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The truth about Bajrang Bali

Whether it’s Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti, Mani Ratnam’s just-released Raavan, the deluge of saas-bahu serials on television, much of our popular culture today has been drawing, and redrawing, from our grand epics. History no longer seems to be a set of fables agreed upon, writes Shalini Singh.

books Updated: Jun 19, 2010 00:39 IST
Shalini Singh

Hanumanji: His Vanars
and His Lanka
Parvez Dewan
Shubhi Rs 995 pp 143

History no longer seems to be a set of fables agreed upon.

Whether it’s Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti, Mani Ratnam’s just-released Raavan, the deluge of saas-bahu serials on television, not to forget Kareena Kapoor-making-yoga-cool-in-India, much of our popular culture today has been drawing, and redrawing, from our grand epics. Can ‘culture keepers’ then be left far behind?

In his second book about Ram’s greatest devotee, IAS officer Parvez Dewan has taken up the case of the “mistreatment” of the great mythological tale and “the divisive political abuse of the mythological characters of Sri Ram and Hanumanji.” He has examined issues of Hanuman’s identity: was the god who gave us our surya namaskar and pranayam a man of deep reason or a monkey-creature? Was the location of Ravan’s Lanka modern Sri Lanka, Mauritius or Central America? Was Ravan also a good man? Dewan calls him a handsome stud whose devoted wives “when huddled together in alcohol induced sleep, would kiss each other, mistaking the other for their husband”. Ravan’s aircraft — reminiscent of modern day airlines — with its voice-activated autopilot would only fly “the rich, famous and happy” and the in-flight refreshments included “drinks” and “rich food” with separate seats for each passenger.

Dewan has sought to remove the ‘colonial constructs’ of North Indians being Aryans, South Indians being Dravidians and the Ramayana story being a conflict between the two: “These are, at best, linguistic groups”, he says. He also says Hanumanji often stereotyped his own people, calling the Vanars “a fickle race”.

Dewan has threaded together interesting insights such as these from works of Devdutt Pattanaik, Catherine Ludvik etc, and contrasted with the original Valmiki text.

The author introduction at the start is a bit curious though: “Parvez Dewan can send you to sleep about Hanuman ji.”