Saturday, November 10, 2012
RAM JETHMALANI AND THE THEORY OF GROTESQUE
Sri. Ram Jethmalani has a gift of gab that often runs riot like an undisciplined young colt, careless of what it bruises, and crushes. A man of immense talent as a lawyer, he is more often ruled by personal piques than an informed conscience. Currently he is up against the Party that he also strived to build and had several times tried to drag into disrepute as well, almost as a matter of right.
The whacky, weird and the wild charges/opinions of Mr.Jethmalani has indeed invited the attention of the media which is currently in search of balms and potions to minimise the damage it had done to the Congress Party and its government, besides the ‘ruling family’ the Prime Minister and many ministers for getting involved in corruption of unprecedented proportions. Mr.Jethmalani was never happy with the BJP leadership, and had criticised practically every eminent leader of the party, including the venerable L k Advani. In a recent interview given to Srinivasan Jain of the NDTV I was astonished to find that the great criminal lawyer was allowed by the interviewer only to speak against his party though he tried several times to drag Sonia G and Rahul G. He didn’t seem to get angry at all at the interviewer whose brief was obvious. But I remember distinctly Ram Jethmalani justifying his association with the BJP saying that it was the best option available to him in the country.
Years back I was dismayed and hurt when Jethmalani whom I respect so much had left the BJP after being asked to step down by Prime Minister A B Vajpayee from the Cabinet as Law Minister of India following his taking swings at the Chief Justice of India. In a Letter to the Editor to the New India Express I defended Jethamalani. But soon I found Ram Jethmalani taking up the defence of Laoo Yadav in the case of most brazen acts of corruption in the history of India till the time. He was spiting the BJP then too!
For a person who could defend a former DGP who had indulged in the most cruel act of sexual exploitation of an under-age girl, and misused his official clout to silence the girl’s family, saying that we had to go by the lower court’s finding, and not by the allegations raised by the interested parties, Ram Jethmalani exhibits considerable lack of respect for the due process of law in the allegations against BJP President Nitin Gadkari who had invited any probe into his alleged wrong-doing. As to his argument that he was trying to “save” the party, the less said, the better. You know it, Ram, just as us we all know, that this argument over ‘first principles’ do not take politics anywhere. The justification you gave to Srinivasan Jain about your association with BJP is the right one to adopt under the circumstances. The party by far is the most principled, the least-corrupt and led by the ablest and the most committed patriots, period.
Now that Ram Jethmalani has, sort-of burned his bridges with the BJP, he opts to spite the party further. He assaults the symbol of Indian manhood and God-head respected and revered by all Hindus - Lord Rama particularly in the context of the party’s Hindutva agenda. As someone trained a bit to be a literary critic, for me it is “taking a spade to a soufflé ”violent criticism and “deconstruction” technique the epic of Ramayana considered a great religious text instilling human values of filial duty, brotherly love, wifely devotion, princely dedication and even ethics of war and peace. Well, there is only a thin line separating myth and reality in our epics, and just as religious Hindus consider Ramayana as an epic of true stories, meant to spread dharmic principles, disbelieving deconstructionists can make a terrifying villain of it’s chief protagonist. Ramayana and Mahabharatha were written when there was no ready readership, no printing, no publishers, no royalty payments, no awards and such recognition; and it is logical and tenable to conclude the authors were inspired by higher motives and their works were intended to be read and understood for their values as parables and stories of exalted human beings if not ávatars’ giving dharmic education – fictional constructs emancipating facts and truths from perhaps their bondage to reality at times. The learned comment of a great man was that through Ramayana runs a whole gamut of emotions, like anger, absolute arrogance, jealousy, joy, passion, regal equanimity, tender compassion and violence, there is an underlying message that if one steadily hung on to one’s sense of duty one could triumph over the dark emotions which ruled the human heart.
Ram Jethmalani, nearly ninety years old, had just adiscovered the other day that Sri Ram was a bad husband. It may be noted here that Valmiki’s Ram was not an incarnation of Vishnu, while a student of Ramayana is never out of touch with its sanctity and its unequalled importance to the study of our culture and civilisation. Valmiki had his chief protagonist say the words “ätmaanam maanusham manye” suggesting that his conduct was that of a human being desirous of acting in conformity with the highest ideals of Dharma or the best traditions of his time. It could be sheer calculated anachronism to read present-day socio-political prejudices in to an epic that reflected the morals of Thraethayug, some 5000 years ago!
It is true that Valmiki’s treatment of Sri Ram makes him for a while subject to a violent human passion, jealousy, combining with it his concern as a king for the slanders from his subjects, which sullied the yasas of the Royal House of Ishvakus. Then Sita undergoes the fire ordeal with the whole world and the Gods watching, his dead father Dasaratha himself watching from heaven, and they all testify to her purity and Agni delivers her back untouched.
Ram Jethmalani’s problem is that he started with what is called a Convenient Reverse Logic: the logic of a preferred point of view influencing his personal judgement. He is angry, and in a mood to inflict maximum hut to the BJP and therefore assaults one of their cause celebre, the Ram Jana Bhoomi movement based on the divinity of Ram and his personification as “Maryaada Purushottam’ and the bed-rock of our culture. It is said that there is nothing called objectivity, unless it can be of some advantage to us. In trying to prove his “secular” credentials attacking Lord Rama himself, Ram Jethamalani chose to that Sri Ram for millions of Hindus is no persona so much as personification of certain ideals and values. Not even the lunatic fringe among hard-core Hindus would approve Ram abandoning Sita. The South Indian Hindus play Sitaakalyanam (in Raag Sankarabharanam) during the crucial stage of the marriage ceremony not without any reason. They do not celebrate Ram abandoning Sita. They celebrate the ideal husband in Rama just as the loving wife in Sita. Ram Jethmalani’s criticism of Sri Ram falls into the category of the grotesque. If a person picks up a single flaw from among the many attributes of a great individual to the exclusion of others to bring him down in esteem, the point of view turns grotesque. Valmiki’S Ram is shown ascending steps of perfection throughout his life, in an essentially human document that Ramayana is. Sri Ram’s trials and tribulations, the many adversities he went through, the great changes of fortune that came over him, are vicissitudes of life that readers of Ramayana devoutly and earnestly endeavour to imbibe lessons from.
I am even more upset with Jethmalani for describing Lakshman as "even worse" telling the audience at the function organised to launch a book on a man-woman relationship, that "When Sita was abducted, Ram asked him to go and find her as she was abducted during his watch. Lakshman simply excused himself saying she was his sister-in-law and he never looked at her face, so he wouldn't be able to identify her"! Ramayana has no such incident at all. When Sugreeva found the ornaments Sita had thrown for help to follow the path as she was being taken away by Ravan, and asked the brothers to see whether they belonged to her, Ram fainted ass soon as he saw his beloved's arnaments. Lakshman's reply was“Na hum jaanami kaeyoore, na hum jaanami kundale / Noopurathve-bhijaanami nityampaadaabhivandanal” that is, he had seen only Sita’s feet as he did pranam everyday to her, and therefore, could identify her anklet among the ornaments. This is what Jethmalani, in his anxiety to deliver a mouthful of nasty words against those whom millions of Hindus consider immortals and role-models all their lives, misreads and misinterprets! In Valmiki Ramayana, Maaricha seduces away Sri Ram and Lakshman refused to believe that his brother was in danger even after the most pitiable counterfeit cries issued by the rakshas. That was when Sita forgot herself in a wild rage and abused Lakshman for harbouring ulterior motives after his brother’s death. Lakshman abuses her and leaves his watch in disgust. Many believe that what misfortunes befell her later was punishment for her suggesting that he had improper and unspeakable motives. So much for Ram Jethmalani’s erudition.
Since we encounter a legal eagle like Ram Jethmalani in the issue discussed here, I am convinced of the need for a Blasphemy Law in India because people have a right to have their religious feelings protected from outrageous attacks of their beliefs in deities they revere, and it is in public interest to prevent offences which lead to civil discord. Otherwise, as Chandrasekhar’s supporters thrashed Jethmalani publicly when he chose to demonstrate his democratic protest to the Socialist leader’s ascendance to the Prime Ministership of India, violent Ram Bhaktas are likely to physically hurt our Scotch-fed tiger in the streets of India.