Sunday, November 06, 2011

Lost love. Who was the loser?

I’ve just finished reading ‘Lost Love’ by Arshia Sattar. The book made me change my opinion of Sita who was asked to prove her chastity not once but twice by her husband. Earlier, I would feel sorry for her plight and wonder how she could agree to publicly prove her loyalty to her husband? I mean, do these things have to be proved? Aren’t they understood? Sita, however, was married to the King of Ayodhya and her situation was perhaps different to mine and yours. But Arshia Sattar analyzes her action from a different perspective. The first time she is asked to prove her chastity, having lived in Ravana’s palace for a reasonably long period, she is perhaps too shocked to react and goes through the ritual of entering the burning flames without giving too much thought to the humiliation that she had been subjected to. According to mythology, the Gods including the fire god Agni declare her chaste and her husband takes their testimony to be authentic and accepts her.

Rama abandons her a second time on hearing his subjects gossip about her chastity and questioning the paternity of her unborn child since she is now pregnant. She gives birth to twins in the hermitage of Valmiki Rishi who offers her a home and shelter. Her sons are trained to sing the story of their valiant father. Rama, on hearing them sing and on the basis of Valmiki’s assertion that Sita was indeed chaste, relents and agrees to take her back provided she proves her chastity in the presence of his subjects.

This time however, Sita has spent a long time speculating over the treatment meted out to her and when she is thus humiliated a second time, she invokes Mother Earth to create a chasm and take her in as proof of her chastity. She is happy to see her sons united to the father but has no interest in joining him as his queen. For all we know there may be several more reasons and occasions for Rama to keep asking her to prove her chastity time and again. This is an insult that she could do without. It is her turn to abandon her husband who has to live with guilt for the rest of his life. This aspect of her personality is what women need to uphold in their lives. They ought to be accountable to their own selves for their actions and none other.

The plight of Sita in the epic raises a lot of questions in my mind. Are womenfolk any better today? Are not women considered as property that needs to be transferred from one proprietor to another from childhood to old age? The girl has to just turn 18 and her parents start worrying. She needs to be safeguarded till her husband takes over. The husband does not even have to be eligible. He just has to be a man. If her marriage fails it is usually her fault. She did not try hard enough. Her husband fell for his colleague/neighbor/any one in the whole world and abandoned her because she could not be the ideal wife that he merited. Never mind that he was less than perfect himself. Even if she was herself was above blame she had to put up with his wayward behavior because she would not receive any support from her maternal home. When I see women subjected to all kinds of humiliation by society I feel Sita was better off. She led a peaceful life in the forest raising her sons instead of having to listen to her chastity being questioned by every male in town.

Are financially empowered women any better? They have the freedom to leave home and spend a few hours in their work place. I wouldn’t know how it is today. When I was growing up, I had a cousin employed in a nationalized bank and one of the conditions laid down by her in laws was that she should hand over her entire salary to her mother in law and accept a pocket allowance that the MIL thought was appropriate. I do not know if the arrangement continues these days. I was lucky that my mother in law was assertive herself and encouraged me to stand up for myself. She would advise me not to let my husband micro-manage my life. Those were days when I was not working and my husband would give my MIL spending money. Once the money came into her hands she would let me handle it but would never let my husband question the running of the household.

“That much freedom is yours by right” she would say. “Don’t give it up ever.”

Today is her 33rd death anniversary. I spent just 5 years with her and for the last one and a half years she was bed ridden. But the impact she made lasts till now. I wonder how many are that lucky. My advice to young women is to be in charge of their lives. Men may resent it initially but once they realize that you are equally capable of running the house and deciding things, they will gladly acknowledge your role as an equal partner. After all who does not want a supporting hand?


Ugich Konitari said...

HHG, This is such a great post. And I must get my hands on this book you mention by Ms Sattar.

I think your mother-in-law was absolutely amazing. My heartfelt respects to her memory . They dont make them like that anymore......:-(

NBose said...

This Ramayana has always made me think.i always have different opinion abt the leading characters (Lord Rama or Ravana)which is not okayed by general public..

u were lucky to hv such a supportive lady as ur a lott abt her in other post as well

Renu said...

About Sita it is said that ealier Ram asked agni to keep her safe there and Sita who was taken by rama was not the real one, so when she came back, again she went from where she came and real Sita came out...thats what my mother used to tell me/
you were lucky to have a MIL like her in those days.

Ranjani said...

A very good post. I have always felt the way about Sita the way it is written about her in the novel.

One cannot always keep passing the testimonials at different phases of life. One has to revolt and take their decisions on their own.

Neha said...

Indeed a great post. I read another on similar lines today. You were very lucky to have had a mother in law like you did. I am getting married this month and from what I know, my MIL is very progressive too, which can be seen in the way she has brought up her children. And as for women earning today, I do know a few who hand over their salaries to their husbands who then give them "pocket money"! Another one I know is scared to spend on herself as then her husband will not approve of it! I wonder is such husbands do likewise!!

Anonymous said...

Good post, HHG. People can be heartless and cruel when it comes to gossip. Poor Sita! Atleast she had the solitude of forest life to be left alone. I have never liked Rama's doubting mind. I wonder if he would prove his loyalty if Sita would have asked him to.

As for your MIL, she must have been progressive for her times.

R's Mom said...

Wow! thats a superb post HHG! and your MIL was a super nice Suranga says they dont make them like that anymore!

Tassu said...

I am glad and literally at awe to know your MIL was so gentle and kind :)I don't understand those married ladies who have to hand over their month's salary to their in-laws.I mean how ridiculous! How did your cousin and women like your cousin can choose such hubbies who have such narrow minds?I think it's high time women should attain their status in this society.

dipali said...

Your late MIL sounds like such an awesome lady- you have written about her earlier, and she sounds like a warm and supportive and most enlightened lady, God rest her soul.

Lost Love is an absolutley amazing analysis of the many betrayals Sita underwent. I think we know well whom the loser is in this storey!!!

Anonymous said...

i see a paradox.
women are sensitive and emotional- more than men.we hear things like a woman never forgets her first love(an emotional baggage she carries lifelong?),adjusts post marriage,& are loyal than men.i wonder if women can ever become more cruel than men to surpass men in their own game,or give men a taste of their own bitter medicine.women are more sensitive and hence suffer.then how can they ever achieve equality?

rama could have floundered too in sita's absence.
only he would not have to bear a child as a proofs reproof.

monu said...

i really like the way you write.. i am a long time reader of your blog... i like the "positivity" in all your posts :)

Hip Grandma said...

Hi Folks,
Was busy last week and could not respond. Thanks for your input. Will respond ASAP

Arundhati said...

Great post :) Enjoyed reading

I'm rediscovering our epics with my little one, and am amazed - by their relevance, the ideas and the way they are communicated - storytelling at it's best!

It's Dee for U said...


You write such wonderful posts which leaves me thinking. You come with really interesting posts. Kudos to you on that.

As you rightly pointed out, women as still subjected to various forms of chastity tests even today. There is no dearth of suspicious husbands, dominating in-laws. We can still read stories of man killing his wife because he thought she had an extra marital affair.

Sometimes I feel the westeners are better that way. They are open about breaking up a relationship and accepting new people into their lives. Do you think such changes might help our society as well? Not sure. One thought from the string of thoughts your post arose.

Sue said...

That bit about Sita leading a peaceful life in the forest -- I could not help but laugh. You are right of course, living with husbands is anything but peaceful!

radha said...

I was upset when I read the Ramayana the first time since I did not like the treatment meted out to Sita. I could never imagine why Rama was such a 'hero' . Hats off to your mother-in-law.