Ravan’s legend lives with Ram

It will be Dasara in a few days, mostly celebrated in north India as the day Lord Ram vanquished the demon king Ravan and rescued his wife Sita who the ruler of Lanka had kidnapped. Of course there are many other versions of the Ram-Sita and Ram-Ravan stories but puritans have willy-nilly forced people to make do with just one narrative.

In several parts of India, there are temples dedicated to Ravan. He is described as a follower of Lord Shiva, a great scholar, a capable ruler and a maestro of the veena. His 10 heads represent his knowledge of the six shastras and the four Vedas. Jain and Buddhist accounts of the Ram legend vary from Valmiki’s Ramayan.
For example, in Jain accounts Ravan was called Dasamukha (10-headed one) because when he was young, his mother gave him a necklace made of nine pearls. She could see his face reflected nine-fold.

Be that as it may, two candidates nicely fit Kaifi Azmi’s verse that borrows from the dominant legend of the Ramayan. The candidates for our purposes are Subhas Chandra Bose and Hardik Patel. There could be others, but these gentlemen, from different passages of time in India, illustrate an unusual point the poet had made:

“Apney hatho’n ko padha karta hoon ...kabhi Geeta ki tarah/ Chand rekhao’n mei’n, seemao’n mei’n, zindagi qaid hai Sita ki tarah. Ram kab lautengey maaloom nahi. Kaash Ravan hi koi aa jaata.” (I read my palms again and again like a holy book. The lines have trapped my Sita-like existence that someone forsook. Ram will be late and may be gone for days. Could Ravan, meanwhile, liberate me from time’s gloomy maze?)

In the dominant Indian narrative, we can’t really imagine Valmiki’s Ravan as a liberator. In poetry though one could conjure the imagery, as Kaifi did. And yet, when Mr Patel hit the country like a storm many of my moderate friends felt relieved. They believed he could humble their powerful bête noir. When the dust settled and Modi’s amazingly potent challenger turned out to be an out-and-out right-winger, at par with his quarry, the Kaifi verse came to mind. Had fascist Ravan come as a catalyst of change because the democratic Ram had been delayed?

Another friend quoted from Josh Malihabadi. “Ab boo-i-gul na baad-i-saba maangtay hain log/Woh habs hai ke loo ki dua maangtay hain log.” (The scent of flowers, the morning breeze seemed farfetched though nice/In this suffocating stillness a blast of searing heat would suffice.)

The 22–year old Mr Patel’s world view, as it turned out, was brazenly communal. Farming communities across India were not at all communal. The virus of religious prejudice in the sense we have known it for over six decades has been an urban phenomenon. Over time, particularly intensively since the run-up to the Ayodhya outrage, it was consciously grafted on the rural canvas, which has otherwise remained primarily caste-oriented in nature.

Mr Patel wants to turn India into a Hindu rashtra. His great hero is Bal Thackeray. Yet, he had an ace up his sleeve that moderate and even leftist detractors of Mr Modi could only dream of. He had the political clout to rock the Modi establishment. This is one ability that most middle-caste rural communities have usually claimed — Hindu Jats, Sikh Jats, Yadavs, Patils and so on. Infusing them with religious prejudice is a work in progress.

Indeed, Gujarat’s Patels had once backed the Congress but became bedfellows with the BJP after the Congress hitched its wagon to a combination of low-caste Hindus, dalits and Muslims. The Patel diaspora in the US has threatened protests when Mr Modi visits later this month. In the contest of two raging right-wing formations can the moderates experience a sense of relief?

The moderate Indians’ romance with Subhas Chandra Bose is older. The Communists ruled West Bengal for 30-plus years as allies of the Forward Bloc, which follows Bose’s socialist pretensions. In other words, no one was prepared to discuss his flirtations with Mussolini and Hitler. Bose was a product of the militant Hindu opposition to colonial rule. Even Maulana Azad fell for the harnessing of religion in politics from the Bengali militants. The ill-conceived Khilafat Movement was the maulana’s brainchild.

True there was a basic difference between Bose and the other admirers of Italian fascism, namely the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. Bose believed he could align with Britain’s detractors to liberate India (It is another matter that he also wanted to impose a 20-year-long spell of ruthless dictatorship in India after it became free.)

Kaifi’s musings to seek out Ravan as a catalyst to freedom though poetic in its intent had a potentially tragic encounter with reality, albeit in a somewhat ironic way. Such has been India’s ambivalence in its long wait for the promised Ram Rajya.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi
By arrangement with Dawn

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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