I have read this story a thousand times yet, to me, it seems something new to me to understand every time I read it. The Ramayana and its numerous adaptations tell us the same story of Ram and Sita but then what changes? Except for my state of mind and my specs? Not the actual frame and pieces of lens but the metaphorical lens.
When I was a kid, Ram and Sita were Gods to me. Their affairs were strictly out of bounds for me to judge and question. I just had to learn that Ram Ji was an incarnation of Vishnu and Sita was Lakshmi Ji.
When I grew up a little, they were my role models who taught me about love and responsibilities towards family, sacrifice for others well-being, staying balanced during trying times. And above all, society’s benchmarks of how a woman should conduct herself- have all the good habits in the world; pick up all the lifesaving skills like cooking, cleaning, washing, caretaking, don’t indulge in love affairs and ultimately become a one-man woman, just like Sita. Just don’t commit 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. How shattered I was! 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 and guarded by a man (Janak, Ram, Lakshman and later Valmiki). Ram was the ruthless husband who ignored all that Sita did for him, who killed the kidnapper of Sita, have her released and refused to accept her without a testimony of her purity. And after abandoning her without even talking to her, when she was pregnant with his sons, was nothing short of an atrocity. The day I reconsidered these facts, a feminist was born. For many years, I could only think of this- Epics are nothing but a reflection of the beliefs a society holds. And 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 this story but unfortunately, every time I try to do so, my understanding of the story changes. This time when I was re-reading Devdut Patnaik’s Sita, I could not help but notice through my new lens (Psychology perhaps) that probably this is what love 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 but raw. They both shared the same 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. And this is how a man and 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 to the forest and spared Dasrath of some grief. Ram could have left his throne and abandoned the position of the king instead of leaving Sita. 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. Sita’s 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 what kind of story I would like to write. I think I know now- the story of Ram and Sita. The story that started as a religious scripture had taught me so much with time- the society 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. I rest my case.