I have an important lunch party to go to today, so I won’t write a word about prima donnas in the higher judiciary lest I find myself hauled off to court mid-vodka-sip. Instead, I’ll talk about twits. There are two kinds of twits: people who believe in ghosts, and people who think that ghost stories encourage people to believe in ghosts and therefore shouldn’t be read. Between the two kinds of twits, I find the latter kind — those who think that ghost stories encourage irrational thinking — more insufferable. They normally turn out to be preachy, funless people who are as imaginative as an honest accountant on a Wednesday. I don’t believe in ghosts regardless of what the rest of the country thinks. But I adore stories that have dead people coming back in various forms and plots. Yes, that makes me a not-a-twit.
What applies to ghosts, applies to God(s). There are people out there — a humungous majority, I’m told — who believe in the All-Mighty by applying silly but cute logic such as ‘If you can’t find your TV remote that doesn’t mean you don’t exist’. Now, I may not believe in what Section 377 of the IPC calls ‘unnatural offences’, in Ajit Agarkar’s bowling skills or in God, but some of my best friends do and I do appreciate the aesthetics of believing. It’s way better than opera, which I don’t ‘get’. But at the same time, the notion of God being a Chief Justice in the Sky who can’t be ridiculed or played around with is a bit rich for someone who’s supposed to be the All-Understanding Boss. While I know that the Ramanand Sagar-style arrow-slinging between Karunanidhi and Advani is politics, it’s not a bad idea to leave the two to their fighting and run after the pride of the Iksvaku clan himself: Ram.
You don’t have to be a rationalist with dark glasses and a son named Stalin to badmouth Ram. The 19th century Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt wrote the nine-book epic poem, Meghnadbadh Kabya, about a happy and prosperous household being destroyed by outsiders and betrayed by those within, and how a loving husband, father and king loses everything because of a scheming, almost effete prince. Ravan and his son Indrajit (smirk!) are Dutt’s heroes and Ram the villain. Just to show he was no Ambika Soni, Dutt wrote to his friend Rajnarayan Basu, “I despise Ram and his rabble; but the idea of Ravan elevates and kindles my imagination; he was a grand fellow.” The epic poem went on to become a bestseller and is still part of standard school texts.
Not so sanctioned is the extremely popular and divinely bawdy poem Mahayan that, in its various versions, continues to rock generations of Bengali youngsters with uncontrollable laughter. Written by the mysterious ‘Maharshi Chulmiki’, Ram and Sita and others are described as engaged in non-divine activities that grandmom would disapprove of. Which doesn’t mean that this is Bengal communist propaganda aimed against religion. Not at all. In fact, playing with the Ramayana is part of the Ramayana itself. The poet AK Ramanujan wrote in his essay, Three Hundred Ramayanas, “In several of the later Ramayanas (such as the Adhyatma Ramayana, 16th century), when Rama is exiled, he does not want Sita to go with him into the forest. Sita argues with him. At first she uses the usual arguments: she is his wife, she should share his suffering, exile herself in his exile, and so on. When he still resists the idea, she is furious. She bursts out, ‘Countless Ramayanas have been composed before this. Do you know of one in which Sita does not go with Rama to the forest?”
There are as many Rams as there are Ramayanas — by Valmiki, by Tulsidas, Amar Chitra Katha, by Ashok Banker. Some have Ram as a God right from the start (Tulsidas’ Hindi Ramcharitmanas, the North Indian’s default Ramayana); some have his Godliness revealed in the end (Valmiki’s 750-500 B.C. Sanskrit version). So choose your Ram story according to your taste. As Karunanidhi hardsells his dipso version, I invoke the words of my personal deity, Homer Simpson, “I’m normally not a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me Superman."