India through Foreigners’ Eyes

Last week I happen to read reviews of two new books written by foreigners. One made me morose. The other one was exciting.

I further went through an interview published in Outlook by Internationally acclaimed Sanskrit scholar and author Wendy Doniger who has writen a 780-page book, ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’. I quote some from the interview:

Is it in Valmiki’s version that Rama thinks his father, Dasaratha, is a sex-addict?
Lakshman is the one who actually says it. He says the king is hopelessly attached to sensual objects. But Rama himself says (at 2.47.8) that the king is kama-atma, entirely consumed by kama.

You also suggest that because Rama is afraid of turning into a sex addict like his father, he throws Sita out after enjoying sex with her?
You have a chapter in Valmiki’s Ramayana where Rama was so happy with Sita, they drank wine together, they were alone, enjoying themselves in every way, indulging in various ways, not just the sexual act. And in the very next chapter he says I’ve got to throw you out. So I’m suggesting: what is the connection between those two things? And what does it mean that Rama knows that Dasaratha, his father, disgraced himself because of his attachment to his young and beautiful wife. So I’m taking pieces of the Ramayana and putting them together and saying these are not disconnected.

So you are saying his fear of following in his father’s footsteps is making him betray his own sexuality?
Yes, I am. Or even of being perceived that way. Remember he keeps repeating: “People will say….” Maybe he knows that his love for Sita is much purer than Dasaratha’s love for Kaikeyi. But even so, he is afraid that people who noticed Dasaratha’s love for Ram will say that like his father, he too is keeping a woman he should not because he’s so crazy about her. So he fears public opinion will connect him with his father. Yes, I think that’s there — but it’s not the only thing there is in the Ramayana. It’s just something others haven’t pointed out, so I thought I’d better point it out.

It is a sexy interview and may be in line with Western way of expressing one’s view about the character of any person at whatever high social status he might be. It’s unIndian. I don’t say which the right way is. Perhaps each way is right in right place.

I read Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas everyday for many years. I have gone through the Hindi version of Valmiki Ramayan too published by Gita Press. In my childhood, Radhesyam Ramayan was my favourite. I had gone through some books published by Sahitya Akademi detailing different versions of Ramayanas from different countries. I have also read perhaps the best book on Ramayan written by Father Camille Bulcke‘s ‘Ram Katha Ki Utapati’. Ram’s story or Ramayan evolved over years or rather centuries. Perhaps, Valmiki was the first to get into epic. The character of Ram made many thinkers write on it over centuries. And each author, be it Kalidas, Bhavbhuti, Tulsidas, Keshav, and even Maithilisaran Gupta wrote it emphasizing the aspects and character as they perceived and as they wished. The story of Ram got into early Buddhists and Jain literature too with many variations. And with time it went to almost every country of south-east Asia and took shapes with some local twists.

Over the period Ram became the Almighty and highly revered for a large section of Indians to get into their temples, hearts and minds. And many will not like to hear or read these sexy remarks and may go to any extent to oppose it. Persons such as Wendy Doniger must respect the feelings of the people who are today huge in number though not very well educated and affluent as westerners. I hardly find anything new or a real research in her views. She has all the right on earth to say what she has done as I have the right to be morose and feel sympathetic about her. I strongly believe persons such as Wendy Doniger read each of the books on Ram separating it from the other. And that will be the right way. Ram may not be a historical person, but perhaps unique to continue being the hero of many authors for centuries that itself makes him respectable.

However, I went through the review of William Dalrymple’s compelling new book, Nine Lives. William Dalrymple is an acclaimed travel writer, historian and observer of this country for the past 25 years. In this book, he delves into the lives of nine seemingly ordinary but remarkable individuals. The stories are simple but touching. He understands and appreciates the inner feelings of simple Indians so well that only few great Indian authors can do.

Unfortunately, Wendy Doniger has gone sexy to maket her so-called alternative history, but in process has hurt the feelings of many unnecessarily. It is a violence of a sort.
PS If you wish to read another good review of the book, it is here.

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