Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The other side of the story.

As a child, Dusshera was special. Not just for the fun and food that accompanied it, but also for the “Raavana Dahan” or the burning of the effigy of the demon king Raavana at the Gandhi Maidan on Vijayadashami day. While we watched in awe, someone dressed as Lord Rama would shoot an arrow at the larger than life, ten headed effigy of the cacodemon, stuffed with crackers, and it would splutter his ten heads, setting him on fire. I remember cheering and clapping with the crowd, feeling what everyone felt- no matter how evil someone is, goodness will ultimately prevail and engulf it in the flames of righteousness.

I am no stranger to the Ramayana, I have read and re-read dozens of different versions of the epic. The approach to the narration might be different, but all of them propound the same theme - Raavana was evil, he deserved to die.

I grew up thinking that the world hates Raavana. 

But it is now that I know I wasn't entirely right. Because not all do.

There are versions quite contrary to what we have been reading all along! And here, Raavana is definitely not the evil one!

Noted 17th century French writer and noble, Francois de La Rochefoucauld, says it best,

                           “There are heroes in evil as well as villains in good”.

We can’t really define the world in black and white, can we? There’s so much hiding amongst the grays! Perhaps, that is the thought behind the many temples dedicated to Raavana. While the whole world (or rather, most of it!) hates the demon king, there is a perceptible population in the country that worships him!

Was Raavana a Gond king?
A few hours from the place where I have spent my childhood watching Raavana being consigned to flames every year, is a tiny village called Gond. Its tribal population venerates the demon king and ascribes godly status to him. While the rest of the country revels in the celebration of Dusshera, the Gonds celebrate the ‘Raavan Mahotsav’. They call themselves descendants of Raavana–the ‘Raavanvanshis’ and have their own version of the story of Ramayana which is nowhere near to the story we have heard so far! To them, Raavana was a Gond king and Lanka does not refer to Srilanka but to a ‘hilly place’ in their local dialect, Gondi. He was apparently slain by Aryan invaders.

They say Raavana was born here!
The Bisrakh village in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh is believed to be the birth place of Raavana. A 5.5 feet idol of the demon stands alongside a 42 feet Shivalinga. 

They claim Raavana is their son-in-law!
There are many such temples all over the country. Ravangram in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha district has a temple dedicated to Raavana. Constructed somewhere between the 9th and 14th century, the temple has a 10 feet reclining idol of Raavana, which has been worshipped as a symbol of prosperity for over 600 years now. The demon king is regarded as the son-in-law of the village as his wife Mandodari is said to belong to this village.

And here’s where the wedding supposedly took place.
Speaking of Mandodari, there is also a village called Mandor named after her near Jodhpur, in Rajasthan, the place where she is supposed to have wed Raavana. The people of this village also worship Raavana and observe his death anniversary on Vijaydashami day, offering “pinddaan” or obeisance to the departed soul.

Here, he is regarded as a learned man.
Vijayadashami is also the day when some people in Kanpur, worship Raavana at his ‘Dashanana Raavana’ temple that opens only once a year. These people believe Raavana to be a highly learned individual who had immense knowledge of the scriptures, especially of the SamaVeda and was a great exponent of music. 

Similar sentiments echo at the Kakinada Raavana temple in Andhra Pradesh and Koteshwar Temple in Gujarat.

Are we prepared to see the other side of the story?
This Dusshera, when I look back on those times, and remember the symbolic slaying of Raavana year after year, it makes me wonder if he was indeed so evil and if he deserves to be punished thus! Especially, when there are alternative versions of the story to look into. Especially, when I look at the savagery happening in the world around me.

The brave and learned Raavana, was among Lord Shiva’s greatest devotees. On a particular day when the combined grey matter of all his heads were in resting stage, he unceremoniously kidnapped a married woman and whisked her off to his exotic land.

He regretted his decision pretty soon. For he paid for it with all his heads rolled off his proud and arrogant neck.

What a dreadful thing to do! With just one act of immorality, he drew a cloak over all the goodness that he could have stood for.

He sure did have a glad eye for Lord Rama’s wife, but no one disputes the fact that he never misbehaved with Devi Sita, neither did he force her to marry him. He waited. Waited for her to consent. It irked him that she never did consent, and he probably knew that she never would, but that didn’t turn him into a monster.

Most men these days wouldn’t have half the patience, quarter humility and one-tenth the respect for women! Where’s the respect for women these days, anyway?

The once mighty Raavana is paying for it every year since. Thousands of years later, people still find it entertaining to see his head blasted off with crackers…amidst festivities and distribution of sweets.

In the very same place as the festivities, thousands of women are being whisked off unceremoniously every day. Putting even the mighty Raavava to shame! Unabashedly displaying ten times the barbarianism, with a single head over their shoulders than Raavana managed with his ten heads together! But the modern Raavana walks tall with his proud and arrogant head still intact on his head, the wails of the outraged women notwithstanding. 

No. I don’t intend to glorify Raavana.

I just wish we could punish the Raavanas of the modern times - the “rakshasas”who are ten times guiltier, ten times more demonic, and ten times more fiendish than the original was.  If Raavana deserves to be burned every year, so do they, who defile and degrade women every day, everywhere. Don’t you think so?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Book Review: This Love that feels Right! by Ravinder Singh

The Plot:
Finding love has never been easy. Especially if you have been brought up in a conservative family and your mind has been conditioned to think in a certain conservative way. But sometimes you do find love in the most unlikely of places even if you haven’t been looking for it. But what if it seems wrong but feels right? That’s what the story is all about.

The story:
The book explores the journey of Naina Singhania, a girl from a well to do family married to an ambitious businessman Sid, who has no time for her. She joins a gym to get in shape for her anniversary and ends up making two very close friends – a TV journalist Manvika and her personal trainer Aarav. Love blossoms between Aarav and Naina but both know that their relationship has no future. What happens when a neglected wife finds love outside her marriage? Will Aarav fall in love with some's else's wife? Does Naina have the courage to find her voice amidst an orthodox family who does not expect women to give voice to their feelings? Do Aarav and Naina find the courage to admit their love to each other or does their love perish? What is Manvika’s role in the story? Saying too much will reveal the plot, so all I’d say is it is nothing like you imagine it to be! It is not a regular story with a regular ending, and will have you hooked till the very end.

What I liked:
The story has several plusses. The narration is a delight to read; especially the roller coaster of emotions that Naina goes through is very well described. There is this ‘moment’ that Naina and Aarav have in the BMI room; the narrative is sweetly sensuous and beautiful. The narration is so vivid that you can actually imagine the bead of sweat trickle and drop into Naina’s navel!
Then there’s this conversation that keeps happening between Naina and Manvika; Manvika’s views may come across as too progressive to some and they may completely disagree with her while others might find it resonating with their beliefs. But irrespective of whether you agree with her or disagree, it might still force you to spare some thought to her words. As for me, call me old school, but I might not necessarily agree with Manvika.
There aren’t too many characters, which is again a huge plus; you don’t have to keep remembering who is who! The existing characters have a well-defined personality and that is significant. Their roles are pretty prominent and exciting.     

What I would have liked:
There are no visible faults in the storyline, except the fact that Naina and Aarav have a pretty tight leash on their emotions for each other for most part of the story. I wonder if it is really possible. It is like holding this cup of your favourite ice cream in your hand and not eating it because, well, you think the ice cream doesn’t want to be eaten. On second thoughts, maybe there are people who do have the will power to exhibit such restraint!  But I would have liked a few more ‘moments’ like the one in the BMI room. 

Final words:
The story is a first person narrative, but what’s interesting is that a male writer has effortless penned the story in the voice of the female protagonist. The emotions flow so beautifully in the story that at no point does it cross one’s mind that the writer is not female. So kudos to Ravinder for that!  The story is not really new but the handling of the story definitely is. I loved reading the book. It brought me some tears, some smiles and some gush-worthy moments. This is a fun read, go for it if you are a diehard romantic. This book definitely feels right!

The Blurb:
Life would have been easier had it been possible for us to plan falling in love; more importantly, avoid falling in love . . .
‘Love is not for you,’ she told herself. Inside—just like any girl—she desired to be loved. She had accepted her life the way it was, till one day love showed up unannounced, uninvited! That's the thing with love. It doesn't take permission. It's in its very nature to gatecrash into our lives. Standing face-to-face with love, she finds herself asking, ‘Is this love right?’ The answer is not simple. It never was . . .
This intense love story will shake every belief you've ever had about love.

Title: This love that feels right!
Author: Ravinder Singh
No of pages: 230
Genre: Romance

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