…if there was a Sita and if she had been assigned the role of being the model partner, would the model need a rethink, redoing, restructuring?
An engaging, thought-provoking story by Barnali Ray.
I wasn’t sure if I had lunch. I earnestly tapped SEND on the email. I sat on the edge of the chair, as if that would ensure a speedy submission. I hummed a happy something. Felt grateful for the coffee. Then sneaked to my new-born twitter page. I told myself “twitter break for 5minutes”.
But that wasn’t going to happen.
The following lines screamed silently from the computer screen.
“Send coffins to take us back” a sobbing SonaJospeh told HT over the phone. “We were politely resisting their moves to shift us from the hospital but now their tone is different. We have no option but to obey them.”
I read, re-read, this time another bit of the same news trail.
“Asked if the nurses had been kidnapped, ministry of external affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said in Delhi, “In zones of conflict there is no free will … This is a situation where lives are at stake.”
This was enough to keep me restless all evening. My mind raced to many quarters. No single thought won that race. There finally was one piece on this news-trail, that comforted. There was an Air India flight, waiting to bring back the girls to Kochi on Saturday morning. I tried sleeping.
I sat up & stared at the water –droplets on the window-panes, chasing each other. The smaller droplets were losing themselves to big heavy droplets.
Was there any way I could understand what it must be for the girls who were victims of militancy and now in throes of a crisis, for no fault of their own?
A single name came to my mind, Sita. A single reference point, The Ramayana. This time I didn’t want to contain my thoughts.I let them race. They raced backed to that Monday morning, this February.
I was at the Chennai International Airport, waiting for an Air India flight to Colombo. I sat there with a feeling that I cannot explain. That airport -kind -of -feeling, which makes you realize that who and what, matter the most. A sudden proximity to all that you value.
My primary thought as I sat at that departure lounge, in February. “What was Sita’s plight when Ravan held her hostage?”
My thought now on this Friday in July “46 girls held hostage by the ISIS”
That may have been a myth. This was reality.
I slipped back to my thoughts of February, before boarding the Chennai –Colombo Air India morning flight. Security -check, done. Passport, tucked away safely in the inner reaches of the hand-baggage.
I was armed with my research papers on Sita. An International ATM card. A confirmed visa for a month .A week’s booking at home-stay in Negombo. I could barely wait to get on that plane.
Sita, the crowned-princess had lived in one set of clothes for nearly a year, in a forest and had anxiously waited for her husband. I felt empowered with what I carried on me. Anything else at that moment, seemed like extra baggage.
The voice-in-my-head was suddenly quiet. I now heard a lot. Familiar sounds of accessible technology, unfamiliar sounds of languages,which I am yet to learn. Despite this din of daily drill, I heard myself saying, I am going to meet Sita.
The rational head was questioning everything, the intuitive heart was replying on her behalf.
Sita, a girl , woman, person, wife, princess, queen, mother, sister, sister-in-law, student, daughter, role-model, wronged-woman, victim or a perpetrator ..or someone beyond all of the above.
Of all the roles I had enlisted, I am certain that the most vital is, what I have not understood, not known. There was no writing-on-the-wall. And a longer gaze would tell you that there was no wall.
I looked around, half-worried that CCTVs would catch me talking to myself. I walked up to the counter, just to make sure, that I hadn’t walked into the epic. I was glad when the boarding announcement reaffirmed that I was on terra-firma. What followed was a gentle take-off. In my mental notes, what made me break into a smile was a certain name.
The announcement brandished a certain, Deepali, our captain for the flight. The connection made by a woman between these two countries, felt like a metaphor in motion. I had escaped to unfold my thoughts. Some familiar aromas woke me up. The in-flight breakfast reminded me how cuisine brings about association. India and Lanka have a common soul with food.
Diplomacy is a function of a civilized pact and food is often a fine-bridge. Sita’s kitchen skills too I had read, held great value for the ladies of Lanka. Her recipes and choice of ingredients, seemingly grew popular with the women. And in turn, she grew popular among the women. But no one could ensure her getting free from the hostage situation. Was it Ravana’s commitment to his ego that held her hostage?
Or was it admiration, a silent reverence, a fierce warmth that he left her unscathed when he could have subjected her to ordeals, so typical of war-crime.
ISIS is the new avatar of terror. There is a lot being reported. A lot however remains to be seen, heard, understood. With the flight carrying 46nurses and other 137Indians, a new milestone between West Asia and India is making new chapter of diplomacy. In the next few days, another 600 were expected to return to India.
In the Ramayana, a fierce battle that ensued revealed many facets of both armies. A battle then, was known to be fought on the battlefield.
These days battles are fought over dimensions, not necessarily visible to the human eye. As legend would have it, a bitter war ensued in Lanka and finally the mighty Ravana fell.
The victorious Rama was hailed. What followed next, however, poses the most difficult questions to statehood, spouse-hood, humanhood. What ought to have been celebrated as the most awaited reunion, began a chapter of doom for this ideal couple of Indian mythology.
Sita, by the battlefield, in full public–view, had been subjected to the trial-by-fire, to prove her chastity.
The honk of the hired car, jostled me back to reality that crisp February morning in Lanka. The driver, Manjull(a), asked me if I could tell him the exact name of the place on our itinerary that day. It was my third day in Sri Lanka. Each day had been assigned to some aspect of the ‘real’ myth Ramayana. Today it had been Divurumpola. Local tales that agree with our epic has it & now my camera , that this place continues to speak of the legends and is believed to be, where Sita walked through fire.
She had emerged unscathed. A small temple was sprouting amidst the folds of Buddhist mission. It is now a place of worship among locals in this area. Divurumpola means ‘place of oath’, in Sinhala. The legal system permits and accepts the swearing done at this temple, while settling disputes.
I had fallen silent on that piece of land. I looked up. It was about mid-day. I saw the peepal-tree which manifested on that earth, as a shadow, the radius of which was larger than my fertile thoughts then. People in Divurumpola, still speak of the connection of their village to this chapter of Ramayana.
Albeit, in hushed tones.
The soil of the ‘battlefields of Ramayana’ still remains in red colour, they claim, surrounded by lighter coloured soil. A black board with white letters below the same tree announces, SITA’s oath.
My camera scathed and shot every inch of these coordinates. I often look at those images as if to incite the voice-in-my-head to come up with concrete responses.
So far, none.
The flame of the earthen lamps, below the peepal, quivered like my belief. Intense and fragile at the same time.
Story, myth, reality… an alchemy of beliefs.
I felt tears flow, I hadn’t stopped them. They dissolved the dust of reality and took me back in time and now brought me back to the TV screen this morning in Mumbai.
A news report flashed on every news channel, of the girls now being in Mumbai. I told my goldfish aloud “Damn , if only I had known they were landing in Mumbai I would have gone to the airport to talk to the girls.”
As this piece of news spread on all forms of media, a page turned in history.
The twitter page opened up the morning update of the hostage-drama.
“On their way to the Erbil International airport on Friday night the 46 nurses who were released by their captors on Friday were a happy lot. They did not have any ill-feelings towards their captors, and thanked them profusely for giving them food even while they themselves were on fast” “We are all so happy. It is indescribable…no amount of words can express it…I can’t wait to meet my family…they have been so worried this whole time,” she told The Hindu. “We never thought we would come out of this situation alive…we thank everyone…the government, the officials, the media…for tracking us…watching over us…and finally helping us get out,” she said.
The happiness of this reunion, supported by the flow of images, suitably suggesting a welcome, felt heartening. My thoughts at that ,if there was a Sita and if she has been assigned the role of being the model partner, would the model need a rethink , redoing , restructuring? Would there be a need to rethink the trajectory of a lady, real or mythical, before she is assigned to flames and aspersions. The satyagraha of silent acceptance? Today I admit, I felt redeemed, the Sita in each of us must be happy that scrutiny had not won over security. It felt good to see that Mr.President, the families, the media, the diplomats, the neighbours are in euphoria of this return. There is no suggestion of trial by fire.
Has the healing begun?
Or is their ordeal far from over.
Uncomfortable questions never stop. They have to be culled.
Where do we begin..
Barnali Ray is a film maker and writer.