitra replies: "Listen. Once Indra, Lord of the Diamond Axe, waited on the absenceLord of the Diamond Axe, of Gautama, a sage all spirit, meaning to reach out for the lovely breast of doe-eyed Ahalya, his wife. 551 Hurt by love's arrows, hurt by the look in her eyes that pierced him like a spear, Indra writhed and cast about for stratagems; one day, overwhelmed and mindless, he isolated the sage; and sneaked into the hermitage wearing the exact body of Gautama whose heart knew no falsehoods. 552 Sneaking in, he joined Ahalya; coupled, they drank deep of the clear new wine of first-night weddings; and she knew. Yet unable to put aside what was not hers, she dallied in her joy, but the sage did not tarry, he came back, a very Siva with three eyes in his head. 553 ________________________________________ ― 30 ― Gautama, who used no arrows from bows, could use more inescapable powers of curse and blessing. When he arrived, Ahalya stood there, stunned, bearing the shame of a deed that will not end in this endless world. Indra shook in terror, started to move away in the likeness of a cat. 554 Eyes dropping fire, Gautama saw what was done, and his words flew like the burning arrows at your hand: 'May you be covered by the vaginas of a thousand women!' In the twinkle of an eye they came and covered him. 555 Covered with shame, laughingstock of the world, Indra left. The sage turned to his tender wife and cursed: 'O bought woman! May you turn to stone!' and she fell at once a rough thing of black rock. 556 Yet as she fell she begged: 'To bear and forgive wrongs is also the way of elders. O Siva-like lord of mine, set some limit to your curse!' So he said: 'Rama will come, wearing garlands that bring the hum of bees with them. When the dust of his feet falls on you, you will be released from the body of stone.' 557 The immortals looked at their king and came down at once to Gautama in a delegation led by Brahma and begged of Gautama to relent. ________________________________________ ― 31 ― Gautama's mind had changed and cooled. He changed the marks on Indra to a thousand eyes and the gods went back to their worlds, while she lay there, a thing of stone. 558 That was the way it was. while she lay there, a thing of stone. From now on, no more misery, only release, for all things in this world. O cloud-dark lord who battled with that ogress, black as soot, I saw there the virtue of your hands and here the virtue of your feet."[7] 559 Let me rapidly suggest a few differences between the two tellings. In Valmiki, Indra seduces a willing Ahalya. In Kampan, Ahalya realizes she is doing wrong but cannot let go of the forbidden joy; the poem has also suggested earlier that her sage-husband is all spirit, details which together add a certain psychological subtlety to the seduction. Indra tries to steal away in the shape of a cat, clearly a folklore motif (also found, for example, in the Kathasaritsagara , an eleventh-century Sanskrit compendium of folktales).[8] He is cursed with a thousand vaginas which are later changed into eyes, and Ahalya is changed into frigid stone. The poetic justice wreaked on both offenders is fitted to their wrongdoing. Indra bears the mark of what he lusted for, while Ahalya is rendered incapable of responding to anything. These motifs, not found in Valmiki, are attested in South Indian folklore and other southern Rama stories, in inscriptions and earlier Tamil poems, as well as in non-Tamil sources. Kampan, here and elsewhere, not only makes full use of his predecessor Valmiki's materials but folds in many regional folk traditions. It is often through him that they then become part of other Ramayanas . In technique, Kampan is also more dramatic than Valmiki. Rama's feet transmute the black stone into Ahalya first; only afterward is her story told. The black stone standing on a high place, waiting for Rama, is itself a very effective, vivid symbol. Ahalya's revival, her waking from cold stone to fleshly human warmth, becomes an occasion for a moving bhakti (devotional) meditation on the soul waking to its form in god. Finally, the Ahalya episode is related to previous episodes in the poem such as that in which Rama destroys the demoness Tataka. There he was the destroyer of evil, the bringer of sterility and the ashes of death to his enemies. Here, as the reviver of Ahalya, he is a cloud-dark god of fertility. Throughout ________________________________________ ― 32 ― Kampan's poem, Rama is a Tamil hero, a generous giver and a ruthless destroyer of foes. And the bhakti vision makes the release of Ahalya from her rock-bound sin a paradigm of Rama's incarnatory mission to release all souls from world-bound misery. In Valmiki, Rama's character is that not of a god but of a god-man who has to live within the limits of a human form with all its vicissitudes. Some argue that the references to Rama's divinity and his incarnation for the purpose of destroying Ravana, and the first and last books of the epic, in which Rama is clearly described as a god with such a mission, are later additions.[9] Be that as it may, in Kampan he is clearly a god. Hence a passage like the above is dense with religious feeling and theological images. Kampan, writing in the twelfth century, composed his poem under the influence of Tamil bhakti . He had for his master Nammalvar (9th C.?), the most eminent of the Srivaisnava saints. So, for Kampan, Rama is a god who is on a mission to root out evil, sustain the good, and bring release to all living beings. The encounter with Ahalya is only the first in a series, ending with Rama's encounter with Ravana the demon himself. For Nammalvar, Rama is a savior of all beings, from the lowly grass to the great gods: By Rama's Grace Why would anyone want to learn anything but Rama? Beginning with the low grass and the creeping ant with nothing whatever, he took everything in his city, everything moving, everything still, he took everything, everything born of the lord of four faces, he took them all to the very best of states. Nammalvar 7.5.1[10] Kampan's epic poem enacts in detail and with passion Nammalvar's vision of Rama. Thus the Ahalya, episode is essentially the same, but the weave, the texture, the colors are very different. Part of the aesthetic pleasure in the later poet's telling derives from its artistic use of its predecessor's work, from ring- ________________________________________ ― 33 ― ing changes on it. To some extent all later Ramayanas play on the knowledge of previous tellings: they are meta-Ramayanas . I cannot resist repeating my favorite example. In several of the later Ramayanas (such as the AdhyatmaRamayana , 16th C.), when Rama is exiled, he does not want Sita to go with him into the forest. Sita argues with him. At first she uses the usual arguments: she is his wife, she should share his sufferings, exile herself in his exile, and so on. When he still resists the idea, she is furious. She bursts out, "Countless Ramayanas have been composed before this. Do you know of one where Sita doesn't go with Rama to the forest?" That clinches the argument, and she goes with him.[11] And as nothing in India occurs uniquely, even this motif appears in more than one Ramayana . Now the Tamil Ramayana of Kampan generates its own offspring, its own special sphere of influence. Read in Telugu characters in Telugu country, played as drama in the Malayalam area as part of temple ritual, it is also an important link in the transmission of the Rama story to Southeast Asia. It has been convincingly shown that the eighteenth-century Thai Ramakien owes much to the Tamil epic. For instance, the names of many characters in the Thai work are not Sanskrit names, but clearly Tamil names (for example, Rsyasrnga in Sanskrit but Kalaikkotu in Tamil, the latter borrowed into Thai). Tulsi's Hindi Ramcaritmanas and the Malaysian Hikayat Seri Ram too owe many details to the Kampan poem.[12] Thus obviously transplantations take place through several mutes. In some languages the word for tea is derived from a northern Chinese dialect and in others from a southern dialect; thus some languages, like English and French, have some form of the word tea , while others, like Hindi and Russian, have some form of the word cha(y) . Similarly, the Rama story seems to have traveled along three routes, according to Santosh Desai: "By land, the northern route took the story from the Punjab and Kashmir into China, Tibet, and East Turkestan; by sea, the southern route carried the story from Gujarat and South India into Java, Sumatra, and Malaya; and again by land, the eastern route delivered the story from Bengal into Burma, Thailand, and Laos. Vietnam and Cambodia obtained their stories partly from Java and partly from India via the eastern route."[13] Jaina Tellings When we enter the world of Jains tellings, the Rama story no longer carries Hindu values. Indeed the Jaina texts express the feeling that the Hindus, especially the Brahmins, have maligned Ravana, made him into a villain. Here is a set of questions that a Jaina text begins by asking: "How can monkeys vanquish the powerful raksasa warriors like Ravana? How can noble men and Jaina worthies like Ravana eat flesh and drink blood? How can Kumbhakarna sleep through six months of the year, and never wake up even ________________________________________ ― 34 ― though boiling oil was poured into his cars, elephants were made to trample over him, and war trumpets and conches blow around him? They also say that Ravana captured Indra and dragged him handcuffed into Lanka. Who can do that to Indra? All this looks a bit fantastic and extreme. They are lies and contrary to reason." With these questions in mind King Srenika goes to sage Gautama to have him tell the true story and clear his doubts. Gautama says to him, "I'll tell you what Jaina wise men say. Ravana is not a demon, he is not a cannibal and a flesh eater. Wrong-thinking poetasters and fools tell these lies." He then begins to tell his own version of the story.[14] Obviously, the Jaina Ramayana of Vimalasuri, called Paumacariya (Prakrit for the Sanskrit Padmacarita ), knows its Valmiki and proceeds to correct its errors and Hindu extravagances. Like other Jains puranas , this too is a pratipurana , an anti- or counter-purana . The prefix prati , meaning "anti-" or "counter-," is a favorite Jaina affix. Vimalasuri the Jains opens the story not with Rama's genealogy and greatness, but with Ravana's. Ravana is one of the sixty-three leaders or salakapurusas of the Jaina tradition. He is noble, learned, earns all his magical powers and weapons through austerities (tapas ), and is a devotee of Jaina masters. To please one of them, he even takes a vow that he will not touch any unwilling woman. In one memorable incident, he lays siege to an impregnable fort. The queen of that kingdom is in love with him and sends him her messenger; he uses her knowledge of the fort to breach it and defeat the king. But, as soon as he conquers it, he returns the kingdom to the king and advises the queen to return to her husband. Later, he is shaken to his roots when he hears from soothsayers that he will meet his end through a woman, Sita. It is such a Ravana who falls in love with Sita's beauty, abducts her, tries to win her favors in vain, watches himself fall, and finally dies on the battlefield. In these tellings, he is a great man undone by a passion that he has vowed against but that he cannot resist. In another tradition of the Jaina Ramayanas , Sita is his daughter, although he does not know it: the dice of tragedy are loaded against him further by this oedipal situation. I shall say more about Sita's birth in the next section. In fact, to our modern eyes, this Ravana is a tragic figure; we are moved to admiration and pity for Ravana when the Jainas tell the story. I should mention one more motif: according to the Jaina way of thinking, a pair of antagonists, Vasudeva and Prativasudeva—a hero and an antihero, almost like self and Other—are destined to fight in life after life. Laksmana and Ravana are the eighth incarnations of this pair. They are born in age after age, meet each other in battle after many vicissitudes, and in every encounter Vasudeva inevitably kills his counterpart, his prati . Ravana learns at the end that Laksmana is such a Vasudeva come to take his life. Still, overcoming his despair after a last unsuccessful attempt at peace, he faces his destined enemy in battle with his most powerful magic weapons. When finally he ________________________________________ ― 35 ― hurls his discus (cakra ), it doesn't work for him. Recognizing Laksmana as a Vasudeva, it does not behead him but gives itself over to his hand. Thus Laksmana slays Ravana with his own cherished weapon. Here Rama does not even kill Ravana, as he does in the Hindu Ramayanas . For Rama is an evolved Jaina soul who has conquered his passions; this is his last birth, so he is loath to kill anything. It is left to Laksmana to kill enemies, and according to inexorable Jaina logic it is Laksmana who goes to hell while Rama finds release (kaivalya ). One hardly need add that the Paumacariya is filled with references to Jaina places of pilgrimage, stories about Jaina monks, and Jaina homilies and legends. Furthermore, since the Jainas consider themselves rationalists—unlike the Hindus, who, according to them, are given to exorbitant and often bloodthirsty fancies and rituals—they systematically avoid episodes involving miraculous births (Rama and his brothers are born in the normal way), blood sacrifices, and the like. They even rationalize the conception of Ravana as the Ten-headed Demon. When he was born, his mother was given a necklace of nine gems, which she put around his neck. She saw his face reflected in them ninefold and so called him Dasamukha, or the Ten-faced One. The monkeys too are not monkeys but a clan of celestials (vidyadharas ) actually related to Ravana and his family through their great grandfathers. They have monkeys as emblems on their flags: hence the name Vanaras or "monkeys." From Written to Oral Let's look at one of the South Indian folk Ramayanas . In these, the story usually occurs in bits and pieces. For instance, in Kannada, we are given separate narrative poems on Sita's birth, her wedding, her chastity test, her exile, the birth of Lava and Kusa, their war with their father Rama, and so on. But we do have one complete telling of the Rama story by traditional bards (tamburidasayyas ), sung with a refrain repeated every two lines by a chorus. For the following discussion, I am indebted to the transcription by Rame Gowda, P. K. Rajasekara, and S. Basavaiah.[15] This folk narrative, sung by an Untouchable bard, opens with Ravana (here called Ravula) and his queen Mandodari. They are unhappy and childless. So Ravana or Ravula goes to the forest, performs all sorts of self-mortifications like rolling on the ground till blood runs from his back, and meets a jogi , or holy mendicant, who is none other than Siva. Siva gives him a magic mango and asks him how he would share it with his wife. Ravula says, "Of course, I'll give her the sweet flesh of the fruit and I'll lick the mango seed." The jogi is skeptical. He says to Ravula, "You say one thing to me. You have poison in your belly. You're giving me butter to eat, but you mean something else. If you lie to me, you'll eat the fruit of your actions yourself." ________________________________________ ― 36 ― Ravula has one thing in his dreams and another in his waking world, says the poet. When he brings the mango home, with all sorts of flowers and incense for the ceremonial puja , Mandodari is very happy. After a ritual puja and prayers to Siva, Ravana is ready to share the mango. But he thinks, "If I give her the fruit, I'll be hungry, she'll be full," and quickly gobbles up the flesh of the fruit, giving her only the seed to lick. When she throws it in the yard, it sprouts and grows into a tall mango tree. Meanwhile, Ravula himself becomes pregnant, his pregnancy advancing a month each day. In one day, it was a month, O Siva. In the second, it was the second month, and cravings began for him, O Siva. How shall I show my face to the world of men, O Siva. On the third day, it was the third month, How shall I show my face to the world, O Siva. On the fourth day, it was the fourth month. How can I bear this, O Siva. Five days, and it was five months, O lord, you've given me trouble, O Siva. I can't bear it, I can't bear it, O Siva. How will I live, cries Ravula in misery. Six days, and he is six months gone, O mother, in seven days it was seven months. O what shame, Ravula in his seventh month, and soon came the eighth, O Siva. Ravula was in his ninth full month. When he was round and ready, she's born, the dear, Sita is born through his nose. When he sneezes, Sitamma is born, And Ravula names her Sitamma.[16] In Kannada, the word sita means "he sneezed": he calls her Sita because she is born from a sneeze. Her name is thus given a Kannada folk etymology, as in the Sanskrit texts it has a Sanskrit one: there she is named Sita, because King Janaka finds her in a furrow (sita). Then Ravula goes to astrologers, who tell him he is being punished for not keeping his word to Siva and for eating the flesh of the fruit instead of giving it to his wife. They advise him to feed and dress the child, and leave her some place where she will be found and brought up by some couple. He puts her in a box and leaves her in Janaka's field. It is only after this story of Sita's birth that the poet sings of the birth and adventures of Rama and Laksmana. Then comes a long section on Sita's marriage contest, where Ravula appears and is humiliated when he falls under the heavy bow he has to lift. Rama lifts it and marries Sita. After that she is abducted by Ravana. Rama lays siege to Lanka with his monkey allies, ________________________________________ ― 37 ― and (in a brief section) recovers Sita and is crowned king. The poet then returns to the theme of Sita's trials. She is slandered and exiled, but gives birth to twins who grow up to be warriors. They tie up Rama's sacrificial horse, defeat the armies sent to guard the horse, and finally unite their parents, this time for good. One sees here not only a different texture and emphasis: the teller is everywhere eager to return to Sita—her life, her birth, her adoption, her wedding, her abduction and recovery. Whole sections, equal in length to those on Rama and Laksmana's birth, exile, and war against Ravana, are devoted to her banishment, pregnancy, and reunion with her husband. Furthermore, her abnormal birth as the daughter born directly to the male Ravana brings to the story a new range of suggestions: the male envy of womb and childbirth, which is a frequent theme in Indian literature, and an Indian oedipal theme of fathers pursuing daughters and, in this case, a daughter causing the death of her incestuous father.[17] The motif of Sita as Ravana's daughter is not unknown elsewhere. It occurs in one tradition of the Jaina stories (for example, in the Vasudevahimdi ) and in folk traditions of Kannada and Telugu, as well as in several Southeast Asian Ramayanas . In some, Ravana in his lusty youth molests a young woman, who vows vengeance and is reborn as his daughter to destroy him. Thus the oral traditions seem to partake of yet another set of themes unknown in Valmiki. A Southeast Asian Example When we go outside India to Southeast Asia, we meet with a variety of tellings of the Rama story in Tibet, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Java, and Indonesia. Here we shall look at only one example, the Thai Ramakirti . According to Santosh Desai, nothing else of Hindu origin has affected the tone of Thai life more than the Rama story.[18] The bas-reliefs and paintings on the walls of their Buddhist temples, the plays enacted in town and village, their ballets—all of them rework the Rama story. In succession several kings with the name "King Rama" wrote Ramayana episodes in Thai: King Rama I composed a telling of the Ramayana in fifty thousand verses, Rama II composed new episodes for dance, and Rama VI added another set of episodes, most taken from Valmiki. Places in Thailand, such as Lopburi (Skt. Lavapuri), Khidkin (Skt. Kiskindha), and Ayuthia (Skt. Ayodhya) with its ruins of Khmer and Thai art, are associated with Rama legends. The Thai Ramakirti (Rama's glory) or Ramakien (Rama's story) opens with an account of the origins of the three kinds of characters in the story, the human, the demonic, and the simian. The second part describes the brothers' first encounters with the demons, Rama's marriage and banishment, the abduction of Sita, and Rama's meeting with the monkey clan. It also describes the preparations for the war, Hanuman's visit to Lanka and ________________________________________ ― 38 ― his burning of it, the building of the bridge, the siege of Lanka, the fall of Ravana, and Rama's reunion with Sita. The third part describes an insurrection in Lanka, which Rama deputes his two youngest brothers to quell. This part also describes the banishment of Sita, tile birth of her sons, their war with Rama, Sita's descent into the earth, and the appearance of the gods to reunite Rama and Sita. Though many incidents look the same as they do in Valmiki, many things look different as well. For instance, as in the South Indian folk Ramayanas (as also in some Jaina, Bengali, and Kashmiri ones), the banishment of Sita is given a dramatic new rationale. The daughter of Surpanakha (the demoness whom Rama and Laksmana had mutilated years earlier in the forest) is waiting in the wings to take revenge on Sita, whom she views as finally responsible for her mother's disfigurement. She comes to Ayodhya, enters Sita's service as a maid, and induces her to draw a picture of Ravana. The drawing is rendered indelible (in some tellings, it comes to life in her bedroom) and forces itself on Rama's attention. In a jealous rage, he orders Sita killed. The compassionate Laksmana leaves her alive in the forest, though, and brings back the heart of a deer as witness to the execution. The reunion between Rama and Sita is also different. When Rama finds out she is still alive, he recalls Sita to his palace by sending her word that he is dead. She rushes to see him but flies into a rage when she finds she has been tricked. So, in a fit of helpless anger, she calls upon Mother Earth to take her. Hanuman is sent to subterranean regions to bring her back, but she refuses to return. It takes the power of Siva to reunite them. Again as in the Jaina instances and the South Indian folk poems, the account of Sita's birth is different from that given in Va1miki. When Dasaratha performs his sacrifice, he receives a rice ball, not the rice porridge (payasa ) mentioned in Valmiki. A crow steals some of the rice and takes it to Ravana's wife, who eats it and gives birth to Sita. A prophecy that his daughter will cause his death makes Ravana throw Sita into the sea, where the sea goddess protects her and takes her to Janaka. Furthermore, though Rama is an incarnation of Visnu, in Thailand he is subordinate to Siva. By and large he is seen as a human hero, and the Ramakirti is not regarded as a religious work or even as an exemplary work on which men and women may pattern themselves. The Thais enjoy most the sections about the abduction of Sita and the war. Partings and reunions, which are the heart of the Hindu Ramayanas , are not as important as the excitement and the details of war, the techniques, the fabulous weapons. The Yuddhakanda or the War Book is more elaborate than in any other telling, whereas it is of minor importance in the Kannada folk telling. Desai says this Thai emphasis on war is significant: early Thai history is full of wars; their concern was survival. The focus in the Ramakien is not on family values and spirituality. Thai audiences are more fond of Hanuman than of Rama. ________________________________________ ― 39 ― Neither celibate nor devout, as in the Hindu Ramayanas , here Hanuman is quite a ladies' man, who doesn't at all mind looking into the bedrooms of Lanka and doesn't consider seeing another man's sleeping wife anything immoral, as Valmiki's or Kampan's Hanuman does. Ravana too is different here. The Ramakirti admires Ravana's resourcefulness and learning; his abduction of Sita is seen as an act of love and is viewed with sympathy. The Thais are moved by Ravana's sacrifice of family, kingdom, and life itself for the sake of a woman. His dying words later provide the theme of a famous love poem of the nineteenth century, an inscription of a Wat of Bangkok.[19] Unlike Valmiki's characters, the Thai ones are a fallible, human mixture of good and evil. The fall of Ravana here makes one sad. It is not an occasion for unambiguous rejoicing, as it is in Valmiki. Patterns of Difference Thus, not only do we have one story told by Valmiki in Sanskrit, we have a variety of Rama tales told by others, with radical differences among them. Let me outline a few of the differences we have not yet encountered. For instance, in Sanskrit and in the other Indian languages, there are two endings to the story. One ends with the return of Rama and Sita to Ayodhya, their capital, to be crowned king and queen of the ideal kingdom. In another ending, often considered a later addition in Valmiki and in Kampan, Rama hears Sita slandered as a woman who lived in Ravana's grove, and in the name of his reputation as a king (we would call it credibility, I suppose) he banishes her to the forest, where she gives birth to twins. They grow up in Valmiki's hermitage, learn the Ramayana as well as the arts of war from him, win a war over Rama's army, and in a poignant scene sing the Ramayana to their own father when he doesn't quite know who they are. Each of these two endings gives the whole work a different cast. The first one celebrates the return of the royal exiles and rounds out the tale with reunion, coronation, and peace. In the second one, their happiness is brief, and they arc separated again, making separation of loved ones (vipralambha ) the central mood of the whole work. It can even be called tragic, for Sita finally cannot bear it any more and enters a fissure in the earth, the mother from whom she had originally come—as we saw earlier, her name means "furrow," which is where she was originally found by Janaka. It also enacts, in the rise of Sita from the furrow and her return to the earth, a shadow of a Proserpine-like myth, a vegetation cycle: Sita is like the seed and Rama with his cloud-dark body the rain; Ravana in the South is the Pluto-like abductor into dark regions (the south is the abode of death); Sita reappears in purity and glory for a brief period before she returns again to the earth. Such a myth, while it should not be blatantly pressed into some rigid allegory, resonates in the shadows of the tale in many details. Note the many references to fertility and rain, Rama's ________________________________________ ― 40 ― opposition to Siva-like ascetic figures (made explicit by Kampan in tile Ahalya story), his ancestor bringing the rivet Ganges into the plains of the kingdom to water and revive the ashes of the dead. Relevant also is the story of .Rsyasrnga, the sexually naive ascetic who is seduced by the beauty of a woman and thereby brings rain to Lomapada's kingdom, and who later officiates at the ritual which fills Dasaratha's queens' wombs with children. Such a mythic groundswell also makes us hear other tones in the continual references to nature, the potent presence of birds and animals as the devoted friends of Rama in his search for his Sita. Birds and monkeys are a real presence and a poetic necessity in the Valmiki Ramayana , as much as they are excrescences in the Jaina view. With each ending, different effects of the story are highlighted, and the whole telling alters its poetic stance. One could say similar things about the different beginnings. Valmiki opens with a frame story about Valmiki himself. He sees a hunter aim an arrow and kill one of a happy pair of lovebirds. The female circles its dead mate and cries over it. The scene so moves the poet and sage Valmiki that he curses the hunter. A moment later, he realizes that his curse has taken the form of a line of verse—in a famous play on words, the rhythm of his grief (soka ) has given rise to a metrical form (sloka ). He decides to write the whole epic of Rama's adventures in that meter. This incident becomes, in later poetics, the parable of all poetic utterance: out of the stress of natural feeling (bhava ), an artistic form has to be found or fashioned, a form which will generalize and capture the essence (rasa ) of that feeling. This incident at the beginning of Valmiki gives the work an aesthetic self-awareness. One may go further: the incident of the death of a bird and the separation of loved ones becomes a leitmotif for this telling of the Rama story. One notes a certain rhythmic recurrence of an animal killed at many of the critical moments: when Dasaratha shoots an arrow to kill what he thinks is an elephant but instead kills a young ascetic filling his pitcher with water (making noises like an elephant drinking at a water hole), he earns a curse that later leads to the exile of Rama and the separation of father and son. When Rama pursues a magical golden deer (really a demon in disguise) and kills it, with its last breath it calls out to Laksmana in Rama's voice, which in turn leads to his leaving Sita unprotected; this allows Ravana to abduct Sita. Even as Ravana carries her off, he is opposed by an ancient bird which he slays with his sword. Furthermore, the death of the bird, in the opening section, and the cry of the surviving mate set the tone for the many separations throughout the work, of brother and brother, mothers and fathers and sons, wives and husbands. Thus the opening sections of each major work set into motion the harmonics of the whole poem, presaging themes and a pattern of images. Kampan's Tamil text begins very differently. One can convey it best by citing a few stanzas. ________________________________________ ― 41 ― The River The cloud, wearing white on white like Siva, making beautiful the sky on his way from the sea grew dark as the face of the Lord who wears with pride on his right the Goddess of the scented breasts. 2 Mistaking the Himalayan dawn for a range of gold, the clouds let down chains and chains of gleaming rain. They pour like a generous giver giving all he has, remembering and reckoning all he has. 15 It floods, it runs over its continents like the fame of a great king, upright, infallible, reigning by the Laws under cool royal umbrellas. 16 Concubines caressing their lovers' hair, their lovers' bodies, their lovers' limbs, take away whole hills of wealth yet keep little in their spendthrift hands as they move on: so too the waters flow from the peaks to the valleys, beginning high and reaching low. 17 The flood carrying all before it like merchants, caravans loaded with gold, pearls, peacock feathers and rows of white tusk and fragrant woods. 18 Bending to a curve, the river, surface colored by petals, gold yellow pollen, honey, the ochre flow of elephant lust, looked much like a rainbow. 19 ________________________________________ ― 42 ― Ravaging hillsides, uprooting trees, covered with fallen leaves all over, the waters came, like a monkey clan facing restless seas looking for a bridge. 20 Thick-faced proud elephants ranged with foaming cavalier horses filling the air with the noise of war, raising banners, the flood rushes as for a battle with the sea. 22 Stream of numberless kings in the line of the Sun, continuous in virtue: the river branches into deltas, mother's milk to all lives on the salt sea-surrounded land. 23 Scattering a robber camp on the hills with a rain of arrows, the sacred women beating their bellies and gathering bow and arrow as they run, the waters assault villages like the armies of a king. 25 Stealing milk and buttermilk, guzzling on warm ghee and butter straight from the pots on the ropes, leaning the marutam tree on the kuruntam carrying away the clothes and bracelets of goatherd girls at water games, like Krsna dancing on the spotted snake, the waters are naughty. 26 Turning forest into slope, field into wilderness, seashore into fertile land, changing boundaries, exchanging landscapes, the reckless waters roared on like the pasts that hurry close on the heels of lives. 28 ________________________________________ ― 43 ― Born of Himalayan stone and mingling with the seas, it spreads, ceaselessly various, one and many at once, like that Original even the measureless Vedas cannot measure with words. 30 Through pollen-dripping groves, clumps of champak, lotus pools, water places with new sands, flowering fields cross-fenced with creepers, like a life filling and emptying a variety of bodies, the river flows on.[20] 31 This passage is unique to Kampan; it is not found in Valmiki. It describes the waters as they are gathered by clouds from the seas and come down in rain and flow as floods of the Sarayu river down to Ayodhya, the capital of Rama's kingdom. Through it, Kampan introduces all his themes and emphases, even his characters, his concern with fertility themes (implicit in Valmiki), the whole dynasty of Rama's ancestors, and his vision of bhakti through the Ramayana . Note the variety of themes introduced through the similes and allusions, each aspect of the water symbolizing an aspect of the Ramayana story itself and representing a portion of the Ramayana universe (for example, monkeys), picking up as it goes along characteristic Tamil traditions not to be found anywhere else, like the five landscapes of classical Tamil poetry. The emphasis on water itself, the source of life and fertility, is also an explicit part of the Tamil literary tradition. The Kural —the so-called Bible of the Tamils, a didactic work on the ends and means of the good life—opens with a passage on God and follows it up immediately with a great ode in celebration of the rains (Tirukkural 2). Another point of difference among Ramayanas is the intensity of focus on a major character. Valmiki focuses on Rama and his history in his opening sections; Vimalasuri's Jaina Ramayana and the Thai epic focus not on Rama but on the genealogy and adventures of Ravana; the Kannada village telling focuses on Sita, her birth, her wedding, her trials. Some later extensions like the Adbhuta Ramayana and the Tamil story of Satakanthavana even give Sita a heroic character: when the ten-headed Ravana is killed, another appears with a hundred heads; Rama cannot handle this new menace, so it is Sita ________________________________________ ― 44 ― who goes to war and slays the new demon.[21] The Santals, a tribe known for their extensive oral traditions, even conceive of Sita as unfaithful—to the shock and horror of any Hindu bred on Valmiki or Kampan, she is seduced both by Ravana and by Laksmana. In Southeast Asian texts, as we saw earlier, Hanuman is not the celibate devotee with a monkey face but a ladies' man who figures in many love episodes. In Kampan and Tulsi, Rama is a god; in the Jaina texts, he is only an evolved Jaina man who is in his last birth and so does not even kill Ravana. In the latter, Ravana is a noble hero fated by his karma to fall for Sita and bring death upon himself, while he is in other texts an overweening demon. Thus in the conception of every major character there are radical differences, so different indeed that one conception is quite abhorrent to those who hold another. We may add to these many more: elaborations on the reason why Sita is banished, the miraculous creation of Sita's second son, and the final reunion of Rama and Sita. Every one of these occurs in more than one text, in more than one textual community (Hindu, Jaina, or Buddhist), in more than one region. Now, is there a common core to the Rama stories, except the most skeletal set of relations like that of Rama, his brother, his wife, and the antagonist Ravana who abducts her? Are the stories bound together only by certain family resemblances, as Wittgenstein might say ? Or is it like Aristotle's jack knife? When the philosopher asked an old carpenter how long he had had his knife, the latter said, "Oh, I've had it for thirty years. I've changed the blade a few times and the handle a few times, but it's the same knife." Some shadow of a relational structure claims the name of Ramayana for all these tellings, but on closer look one is not necessarily all that like another. Like a collection of people with the same proper name, they make a class in name alone. Thoughts on Translation That may be too extreme a way of putting it. Let me back up and say it differently, in a way that covers more adequately the differences between the texts and their relations to each other, for they are related. One might think of them as a series of translations clustering around one or another in a family of texts: a number of them cluster around Valmiki, another set around the Jaina Vimalasuri, and so on. Or these translation-relations between texts could be thought of in Peircean terms, at least in three ways. Where Text I and Text 2 have a geometrical resemblance to each other, as one triangle to another (whatever the angles, sizes, or colors of the lines), we call such a relation iconic .[22] In the West, we generally expect translations to be "faithful," i.e. iconic. Thus, when Chapman translates Homer, he not only preserves basic textual features such as characters, imagery, and order of incidents , but tries to reproduce a hexameter and retain the same number ________________________________________ ― 45 ― of lines as in the original Greek—only the language is English and the idiom Elizabethan. When Kampan retells Valmiki's Ramayana in Tamil, he is largely faithful in keeping to the order and sequence of episodes, the structural relations between the characters of father, son, brothers, wives, friends, and enemies. But the iconicity is limited to such structural relations. His work is much longer than Valmiki's, for example, and it is composed in more than twenty different kinds of Tamil meters, while Valmiki's is mostly in the sloka meter. Very often, although Text 2 stands in an iconic relationship to Text ! in terms of basic elements such as plot, it is filled with local detail, folklore, poetic traditions, imagery, and so forth—as in Kampan's telling or that of the Bengali Krttivasa. In the Bengali Ramayana , Rama's wedding is very much a Bengali wedding, with Bengali customs and Bengali cuisine.[23] We may call such a text indexical : the text is embedded in a locale, a context, refers to it, even signifies it, and would not make much sense without it. Here, one may say, the Ramayana is not merely a set of individual texts, but a genre with a variety of instances. Now and then, as we have seen, Text 2 uses the plot and characters and names of Text 1 minimally and uses them to say entirely new things, often in an effort to subvert the predecessor by producing a countertext. We may call such a translation symbolic . The word translation itself here acquires a somewhat mathematical sense, of mapping a structure of relations onto another plane or another symbolic system. When this happens, the Rama story has become almost a second language of the whole culture area, a shared core of names, characters, incidents, and motifs, with a narrative language in which Text 1 can say one thing and Text 2 something else, even the exact opposite. Valmiki's Hindu and Vimalasuri's Jaina texts in India—or the Thai Ramakirti in Southeast Asia—are such symbolic translations of each other. One must not forget that to some extent all translations, even the so-called faithful iconic ones, inevitably have all three kinds of elements. When Goldman and his group of scholars produce a modern translation of Valmiki's Ramayana , they are iconic in the transliteration of Sanskrit names, the number and sequence of verses, the order of the episodes, and so forth.[24] But they are also indexical, in that the translation is in English idiom and comes equipped with introductions and explanatory footnotes, which inevitably contain twentieth-century attitudes and misprisions; and symbolic, in that they cannot avoid conveying through this translation modern understandings proper to their reading of the text. But the proportions between the three kinds of relations differ vastly between Kampan and Goldman. And we accordingly read them for different reasons and with different aesthetic expectations. We read the scholarly modern English translation largely to gain a sense of the original Valmiki, and we consider it successful to the extent that it resembles the original. We read Kampan to read Kampan, and we judge him on his own terms—not by his resemblance to Valmiki but, if any- ________________________________________ ― 46 ― thing, by the extent that he differs from Valmiki. In the one, we rejoice in the similarity; in the other, we cherish and savor the differences. One may go further and say that the cultural area in which Ramayanas are endemic has a pool of signifiers (like a gene pool), signifiers that include plots, characters, names, geography, incidents, and relationships. Oral, written, and performance traditions, phrases, proverbs, and even sneers carry allusions to the Rama story. When someone is carrying on, you say, "What's this Ramayana now? Enough." In Tamil, a narrow room is called a kiskindha ; a proverb about a dim-witted person says, "After hearing the Ramayana all night, he asks how Rama is related to Sita"; in a Bengali arithmetic textbook, children are asked to figure the dimensions of what is left of a wall that Hanuman built, after he has broken down part of it in mischief. And to these must be added marriage songs, narrative poems, place legends, temple myths, paintings, sculpture, and the many performing arts. These various texts not only relate to prior texts directly, to borrow or refute, but they relate to each other through this common code or common pool. Every author, if one may hazard a metaphor, dips into it and brings out a unique crystallization, a new text with a unique texture and a fresh context. The great texts rework the small ones, for "lions are made of sheep," as Valery said. And sheep are made of lions, too: a folk legend says that Hanuman wrote the original Ramayana on a mountaintop, after the great war, and scattered the manuscript; it was many times larger than what we have now. Valmiki is said to have captured only a fragment of it.[25] In this sense, no text is original, yet no telling is a mere retelling—and the story has no closure, although it may be enclosed in a text. In India and in Southeast Asia, no one ever reads the Ramayana or the Mahabharata for the first time. The stories are there, "always already." What Happens When You Listen This essay opened with a folktale about the many Ramayanas . Before we close, it may be appropriate to tell another tale about Hanuman and Rama's ring.[26] But this story is about the power of the Ramayana , about what happens when you really listen to this potent story. Even a fool cannot resist it; he is entranced and caught up in the action. The listener can no longer bear to be a bystander but feels compelled to enter the world of the epic: the line between fiction and reality is erased. A villager who had no sense of culture and no interest in it was married to a woman who was very cultured. She tried various ways to cultivate his taste for the higher things in life but he just wasn't interested. One day a great reciter of that grand epic the Ramayana came to the village. Every evening he would sing, recite, and explain the verses of the epic. The whole village went to this one-man performance as if it were a rare feast. ________________________________________ ― 47 ― The woman who was married to the uncultured dolt tried to interest him in the performance. She nagged him and nagged him, trying to force him to go and listen. This time, he grumbled as usual but decided to humor her. So he went in the evening and sat at the back. It was an all-night performance, and he just couldn't keep awake. He slept through the night. Early in the morning, when a canto had ended and the reciter sang the closing verses for the day, sweets were distributed according to custom. Someone put some sweets into the mouth of the sleeping man. He woke up soon after and went home. His wife was delighted that her husband had stayed through the night and asked him eagerly how he enjoyed the Ramayana . He said, "It was very sweet." The wife was happy to hear it. The next day too his wife insisted on his listening to the epic. So he went to the enclosure where the reciter was performing, sat against a wall, and before long fell fast asleep. The place was crowded and a young boy sat on his shoulder, made himself comfortable, and listened open-mouthed to the fascinating story. In the morning, when the night's portion of the story came to an end, everyone got up and so did the husband. The boy had left earlier, but the man felt aches and pains from the weight he had borne all night. When he went home and his wife asked him eagerly how it was, he said, "It got heavier and heavier by morning." The wife said, "That's the way the story is." She was happy that her husband was at last beginning to feel the emotions and the greatness of the epic. On the third day, he sat at the edge of the crowd and was so sleepy that he lay down on the floor and even snored. Early in the morning, a dog came that way and pissed into his mouth a little before he woke up and went home. When his wife asked him how it was, he moved his mouth this way and that, made a face and said, "Terrible. It was so salty." His wife knew something was wrong. She asked him what exactly was happening and didn't let up till he finally told her how he had been sleeping through the performance every night. On the fourth day, his wife went with him, sat him down in the very first row, and told him sternly that he should keep awake no matter what might happen. So he sat dutifully in the front row and began to listen. Very soon, he was caught up in the adventures and the characters of the great epic story. On that day, the reciter was enchanting the audience with a description of how Hanuman the monkey had to leap across the ocean to take Rama's signet ring to Sita. When Hanuman was leaping across the ocean, the signet ring slipped from his hand and fell into the ocean. Hanuman didn't know what to do. He had to get the ring back quickly and take it to Sita in the demon's kingdom. While he was wringing his hands, the husband who was listening with rapt attention in the first row said, "Hanuman, don't worry. I'll get it for you." Then he jumped up and dived into the ocean, found the ring in the ocean floor, brought it back, and gave it to Hanuman. Everyone was astonished. They thought this man was someone special, ________________________________________ ― 48 ― really blessed by Rama and Hanuman. Ever since, he has been respected in the village as a wise elder, and he has also behaved like one. That's what happens when you really listen to a story, especially to the Ramayana .

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Introduction to Fundamentalism

To tell you about my introduction to Fundamentalism, I will have to start the story right from the days of my schooling. I was born and brought up in a very protected environment; it was high on intellectual/academic inputs but almost completely lacked real time exposure to life. I knew only two campuses, NIRD (National Institute of Rural Development) where I stayed and NPA (National Police Academy) where my school was. By protected environment I mean, I had no opportunities to make day to day operational decisions. My life was highly structured, wake up at six, in the toilet for half an hour completing my sleep, opening books for half an hour, getting ready for school, catching the school bus at 8.15, coming back at 3.30, again opening the book for about an hour, playing in the campus from 5 to 7, again opening the book from 7 to 9, then watching TV till 10 and then finally going to sleep. This was my daily schedule which changed only on holidays and festivals.

By intellectual inputs, I mean, I believed beyond doubt in facts like India is the greatest country in the world, India is an example of unity in diversity, Indian freedom fighters were the greatest people ever born on earth, we should respect elders, all religions should be respected, cigarettes and liquor are a curse to the society etc. Lack of practical exposure can be ascertained by the fact that, I was bhaya to all girls younger to me and all girls elder to me were didi’s (no scope left for morality!!), Rakshabandhan was among the most awaited festivals, the number of Rakhis on a boy’s hand was a measure of his local standing, and finally, I believed that affairs between boys and girls could happen only in movies! These thoughts and perceptions were deeply ingrained in me, this can be figured out by the fact that carnal feelings towards a female always had a fair amount of guilt attached to it, traces of it still carry on!

Although, I started experiencing life firsthand from class eleven. The first shock of my life came to me when my father was transferred to NIRD’s regional centre at Guwahati, Assam, as its director.I moved to Guwahati when I got into class twelve. The Director’s Bungalow, in the campus, was not ready. Thus, we had to take a house on rent in the city. New place meant new set of friends, both at home and school, new thoughts, new practises and new topics of discussion. One important topic of discussion which gave me my first shock was “the indifferent attitude of India towards the North Eastern states” (I do not know if this still remains as the favourite topic as things have changed a lot in the past 15 years there). I actually could not understand the difference between “India” and “Northeast”. It was little later that I could figure out that India meant “New Delhi”. Most people might not be able to relate to my confusion, but, believe me it was confusing. My belief of India had shaken. Now, it meant, “Hyderabad and India were different”, this was not acceptable to me. I started taking these discussions personally, I started defending India because I believed India could never be wrong. This was my first expression of Fundamentalism. I call it fundamentalism because I defended India because of my feelings and beliefs, not by rationality or logic. I made my logic on the basis of my feelings and beliefs; one can call it as conditioning also. Above all, it was a fundamentalist approach because I felt that I was right and “they were wrong”.

This was the time when my de-conditioning started. I, while introspecting, had started questioning my beliefs. I started searching for India. Some of my personality traits like an inquisitive and rebellious mind, docile nature and ability to survive in an unsettled physical and mental state have been very helpful in my quest. These traits also act like double edged swords, thus, if I have gained a lot out of it, I have also lost a lot. Anyways, all this is a part and parcel of life! Also, I will limit my discussion on my quest for India here as this piece of writing is also a part of the same. One realization I made during my stay in the Northeast is about the importance of politics and economics in a person’s life. Although, I still did not know (at that time) how these two things are important! Fortunately or Unfortunately, I somehow qualified for engineering immediately after my twelfth class. My only option was REC Srinagar as I was not a domicile of the state and was not eligible for admission in Assam Government Colleges and my score in the entrance test did not qualify me for a seat in any other REC. I believe, this was destined to happen as this was the place that I was about to get the second major shock of my life.

The two questions which I had to answer within a few days of coming to Kashmir and were no less that a shock to me were: - “Tum Hindustan se aye ho?”(Meaning, have you come from India?) and “What is your religion?”. Although, my being a Hindu and being from a different state did not in any way affect my relationship with the locals. But still, my confusion prevailed. As far as I remember, I up till an age of 13 or 14 did not know that I am a Brahmin. Another thing that I was fed with during the 1992 riots is that, it was not Hindus and Muslims fighting, these were all hired criminals. There was no difference between Hindus and Muslims. I still do not know if this is the right way of upbringing secular children in secular India! In the context of the questions relating to Hindustan and religion, I later observed that religion had a lot of involvement in the daily life of a Kashmiri. This never existed in my life; I did not know the importance of religion in my life. The only thing I knew was that Eid was a Muslim festival and seriously felt sad for Muslims because they did not have exciting festivals like Holi and Diwali. Because of this involvement of religion in daily life, I got introduced to Islam. It was great and exciting, the people talking about Islam were not necessarily the Mullahs, there were many clean shaven, jeans wearing, and convent educated boys giving logical views on practises in Islam and their validity in daily life. I was impressed and in my own words “I would have converted to Islam, had those people convinced me of their view on mandatory hijab by women and had they not, of course unknowingly, hurt my pride as a Hindu”(Of course, courage would have also been required). I had started comparing Hinduism with Islam. I did not know about any logic supporting daily life practises in Hinduism. On the contrary, I had only heard of bad practises like casteism, sati pratha, etc in Hinduism. To be precise, I had started developing an inferiority complex. I felt, I belonged to a non contemporary religion which had outdated practises. I had no answers for these questions and was also unable to find a source to get the answers. My major handicap that continues to be one is that I am not a voracious reader and there was no source other than books, especially in those days when internet had just reached India, which could have solved my problem. But, I was destined to get my answers from a different channel. Differences cropped up between students from other regions and the students from Kashmir, tension escalated and later the students from other regions decided that it was not safe for them to continue their studies in Kashmir. They decided to approach the Government of India and ask the government to move us all out of Kashmir. The government, after months of following up and protest, finally agreed. I was moved from REC Srinagar to REC Bhopal. In the process of following up with the government, I got in touch with RSS (Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh). RSS sympathised with us during our migration process and helped us on many accounts. Also, interaction with some top leaders like LK Advani, who were also former RSS pracharaks, created a soft corner for RSS in my heart. This was the start of my association with Hindu fundamentalism.

REC Bhopal was altogether quite different from REC Srinagar. Students were least bothered about the world and were interested in living their life to the extreme. As usual, I because of my habit of giving valuable advice free of cost on all issues irrespective of the issue’s relevance to me and irrespective of having being asked to give one entered the “Hall of Fame” of the college. In the mean time, I also had RSS pracharaks visiting me. This was because, I was among the few people who entertained them and showed keen interest in their “idea of India”. I was already confused with both India and Hinduism. These were the people who connected India with Hinduism. Their idea of “India is Hinduism” and “ Hinduism is India” excited me. This was for the first time I was hearing rational talk on India and Hinduism. My inferiority complex, of being a Hindu, attracted me towards these pracharaks and they quenched my thirst for logical Hinduism. Adding to my inclination was the fact that these pracharaks were highly qualified men with modern logic supporting traditional Hindu practises. One of them was a M.Tech from REC Bhopal itself. As my association with RSS increased, I was invited for a two day introduction camp in Bhopal itself. I attended it, this increased my attachment with the organisation. Again, I went on a two day visit to tribal villages in Madhya Pradesh. This further increased my respect for the organisation. I started conforming to the view that it is only because of the sangh that the country is surviving attempts by foreign forces to disintegrate it. My logic started growing stronger and stronger in support of the sangh. I started feeling that these were actually the answers I was looking for since a long time. But, my personality traits mentioned above helped me again. It was later, I realised that all that these people whom I met in Kashmir and Bhopal were talking about two truths. Like these two many other truths also existed in the world. Religion is a social, economic and political system which stands on very strong logic. But, believing that only my system is right and that of others is wrong, is a fundamentalist approach. Although, you will not find a single fundamentalist claiming openly that other systems are wrong, but, they so strongly impress upon the fact about their system being right that a person by general analogy infers that the other system is wrong! A person starts looking only at the threats associated with the other system and does not look at the liberals having faith in that system around him as his strength. Another weakness of these fundamentalists is that these people use time based and incident based logic. This can be noted by two common observations, a fundamentalist always says before he puts his point, “in those days” or “if you look at this incident”. Now, I reply to these arguments by saying; “gone are the days” and “look at other incidents”.

I was lucky that I got out of the clutches of fundamentalists, but, everybody is not that lucky. Some end up losing their lives and consider it to be their passports to heaven, jannat, swarg etc. Mind you all these are different. Because, reaching here requires you to stick to different set of practices. As one of my college friend, Kesari Kumar, used to put forth to my Kashmiri seniors. “Sir, you will never go to swarg because you eat beef and I will never go to jannat because I do not offer namaz”, Strange Indeed! Even more dangerous than their misinformed death is that, these people inspire many others to follow their path. In the specific case of Kashmir, I would consider that inferiority complex has developed in a Kashmiri after being branded as a terrorist for more than two decades now! This multiplies in an idle condition where a person has nothing to do for self development. He receives no appreciation, here he finds the idea of giving life for the purpose of so called truth better than living. He might get appreciation for his sacrifice, but what is the use when he himself is not there to listen to it. Adding to the woes of a Kashmiri is the way in which the world conceives of Islam these days. This is the view that needs to change if the world wants to get rid of Islamic fundamentalism.

Thus, although its not an apple to apple comparison, as I got solace in the company of RSS, a Kashmiri Muslim might get it in the company of Hisbul Mujahedeen. Its easy to move out of RSS. But, does a fundamentalist organization like Hisbul Mujahideen give you the option to move out? If the organization gives it, does the main stream government give another chance to the Kashmiri? I do not think its that easy to rehabilitate. So, Does a Kashmiri have a way out?  Isn,t life very rude to a Kashmiri!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I would like to start this blog with two questions:-

1) Can we name five freedom fighters who were not Congress Party members (with due respect to the congress party’s contribution to freedom struggle) and were also not involved in any kind of armed revolution?

2) Can we name the soldiers honoured with the Param Vir Chakra in the kargil war?
I am sure that majority of our people will not be able to answer any of the two questions. But, does our lack of knowledge nullify the contribution of these people or does their life become less worthwhile if we do not remember them today? I personally do not think so, but still, I feel that stories of such heroes should be repeatedly told so that we find some inspiration from their life and death.

I would like to once again tell the story of a hero who was in the Indian Army and made a difference at a very young age and in a very short life span.

Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, PVC was born in Pune, Maharashtra, was an officer of the Indian Army and a posthumous recipient of the Param Vir Chakra. 2nd Lt Khetrapal fell in the Battle of Basantar or Battle of Barapind during the Bangladesh war where his actions earned him his honour.

His final words over the radio to a superior officer who had ordered him to abandon his burning tank were, "No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My gun is still working and I will get these bastards." Then he set about destroying the remaining enemy tanks. The last enemy tank, which he shot, was barely 100 metres from his position. At this stage his tank received a second hit and he was mortally injured. The officer met his death denying the Pakistani Army the intended breakthrough.

Something very interesting happened 30 years later. The Commander of the Pakistan tank battalion is said to have met the Indian battalion commander after the battle and make enquiries about 2nd Lieutenant Khetarpal's tank since he was very impressed with the gallantry of 2nd Lieutenant Khetarpal.

In 2001, Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal, father of Arun Khetarpal, felt a strong desire to visit his birthplace at Sargodha, now in Pakistan. It was a wish that he thought that would never materialize, but when he voiced it to some friends engaged in the Twin Track Diplomacy, they arranged all his papers, visas, travel and staying arrangements in Pakistan so that he could go for the visit.

At Lahore airport, Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal was met by Brigadier Khwaja Mohammad Naser, who took it upon himself to be Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal host and guide. Brigadier Naser really went out of way to ensure that Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal had a satisfying and nostalgic visit to his old house in Sargodha. Upon his return to Lahore he was once again the guest of Brigadier Naser for three days.

Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal was overwhelmed by the extreme kindness, deference, courtesy and respect bestowed upon him by Brigadier Naser, all the members of his family and his many servants. As the countdown for the departure progressed, the bonds of friendship between the guests and the host grew stronger and stronger. However Brigadier Khetarpal felt that something was amiss but could not make out what it was. Was it the long silences that punctuated their animated conversation or was it the look of compassion in the eyes of the women in the family? He could not make out.

However, what was certain was that he would always remember the hospitality, warmth and affection of this Pakistani family who treated him as someone very special.
Finally, on the last night before Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal's departure, Brigadier Naser said 'Sir, there is something that I wanted to tell you for many years but I did not know how to get through to you. Finally, fate has intervened and sent you to me as an honoured guest. The last few days we have become close to one another and that has made my task even more difficult. It is regarding your son who is, of course, a national hero in India. However on that fateful day, your son and I were soldiers, unknown to one another, fighting for the respect and safety of our respective countries. I regret to tell you that your son died in my hands. Arun's courage was exemplary and he moved his tank with fearless courage and daring, totally unconcerned about his safety. Tank casualties were very high till finally there were just two of us left facing one another. We both fired simultaneously. It was destined that I was to live and he was to die.
It is only later that I got to know how young he was and who he was. We are trained to fight and kill without mercy or remorse. We do in war what we have to without thinking too much about it. However we are humans too and sometimes war takes a personal turn and makes an impact on the inner self.
I had all along thought that I would ask your forgiveness, but in telling the story I realize that there is nothing to forgive. Instead I salute your son for what he did at such a young age and I salute you too, because I know how he grew into such a young man. In the end it is character and values that matter."

What a proud moment for a father this could have been! Some will agree while others will disagree with this statement after reading the above story. Different people have different perspectives and this difference of perspective is the soul of a democracy.
But, one fact that remains unchanged is that it is because of valiant sons like 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal and proud father’s like Brig ML Khetarpal that we are still a democracy! No doubts about the valor of Brig Naser as well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Politician or Citizen

I was there for a day at Jantar Mantar while Anna Hazare was fasting for the Jan-Lokpal bill. It was a great sight to see so many enthusiasts who wish to be a part of the change movement. There were young and old people, professionals, students, housewives, schoolchildren, people who worshipped the country as Bharat Mata, comrades who consider the constitution as toilet paper etc, all were there with their own ideas. I do not think that all of them understood the meaning of Jan Lokpal, but, all of them were fed up of curruption in the country. All needed change!

While fasting Anna gave innumerable speeches. I got confused with this statement which he repeated in almost all his speeches. He said" Politicians should remember that on 26 January 1950 the power was transferred to the citizens of the country and politicians are there to serve the citizens of the country". I found this statement to be self contradictory. Aren't politicians citizens of the country? So, should they be adressed with respect or abused as the people were doing there? I can understand people's uprising, but, that by no way this gives them the right to abuse politicians. I personally believe that politicians are more deserving and evolved citizens of the country as they take more responsibility in the system and do not run away by merely abusing people.

Further, if we abuse our politicians we abuse the complete institution of democracy. How can a politician bashing person have any respect for democracy, because politicians are pillars of democracy. And if, we do not have respect for the institution of democracy then no Lokpal or Jan Lokpal can be of any help to us.

Yes, we need change for the good. We need a better system to live in, a system which promotes people's participation and promotes the basics of human rights and human life. But, that by no way will come by abusing politicians. The politicians haven't let us down on many issues, we have failed as a society.

Finally, i feel that Lokpal is an important institution for fighting corruption in India. But, bringing the Prime Minister in its ambit is disrespect to the chair of the Prime Minister. I believe that the day we get a Prime Minister who is not committed to the nation, we will all be dead and the nation will disintegrate. Policing the Prime Minister might also be required,but, let us leave it for the parliament and the opposition parties to check the Prime Minister. In all good faith, let me believe that most of us have faith in democracy and will refrain from abusing Politicians.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is Honesty an Obsolete Virtue?

A friend of mine wanted to express his gratitude towards Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and went to his home in Bangalore to meet his parents. It had been about a year since Major Sandeep valiantly fell to the bullets of terrorists in Mumbai. He was a bit apprehensive before ringing the calling bell as he had numerous questions in his mind, like, is he disturbing the family? Or, is he being over enthusiastic in doing so? Is this the right way to express his gratitude? Never the less, he made up his mind and pressed the door bell. Major Sandeep's father opened the door. First of all, my friend apologized for disturbing the family in the noon hours and then informed them about the purpose of his visit. Major Sandeep's father called my friend into his house. Major Sandeep’s mother and sister were also there. There was silence for a while, my friend broke the silence by thanking his parents for having brought up a brave soldier like Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and that he would be indebted to their family all his life. He again apologized for having disturbed them and told them that he very deeply and truly felt the gratitude towards the soldier, thus, came to express the same. Major Sandeep's father was overwhelmed and told him that he was not at all disturbed. Instead, he feels the pride of being Major Sandeep's father. He further added that many politicians and dignitaries have come and expressed their gratitude, many functions have been organized to commemorate the supreme sacrifice. Although, such events make him feel good, but, he feels the best when people like my friend, an ordinary Indian, comes and expresses his or her gratitude. It is so because, such people come to express the gratitude which they feel from the bottom of their heart and are not just being ritualistic. This also endorses the greatness of the supreme sacrifice given by his son. He feels happy to be the proud father of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan!

So, if we look at honesty from this perspective, how can Honesty be an obsolete virtue?? A perspective where parents are proud of the sacrifices made by their children! How can Honesty be an obsolete virtue when we have people like Major (Dr) Laishram Jyotin Singh who went beyond the call of duty to fight armed terrorists with bare hands? How can Honesty be an obsolete virtue when we have people like S Manjunath and Satyendra Dubey who did not bow down to corruption and exposed the criminal-politician nexus?

Honesty is not an obsolete virtue, because, as Honesty is a virtue so is Valiance and these two are not mutually exclusive. Death is something which is obvious and will occur, but, more important is the way we live our lives. As popularly said,” It’s about adding life to years and not years to life"! Crusaders for Honesty might die fighting their battles, but, it is their stories and their character which keep the civilizations alive!

It’s only a matter of perspective. Either we get afraid by hearing such stories of deaths or we call them sacrifices and bring our blood to boil and pledge to carry forward the half finished campaigns of these people. The campaign of building India into a Vibrant Democracy!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Doing Nothing Roxx!!

A friend of mine had quit his job and was, supposedly, preparing for civil services about three years back. During this preparatory sabbatical, his parents once took him to a community function. The purpose of such community functions generally is to help people of the community find suitable matches for their sons and daughters. Simply speaking, girls and boys are put on display during such events, so was my friend. While on display, a lady came up to him and asked him the grand old million dollar question, "Son, what do you do"? She might have approached him considering him to be a prospective candidate for some girl in her family. The reply which my friend gave was although not unique, but, is not expected at such get-togethers. Foolishly, something very natural to him, he spoke the truth. He said "Nothing"! This reply shook my friend's parents to their core and in turn they turned his life into hell by abruptly ending his “preparatory sabbatical”. He used to stay with me in Delhi and prepare. Thus, he was also warned of serious consequences in case he kept any further contact with me.

I am also in a similar, not same though, situation these days. I am looking for a suitable job for myself. Suitable jobs and wives seem to be concepts of yester years only! These days, one needs to be a good manager instead. Initially, in this golden phase, when I used to wake up early in the morning and look at the clock, a sense of depression used to creep in for a moment, thinking that its time to wake up. The very next moment my mind used to ask itself. Where do you have to go today? The mind also used to itself reply very promptly, “Nowhere”! Ha Ha!! “Nothing to do, go and sleep”, this feeling used to fill me up with elation. Subsequently, I used to pull my blanket again and then used to sleep for as long as I wanted to sleep. I loved this part of the situation and still love it, but now, I uninterruptedly sleep for as long as I wish to sleep!

The relief of having no pressure to do anything brings happiness, but at the same time, the question, how to pass the day all alone brings in dismay. I "love and hate" the situation at the same time! Love and hate for having nothing to do and being alone for the rest of the day. Watching your flat mates rushing in order to get ready to go to office in the morning makes you happy for being in this state, but also, brings in the sadness of a desperate lonely housewife. Thankfully, I haven’t developed the habit of chit chatting with maids like many housewives do. Although, you have all the space and time for your self, but at times, it seems too much! You feel elated for having all the time in the world and sad for not having enough activities to pass the time.

This mental conflict of Love-Hate, Elation-Sadness helped me to understand the good old words of wisdom which i always knew (I am used to learning things the hard way), that, like a coin, life also has two aspects for every situation. It’s your attitude and perspective that matter and help you in having a peaceful and positive state of mind!

PS :- Title thanks Gtalk status of a friend a few years back. I hope you remember it friend!

Have you ever had a similar fire-freeze moment - an unforgettably magical moment when you felt two strongly opposite emotions? Love/Hate? Elation/Sadness? Anger/Sympathy? The desire to move forward yet run away at the same time?

Please comment/share/brief your fire-freeze story both in the comment section of this post and at the url:


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

India-The Hindu Way

The best ever explanation I have heard of a computer is from my friend, Mr Ambuj Oberai’s father. He used to sell Wipro PC's in the 80's. He used to explain a computer, to his customers, by comparing it to Human Beings. He used to say that a computer comprises of two parts, Hardware and the Software. This is comparable to the body and soul/thought of a Human Being respectively. Software resides in the hardware and controls it, similarly our soul/thought controls the actions of our body. Hinduism has been the soul/thought of Indians since time immemorial.

India has always been a prosperous land where nature itself supports development of Human Life. This is evident by the fact the sub-continent is home to about 22% of the world's population with only 2.2% of the world's land surface area. Thus, India has been a country which has attracted various softwares/thoughts from across the world, since time immemorial, and accommodated them. Indians always believed that accommodating these thoughts is a part of development of the society. But, Indians were deceived in 1947 when a part of their soul asked for its own land! A particular thought (Islam) that India had accommodated long ago wanted its own land. India was partitioned into two countries, one being for Muslims (remember that the remaining India still belongs to people of all faiths), while it was evolving into a modern nation state (I emphasize on the Modern Indian State Factor). India, then, paid the price for being liberal and accommodative and is still paying the price for the same.

This is evident by a number of practises which are still prevalent in independent modern Indian State. Majority of Indians including Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists etc consider cow to be a sacred animal. It has been given the status of "Mother" in Hinduism. Thus, Hindus pray cows. But, it is ironical that "Cow Slaughter" is legal in India which has a Hindu majority. The argument in favour of cow slaughter being, banning cow slaughter infringes upon the eating habits of some communities and hence, banning cow slaughter, is a non-democratic and non-secular move. Democratic value of secularism is only expected out of Hindus. Others have been exempted from practising it. Still, ironically, Hindu is called communal and India, anti Islamic!

Another important observation that can be made is the absence of a common civil code. This means that Muslims in India have immunity to some of the laws which are applicable to the rest of the population. Muslim personal law board is the custodian is of these laws. If Pakistan was made for Muslims, then people who did not want to abide by "Common Law" should have moved to Pakistan. How can there be a separate set of rules for a Muslim and a separate set for the rest of the communities. Casteism and Sati Pratha can be banned by law but Polygamy, Triple Talaq etc cannot be banned by law because they are under the premise of the Muslim Personal Law. All this, despite the fact that India is a Hindu majority country. A Hindu is still advised to practise religious tolerance, Strange Indeed!

Some people make a hue and cry about the proposition by some political parties to make religious conversion illegal in India. They consider that religious freedom is the soul of India. Soul is very discretionary for Muslims, it is only used to their personal advantage. No one wants to look at the fact that conversion also promotes "Religious Comparison" which is a basic reason for communal discord. A person will convert to another religion only when he finds one religion either better or lucrative (most of the times there are financial benefits attached to conversion) than his existing one. Why allow conversion when present day law has the provision of banning discriminatory practises in religion (Only Muslims are immune to law by means of personal law board). Still I hear voices(from well educated people) which say that Muslims feel that they are unwanted in India, only problem for Hindus is that there are 20 crore Muslims and such a large number can neither be killed nor driven out of the country. Thus, have to somehow adjust. What a ridiculous thought?

There are many other discriminatory practises but, the final issue that I would like to take up in this blog is the biggest controversy that surrounds India for centuries, The Babri Masjid Issue. Can you imagine of a country in which there exists a mosque (which belongs to the minority community) at the birthplace of the most revered religious figure of the majority community? Leave apart the idea of having a place of worship. India had such a place! Babri Masjid was at a place where the most revered religious figure of Hindus, Sri Ram, was born. It was brought down after one of the biggest movement’s of independent India in 1992. Although, Hindus have not been able to make a temple at that spot till now, the issue has been blown out of proportion by Muslims. Many consider it to be the trigger for resentment of Muslims in India. Muslims still stake their claim on the site.

I do not want to get into any of the legal aspects of the dispute and just want Muslims to compromise their stand on only this issue for the sake of mutual brotherhood. Hindus, as narrated in the article, have compromised on all issues which were offensive to self but were in the favour of Muslims. If Muslims consider India to be their motherland and value the sentiments of Hindus, I expect them to compromise on this issue. Today, Babri Masjid is only an issue of compromise for the sake of peace.

Let us leave apart the history of creation of India. After taking into account all that is said above which takes place in present day independent India, it is high time that the so called educated and liberal Hindus take a stand on this and stop considering Babri Masjid, or any of the above mentioned issues, as religious issues. They should consider these issues as issues of understanding between two communities. Else, there will be a time when their liberal thought will cease to exist and Hindu will have no identity in the world. Identity of Hindu is completely dependent on India, if India exists Hindus exist and vice versa.

Now, this might have confused all people who have read my earlier blogs, they must be thinking how come a person who speaks about liberal and modern thought has suddenly developed a fundamentalist tone! This has a reason and I am going to discuss it now.

Almost, no Hindu will find a fault with my blog. Everyone will believe in what I have written because this blog has been written from their perspective. Many Muslims might contest the thought because they have been told about a different “Idea of India”. They will contest the fact about India being a single country since time immemorial and Cow Slaughter. Many would say that India was always ruled by different rulers and was never a single country. In any case, it is only a matter of perspective on issues and the above arguments are enough to convince a Hindu that Hinduism is under threat. Thus, one has to agree to the importance of perspective and intent even while discussing facts.

All the above mentioned Hindu resentment can be very easily contested by the logic of liberal and modern thought which most of the Indians want to follow. But, when issues like the one in Kashmir come up and the scale in which they come up, it gives a very strong reason for Hindus to believe in the above mentioned logic. This also gives an opportunity to Hindu Fundamentalists to exploit the Hindu sentiment. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of every one of us who believes in modern thought to start creating a positive opinion with the intent of making a progressive nation and society as a whole.

This blog also intends to put forth the complexities that exist in the Kashmir issue from a larger Indian perspective. It is not as easy as autonomy or Plebiscite, there is a larger picture associated with it. I hope, as one of my senior says, good sense prevails after reading this piece of writing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kissing Kashmir

The other day, i was watching a debate on the BJP's flag hoisting issue on TV,Prof Radha Kumar ( kashmir issue interlocutor) was also a part of the debate. Looking at her points and accent, it seemed as if Basanti from Sholey had been appointed the interlocutor for the Kashmir Issue. With due respect to her credentials, i did not find her points impressive at all.Although,it was for the first time that i was listening to her. During the debate, i was confused. My confusion was that despite being an ardent supporter of the fact that "Kashmir is an integral part of India", why was i not supporting the flag hoisting campaign? Kashmir is an integral part of India and every Indian has the right to hoist the flag in any part of the country as flag hoisting a matter of national pride. Still, was not ready to accept it in this case. My confusion was making me restless.

Later in the night,unable to sleep, i got the answer in terms of an analogy. I started comparing BJP's flag hoisting campaign to that of a husband's desperate attempt to kiss his estranged wife who is seeking divorce. On being opposed, the husband supports his move by saying that "kissing is a gesture of love"!! What a strange logic? Does this fit in the context and situation? I then understood that this was exactly my confusion, the logic given in support of the campaign that flag hoisting is a matter of national pride.
My only question is, despite kiss being a gesture of love, how does it help in saving the marriage in this case?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Kaliyuga's "Akshaya Patra"

Most of us are in the quest to understanding the meaning of life, our reason to live. This quest might seem unending right now, but for sure, it does have benchmarks of understanding. I believe that these benchmarks of understanding and the subsequent translation of this understanding into action help us in defining a person as a wise, good or bad part of the society. Misunderstanding is dangerous though!

My understanding also has a few benchmarks; the first is of considering a man/woman (not mentioning woman is a benchmark of misunderstanding life) as a living organism. By considering a man/woman as an organism we get to know the importance of food. As an organism, we need only three things to survive, food, water and air. All these three were initially provided to us free of cost by nature. Today, sadly, food is a commodity which is not available free of cost (we recently heard our economist PM teaching food economics to the country when food was rotting in government godowns), water is getting commoditized which is visible by the number of disputes over river water and soon in the future, looking at the pollution levels, we will have to buy air! In any case, we all should acknowledge the understanding that the organism side is the primary side of any man/woman.

Second benchmark of understanding is of considering a man/woman as a human. Here i would define human as an organism which lives in the society and follows a some rules and leads a specific way of life. These rules are a result of the thousands of years of evolution which transformed a man/woman from being a mere organism to being the dominant organism called Human. As our life span is limited, all these rules cannot evolve in a life time. Thus, human innovated the education system! This system compresses all the evolution into a structured program which is then taught to men and women so that they transform into humans.

Keeping apart the success or failure of our education system which is an unending discussion, we will have to appreciate the fact that a man/woman is first a living organism and then a Human. One has to qualify as a living being and only then can he or she can qualify to be a Human. Sadly, we have forgotten this! Despite knowing the fact that "Empty stomachs do not understand any ideology", we preach without considering the earlier mentioned fact.

Post independence, Government of India realized the fact and launched a mid day meal scheme for children going to school. This scheme has contributed significantly in raising our levels of literacy from 12% in 1947 to about 68% today. But, as we know, we are home to about 17% of the world's population and government's efforts alone cannot solve the purpose. A literate and educated India will contribute positively to the modern world. Thus, working for a better India is like significantly contributing for a better world.

Pandavas were blessed with unlimited supply of food by the Sun God. In Kaliyuga, we believe that god resides within us. Thus, let us bless the "Kaliyuga's Akshaya Patra" so that we meet the ambition of transforming the world into a better place by ensuring that children do not study empty stomach.

We might also be doing this at an individual level. But, joining hands with likeminded people will surely act like a shot in the arm. Supporting people like Mr Madhu Pandit Das, who have unquestionable and unyielding integrity, in their life's mission in the easiest means of contributing towards achieving the goal.

I hope that the readers appreciate the idea and support Akshaya Patra. Kindly click here to donate .