This post comes, well, a tad bit delayed. And don’t get me started on how I trapped myself into being so busy when I thought I was “done”.
Last weekend, my nephew Ads – yes the super brilliant guy I talk about here – asked me to tell him one of the Ramayana stories from his Amar chitra katha collection. This four-year old has recently acquired a new found fascination for Indian mythology – especially Hanuman, Ram et al.
I was more than willing to spend a lazy Saturday evening with him, and enthusiastically asked him to choose the story he wants me to narrate.
As my luck had it, he chose the Uttar Ramayana – For those unfamiliar with Indian mythology, this is the part of the epic where Lord Ram sends Sita to the forest after his subjects (starting with some idiotic launderer) raise doubts about Sita’s chastity after her having stayed in Ravana’s custody. As is obvious from the subject of the tale, this one is not a simple tale about all good and destruction of all evil. Many hindus in fact do not consider this part of the original Ramayana – Else how can they claim Ram to be “Purshotham” (the best among men) when he turned his wife when she needed him the most!
With doubts on how I would gloss over the uncomfortable parts of the tale, I started telling Ads the story. But haven’t I told you before – this is not just about any 4 year old – he is not only very inquisitive who wants a story neatly laid out right to the finest of details – but he also exhibits a keen understanding of the details.
As you would expect I was ragged big time; here are some excerpts from our conversation that day. Most of the vocab I have used at the first go is a direct pick from the Amarchitrakatha book:
Me: So let’s start – so as you know Ram was a just and fair king.
Ads: What is just and fair.
Me: He was honest, always did what is right, was a good ruler.
Ads: Oh ok, I am also just and fair.
Me: Yes you are.
Me: One day, Ram heard that his people did not like Sita because she had been kidnapped by Ravana – so he decided to send her away to the sage’s hermit.
Ads: Why did they not like her? But Ram fought with Ravana, right? And he saved Sita – then why should he send her away just because people did not like her.
Me (trying to spin whatever excuses I could at the top of my head – crap, as if I cared what Ram did): But Ram also thought that his children should be born in the jungle with the sages so that they become intelligent and powerful.
Ads: Was Ram born in a jungle?
Ads: But he was powerful and brave right? Then why should his children be born in the jungle.
Me: But it’s just a story and this is what happened. Everybody makes mistakes right. Ram also made a mistake by sending Sita away. So can we continue with the story?
Me: So Ram did the ashwamedha yajna (I explained to him as much as I could what it required) – yajna has to be done with the wife else gods get angry. But Sita was in the jungle, so Ram built a gold statue and used that statue for the prayers.
Ads: Did he ask her to come?
Ads: He should have said sorry and asked her to come – she would have.
Me (given up on defending Ram): He didn’t think of that.
Ads: Okay, but gods know right – Ram can’t fool the gods – they know his wife is in the jungle and this is just a statue.
Me: Yes….let’s continue…
Me: So Luv and Kush were defeated Hanuman and Lakshman, and started fighting with Ram without knowing he was their father.
Ads: Why did Sita not tell them?
Me: She didn’t want them to feel bad that their dad left them in the jungle.
Ads: Ram was not a good father, no?
Me: No. Okay, so then when he asks them who’s your mother and they say “Sita”, Ram becomes very sad – he feels very bad and becomes unconscious out of grief.
Sita tells Luv and Kush about Ram and they are happy. The sage asks Ram to go back with his entire family to Ayodhya.
But, Sita wants to go back to her mother (I didn’t want to get into the insult and suicide concept) and her mother is Earth – so the earth opens up and Sita goes inside.
Ads: She kills herself (see, I told you he is no ordinary 4 year old)
Me: It’s not really killing
Ads: But why does she not go back with Ram?
Me: Because she is angry with Ram as Ram sent her away to the forest and was not there to protect her when she was scared.
Ads: But the sage protected her.
Me: But Ram just left her right?
Ads: Yes, That was not fair of Ram. Just because someone tells you something, you can’t leave your wife and children right? (Well, if this was so simple, I wonder why Lord Ram faltered)
I think Hanuman is the best person in Ramayana – he helps everyone and saves everyone – he respects and loves everyone also. I think he is better than Ram. Ram was not fair.
Me: Yes, but Ads these are all stories, okay? Now let’s order pizza.
Ads: But stories can happen for real right?
Me: What topping on your pizza?
Ads: Paneer without spice!
Me: Thank god for pizzas!