My obsession with Sita

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My obsession started long ago, much before I realised I was named after this goddess and someone remarked that that community never names their girls after Sita — since she suffered so much. And turns out the building I live in is named after one of her children.  But trivia apart, Sita still fascinates me.

It all came together one day when one friend was narrating a conversation she had with someone else. This friend had an arranged marriage with an unconventional beginning and today had a smooth relationship with her husband.

She leads a life like any of us do — works, runs a house how she feels like (doesn’t feel compelled to cook in short), has her friends, does her thing, spends money as she feels fit. Her friend mentioned to her how great it was that her husband treats her well and lets her do what she wants.

It rankled when I heard this but I thought may be the person making the observation truly had a bad relationship. This conversation came to me out of the Dubai. Subsequently I heard of another similar conversation between two women, one telling the other how great it was that her husband let her do what she wanted and gave her space to do what she wanted. This came from the US.

I kept thinking so maybe couples are stuck in a time warp abroad trying to preserve their Indianess and not really questioning the very roles they claim defined them. Then someone in Mumbai mentioned how it was great her husband let her work, let her do what she wanted and even let her decorate their house.

Somewhere along the way I lost my cool. I kept asking the last one who said this to me, what was so great if he treated you well??!!! Wasn’t it normal behaviour? She turns around and tell me, it’s okay for people like you to talk like that.

The silenced me. People like me? Unmarried was the first thought that crossed my mind but she said feminist. Or rather murmured it. And that stumped me. I didn’t think I was the feminist types. But if not being grateful for good behaviour from your partner is feminism, I guess I am a flag-bearing, card-carrying member.

I always get into trouble for this but whenever I have a conversation I am not satisified with, I replay the conversation with someone else, who I think can give me another point of view. So who else but a man.

He agreed with me that yes women place far too much faith in one person who happens to be their husband. Women today are very independent and take on so many decisive roles. Even after marriage they are usually more available for their ageing parents than sons but these women still glad when their husbands treat them well.

So why this conditioning? Why this gratefulness? Why this abject thankful attitude for something that should be a given?

A professor friend mentioned it to me in passing that it has perhaps been handed down to us in our mythology itself. Sita, the wife every woman aspires to be, is often the ideal myth. To be the ever-sacrificing, pious and pure wife.

That brought me to Ram. As mythology goes, to me he is flawed. Instead of encouraging his praja to think in a fair manner, he abandoned his wife. Maryada Purshottam aside, this itself makes him less of a king.

And to worship to the woman who still treated him like he did no wrong cannot be the best situation. Her other avatars where she stands up for her rights and rights the wrongs are better myths to follow.

But then I chanced upon  some reading material and one neat movie that made it clear that while Sita may be what she was, contemporary times were slowly revisiting her myth too.

The book Retelling the Ramayana is a powerful book in that sense because Ram faces censure from his own for abandoning his pregnant wife. And other female characters from the Ramayana who are strong voices but have been rendered mute in the patriachal tale.

And then there was the movie: Sita Sings the Blues. I don’t know how I missed it all these years. But I chanced on it here and caught the whole movie online. And realised it was possible to view Sita in a different light. Another opinion, that has also made a popular feminist icon, is that though independent of thought and action, she still let her man make her decisions.

While some may point out that it is a bad example to set, others also say that it was finally she who took the all-important decision of  asking Mother Earth to consume her. She abandoning him, not the other way around, which should have been the focus. I guess it’s easier to look at the smaller picture and think of how he abandoned her at her most trying time.

Somehow I forget now why I was so angry when I started this post. It lay in the ‘Drafts’ section for a while and now that I am ready to post it, I realise,  there isn’t any anger any more.

And for those who are interested in Sita, check out this movie. All four characters have names of the goddess and four stories are about women empowerment (with Bollywoodisation I guess).

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12 responses »

  1. Blue,

    Two quick questions:

    1. What if a male friend of you tells you how great it was the his wife lets him be? What will be your reaction?

    2. Now, is the reaction same when a woman tells you how great it is that her husband lets her be?

  2. Very interesting post. Am definitely going to check out the book and movies you mentioned…

    I meet a lot of women consumers as a part of my job and this kind of attitude goes all the way – in the lower economic strata, a good husband passes for one who doesn’t beat his wife!

  3. I loved the movie, Sita Sings the Blues. I met the Director, Nina Paley, at Tribeca Film Festival in NYC last year. She’s a terrific example of a modern avataar of Sita. I love that her story runs parallel to Sita’s in the film. Would love to see you do a review of the film.
    It digusts me as well when I hear people talk about how grateful they are that their husbands ‘allow’ them certain things. It makes my blood boil. I will now refer them to your blogpost! 😉

  4. Vishvesh: Since we’ve already had a discussion with no ‘real’ conclusion, I’ll paste that chat soon.
    Rohini: Yes I know that feeling. It’s a feeling of complete and utter inadequacy.
    Darsh: You met Nina Paley! Am suitably impressed. A modern avataar of Sita. Wow. That is a nice description. I would love to meet her some day.

  5. This comment vaguely connects to the post so please bear with me.

    When I was reading about female friends being “grateful” to their husband for allowing them to do as they wanted to do and your utter disgust with it, this thought came to mind – Could it be that female friends still practice gratitude for all the things that life doles to them? I completely agree with you that such a behaviour (of not curbing a person’s freedom) should be considered normal rather than an exception but being happy & grateful to have found a partner who does practice it is fine too.

    🙂

  6. I’ve seen such behavior in friends too, and it really surprises me. How does one get to be grateful to do what’s their right anyway?

    And Vishvesh, without knowing your debate with bluespriite, let me tell you that I am yet to find a man “grateful” for their wife letting them be. They think it’s a right 🙂

  7. Pingback: A lot gets thrown in the air « The Age of Aquarius

  8. I seem to be commenting after the discussion is over, but here goes…

    I got surprised looks (and worse!) because the Guy cooks. Not even envy, or a comment saying, ‘you’re lucky’, but disdain, that I would let my husband cook for me. Humpphh!

  9. Pingback: You gotta have faith « The Age of Aquarius

  10. Pingback: Continuing the obsession « The Age of Aquarius

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