Sunday, September 18, 2011

451. RAM AND SITA


Later that night, after I cannot pack one more thing, I lay on the couch channel surfing. Something on public television catches my attention. TPT is about to run something called "Sita Sings the Blues".

It starts out with this cartoony-character of a Hindu goddess that I'm presuming is Sita, which further captures my immediate attention since I have some disagreements with Hinduism and Sita and Durga.

Within eleven minutes, I am drawn into this animated movie. It is the story of Ram and Sita told by a non-desi, where the goddess Sita looks like a buxomly, evocative desi Jessica Rabbit, wiggling her hips, set to blues music by Annette Hanshaw. Interspersed are these Indonesian (I think) shadow puppets who provide this running commentary of history, background, the relationship of the characters to one another – things you need to know to understand the story if you are not Hindu.

As I keep watching I find myself sucked in – I know the story, I know how it ends, yet I cannot stop. When the story comes to the part where Ram kicks pregnant Sita out of the kingdom because he is unsure who the baby daddy is – I become very upset. This poor woman followed exiled Ram into the jungle for 14 years – during which time (in addition to having to live in the forest rather than the castle), was kidnapped by Ravanna, dragged to Sri Lanka, and held hostage until Ram found and saved her.

I understand that Ram is considered the perfect man and does what he thinks is the right thing to do - which includes banishing Sita from the kingdom because he does know if Sita is pure because she was alone with Ravanna for some time. But it offends me that the she too is considered the ideal wife, and womanly perfection, yet she ends up living a life of suffering.

Around minute 65 something happens to me. I don’t know if it because the hour is late, or I am delirious from exhaustion, but I find myself laughing. The scene has changed from the birth of Rama and Sita’s sons, to the boys being of school age and studying with a tutor, who teaches them songs that praise Ram. And the lyrics are: “Sing his love, sing his praise. Rama set his wife ablaze.  Got her home, kicked her out. To allay his people’s doubt. Rama’s wise, Rama’s just. Rama does, what Rama must. Duty first, Sita last. Rama’s reign is unsurpassed.”

I am not laughing because it is ha-ha funny, but the truth is laughable. I get it – Rama wonders about her purity. But what about her? Because of her loyalty and dedication to him, she was kidnapped. Is he not held responsible for her safety? And something about the word “kicked” and the image that it creates makes me sad for the woman. How awful to love someone so much and to be reduced to being cast aside.

I hear a ping and reach my phone to read a text from Town and Country: You up?
Text from Desi Girl: Yup. Watching a movie.
Text from Town and Country: Which one?
Text from Desi Girl: Sita Sings the Blues.
Text from Town and Country:  What is about?
Text from Desi Girl: Ram and Sita, how he is banished from the kingdom, why we celebrate Diwali.
Text from Town and Country: I am not familiar.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? What kind of Hindu Indian says this? I mean I grew up in Middle America and I know!

Text from Desi Girl: Okay – well I will tell you the story next time we meet.
Text from Town and Country: How is packing going?
Text from Desi Girl: Fine. I am taking a break right now – hence the movie.
Text from Town and Country: Do you want help?
Text from Desi Girl: From you?
Text from Town and Country: Yes.
Text from Desi Girl: Now?
Text from Town and Country: Yes.
Text from Desi Girl: Let me get this straight, you are going to come WAY up here, from WAY down there to help me pack? At this hour.
Text from Town and Country: Yes. Why not? You help me. I want to help you.
Text from Desi Girl: But you are so busy, how do you have time for this?
Text from Town and Country: I will make time.

Hhhmm.He has no time to be in a relationship, where does he have time to help? And why do I understand this as meaning something. Why don’t I remember that this means one thing to me and the exact opposite to him?

8 comments:

rahul b said...

It depends on what is considered as the ideal man or masculinity, in some Hindu contexts like Lord Ram/the Ramayana it is placing one's duty to family/society over your own personal desires.

Lord Ram gave up his birthright and accepted his exile because it was demanded of him by his mother Kaikeyi who wanted the throne for her own (genetic) son Bharata. When Goddess Sita was kidnapped He was obligated to rescue Her if any harm should come to Her. When He was finally coronated, His duty was to His citizens, upholding their morals/values and way of life by letting himself be judged by the same yardstick.

He did not let lust, glory etc. even self-preservation warp his world-view into a shell of constant self-justification - where every selfish desire or cowardice is moralised in one's head.

I think a lot of it influences notions of masculinity among Indian Hindus today: Taking care of parents and their wishes, helping out lesser fortunate relatives, marrying and looking after a poorer girl from your community for life.

rahul b said...

I think one thing that is missed is that Goddess Sita herself was privileged enough to be adopted by a king and she could not have married Lord Ram otherwise. Nor would anyone set off in the rescue of an ordinary woman.

"Is he not held responsible for her safety?"
- She was kidnapped because She stepped outside the Lakhsman Rekha when Lakhsman went off in search of her husband who was hunting for their food (or something, the details are hazy).

I should add a few more things, the accounts after Her rescue and His coronation as King of Ayodhya differ. In the original Ramayana the story ends there. You should also know Sita sings the Blues was written by a woman who was just dumped by her husband/boyfriend who fell in love with India.

101 Bad Desi Dates said...

Dear Rahul B -

Yes he did give up his birthright because he obeyed his father and yes Indian men are men of honor. My dad is incredible. And sometimes I think that is a part of my issue. My father is honest, and fair and just and does the right thing - that I presumed all men were like that. Imagine my surprise.

And I agree with those values you detail below - they resonate with me too - caring for parents, family, (not the marrying a girl part).

I am just saying she too was considered ideal and she suffered and then went back into mother earth and then Rama seemed to realize his loss. It is tragic. And unjust.

xo,
Desi Girl

101 Bad Desi Dates said...

Dear Rahul B -

Yes I do know about Nina Paley - but it still doesn't change my thoughts and feelings about the story.

And yes you are right - she did leave the compound after she was told not to - and I guess that misstep reset her whole life. I just dont think it right, fair or just. And I feel like little Indian girls are raise to emulate her, and that their role is less than a man's. Because they were both seen as perfect. I guess no woman can be as perfect as Rama ... it is like how Eve ate the apple and then sin upon man until the end of time.

How can woman be so wrong when she is the one who bears life?

Perhaps you disagree - totally - fine - I am just saying, poor Sita suffered.

xo,
Desi Girl

rahul b said...

Your angst over Goddess Seetha's plight is because you think doing the right thing ought to be rewarded: "Only action is within your power, not its rewards. Let not anticipation of reward be your motive, you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of that action, for then you enjoy or suffer without merit" - Bhagavad Geetha 2.47

Conclusions like "And I feel like little Indian girls are raise to emulate her, and that their role is less than a man's." are predicated on your own perception, if you go looking for the negative you'll find it. My concern is that you've gotten a second-hand poisoned interpretation of the Ramayana, it doesn't reflect on the original or how Hindus (both men & women) have seen it through centuries, even if it plays into your current victimhood. That movie is full of sly digs at Hinduism, look at the cartoonish way they drew Her, as if to suggest Her "idealness" stems from a base male desire like lust.

101 Bad Desi Dates said...

Dear Rahul B-

Surely you also saw the way Rama was depicted ..... bulging muscle, pale blue skin - I mean he was not depicted as some skinny legged waif.

And you are right - what makes someone man, family and society over personal desire - but still then, was not Sita his wife - someone who he should cherish and care for? Hinduism does not tolerate men and the homes were women are ill treated.

I assure you Nina Paley did not poison me. I have often wondered how this paradox can exist. That's is all and it does not exist for men. I am not judging if it right or wrong, I am saying I disagree with it.

xo,
Desi Girl

rahul b said...

Goddess Seetha wasn't ill-treated, you can only reach such conclusions if you think the Ramayana is a love story. The Universe doesn't revolve around anyone, it's a sum of forces. That paradox of being treated poorly despite acting perfect existed for Karna too.

I will say again, doing the right thing in the aim of a reward has no nobility. Expecting a reward for doing the right thing sets you up for disappointment. Hinduism isn't a hold-my-hand-and-be-saved kind of religion.

Thank you for all your responses, Best wishes.

101 Bad Desi Dates said...

Dear Rahul B -

Maybe because I was raised by Punjabi parents who recognized God in Sikhism and Hinduism that I believe this - but I believe in a compassionate and loving God. I believe in no God who does not love.

You sound like you want to suffer - which is your option. I don't believe in an inhumane God. I believe that whomever, whatever created me is more amazing and awesome than I can understand. But I definitely believe that my Creator created me with love.

You can disagree - that is fine with me - but I was raised to have faith and love.

xo,
Desi Girl