I have read this story a thousand times, but to me it still seems new. The Ramayana and its numerous adaptations tell us the same story of Ram and Sita; but, except for my state of mind and my spectacles, what is it that changes on every new read? I’m not talking about the actual frame and pieces of lens but the metaphorical lens.
When I was a child, Ram and Sita were gods to me. Their affairs were strictly out of bounds for me to judge and question. I had to just learn that Ram Ji was an incarnation of Vishnu and Sita of Lakshmi Ji. When I grew up, they were my role models who taught me about love and responsibilities toward family, sacrifice for the well-being of others, and maintaining my balance during trying times. And above all, they taught me about the society’s benchmarks of how a woman should conduct herself: posses all the good habits in the world, learn all the lifesaving skills such as cooking, cleaning, washing, being a caretaker, and also stay away from falling in love, and ultimately become a one-man woman, just as Sita did. However, just don’t make the mistake of crossing the Lakshman Rekha, else you would be tainted for life.
I remember, during a debate, when, for the first time, a girl questioned the status of woman in the Indian society by taking the example of Sita. I was shattered! Someone who I believed to be perfect, the gods, my role models, were actually far from perfect. Suddenly, Sita was the abla nari or damsel in distress who needed to be cared for and guarded by a man (Janak, Ram, Lakshman and later Valmiki), in my eyes. Ram became the ruthless husband who ignored all that Sita did for him, killed the kidnapper of Sita, got her released and refused to accept her without a testimony of her purity. Later, when he abandoned her without even talking to her, while she had been pregnant with his sons, his act was nothing short of an atrocity. The day I reconsidered these perspectives, the feminist in me was born.
For many years, I could only think of this: epics are nothing but a reflection of the beliefs a society holds. When a society worships someone who wronged a woman, it is proof that it will continue to suppress women in the garb of religion, traditions and beliefs until the story changes.
Honestly, I have always dreamed of re-writing the Ramayana but unfortunately, every time I try to do so, my understanding of the story changes. This time when I was re-reading Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita, I could not help but notice through my new lens (psychology perhaps) that probably this is what love is like in real life is: never pure, always adulterated and hardly fair to the players.
According to the writer, the male is the mind and the thought and the female is nature and wilderness. Only when the mind domesticates the nature, society is born. Looking from this point of view, Ram is the mind – thoughtful but restrained by boundaries while Sita is nature – simple, pure, and raw. They both shared the same kind of love, but Ram’s love was bound like water in a well while Sita’s was an ocean. The difference was not the quantity or intensity but nature of the love itself. In reality, this is how a man and a woman love. Or perhaps, gender is just a way to classify the nature. Nature, which is never absolute, rigid or restrained, always tries to cover up an abandoned house. Then, why do we think gender is rigid? Sita could be Ram and Ram could have been Sita. Sita could have refused to leave Ayodhya with Ram and go to the forest and spared Dasrath some grief. Ram could have left his throne and abandoned the position of king instead of leaving Sita to go to the forest alone. You think Ram was the tough warrior? He wandered in forests helplessly without Sita by his side when he was free. You think Sita was the epitome of feminine tenderness? For months, she fought a demon like Raavan fiercely, without a weapon, when she was a captive. They always had options and choices but it was their nature that made them do what they did. Sita’s nature was to love unconditionally while Ram’s was to follow rules. Nobody was wrong but both were wronged.
As a writer, I have always wondered about the kind of stories I would like to write. I think I know now: the story of Ram and Sita. The story that started as a religious scripture has taught me so much with time the society’s fabric, feminism, gender neutrality and what not. So this is my dream, to write a timeless story like the love story of Ram and Sita pure and simple yet adulterated from its original.