Calling Ravana

Calling Ravana

Rama slays the demon-hordes, painting ascribed to Pandit Seu of Guler Photos ‘pahari masters’ from oxfordThe author of the internationally acclaimed and bestselling ‘Ramayana’ Series, managed to track down the now-aging yet still impressive character at an undisclosed location for this rivetting Q&A and attempted to find out what the real Ravana is truly like. In conversation with Ashok K Banker.

AKB: It was really hard tracking you down. Once upon a time you were the most highprofile personality in Indian mythology. Why so media shy now?

RAVANA: Every god has his day. I’ve done my time, paid for my crimes. I’m retired now. Let me chill. What do you expect me to do? Go on ‘We The People’ and bicker?  I’m happy here on my island hideaway with my dominatrices and my snuff film collection. Besides, last time I agreed to a photo-shoot it took three days for the i**** photographer just to get all 10 head-shots of me! I was so fed up at the end, I fed him to my pet pisacas. On a shoot for a TV news channel in Delhi, the cameraman had to move back so far to get me in the frame, he ended up in Noida. And then there was this reporter who tried to blame the whole Hindutva right-wing fundamentalist problem on me. I told him to go find a Ram Mandir to hide in…fast!

AKB: Nevertheless, your effigy is burned every Dussera across India. You’re demonized in countless TV shows, movies, books, comics, pop culture references from Buffy to sitcoms. Your name is iconic in its evocation of pure evil for most Indians everywhere. How does it feel to be the most notorious Indian villain of all time?

RAVANA: Thank you, thank you. It’s always good to be appreciated. It feels great of course. I’m finally getting my due. Wish the Dharmanator were here to see it though…that would be the icing on the cake.

AKB: Did you say…Dharmanator? As in…?

RAVANA: Terminator who slaughtered and committed atrocities in the name of dharma! Massacred rakshasas left, right, and center. Basically committed a Rwanda-style genocide on our a****. And yet he’s a God while I’m a Villain. I ask you, is that fair?

AKB: So you do feel you were unfairly represented in literature and pop culture?

RAVANA: No! You’re not listening — stop looking at that head. That’s the wrong one.

Here…no, here! This is the head talking to you right now, R4, the fourth head from the left. I meant that sure, I’m a villain. I’m proud of being a villain. But how does Rama get to be worshipped as a hero after all the lives he took, the asuras he slaughtered by the millions, the invasion of my country, the murder of Vali…and let’s not forget how he treated his own wife in the end, the woman he did all those things for allegedly!

AKB: Well, as you yourself put it, he was a…Dharmanator in a sense. All that he did, he did because his dharma required it of him. It was justified.

RAVANA: Yeah? Did you know that for almost two and a half millennia Rama and his great exploits were virtually unknown in our itihasa? It was only after the Europeans began invading the Subcontinent and trying to convert the natives to Christianity that a brahmin revivalist movement rose up — that was the start of modern Hindutva, by the way — and Valmiki’s poem was dusted off and rescued from obscurity? And who do you think was responsible for that?

AKB: Sant Tulsidas, of course. His commentary on the original Valmiki poem in the popular North Indian idiom of the 16th century was the reason for the mass popularisation of the epic — in fact, most people even today regard Tulsidas’ commentary as the real ‘Ramayana’, rather than the revisionist commentary which it actually is. But what does that have to do with...

RAVANA: Tulsidas? Like hell! It was me, you fool! Damn i**** novelist — so you’re mentally challenged and have only one brain, you can’t help that, I get it, but at least you can use the one brain you have! I was the one responsible for the popularisation of the ‘Ramayana’, I!

AKB: What you just said about me, that was offensive. But I’m going to ignore it in the larger interests of journalistic scoopery. Besides, you’re the one who’s physically challenged, not me.

RAVANA: You want to get it on? Come on outside then. Face me, man to rakshasa!

AKB: I’m a writer, not a fighter. Besides, if I wanted to get back at you, I’d just portray you as the d***-turd you really are, instead of giving you a fully fleshed-out well-rounded portrayal as I did in my ‘Ramayana Series’. I doubt you have ever been portrayed as fairly and completely as in my retelling…

RAVANA: Okay, okay. It’s true. My right head (R8) apologises for what my left head (R4) said about you. But I meant what I said. I was the reason for the revival of interest in the ‘Ramayana’, for Tulsidas writing his religious commentary on the original adi-kavya. And for the entire Hindutva revival going on right now.

AKB: Moving on…Modern critics feel that the entire ‘Ramayana’ story was a form of racism, with the ‘aryan’ North Indians attacking the darker South Indians and calling them rakshasas.

RAVANA: Next you’ll be telling me that it was superior castes versus tribals and lower castes?

AKB: Well yes, that is one theory too…

RAVANA: When you say the word ‘aryan’ which by the way is a western mispronunciation — the correct word is ‘arya’ without an ‘n’ at the end, who would you say were the most famous aryans in ancient Indian itihasa or mythology?

AKB: I suppose…Rama Chandra, Krishna…

RAVANA: Stop right there. What do you think the name Rama means. And Krishna too?

AKB: Err…

RAVANA: I’ll tell you, since your one brain is obviously on a permanent coffee break. They both mean the same thing, Black!

AKB: That’s true. The Puranas clearly describe both Rama and Krishna as black-skinned. The colour of a crow’s feather in fact, is the exact phrase used by Valmiki, and Vyasa too.

RAVANA: There you go. The term ‘arya’ is never used with reference to race in a single Purana — and in fact the whole race argument is negated with regard to the people of the Indian Subcontinent because despite our darker skins, we are Caucasian too, just like Europeans and Americans! Do your research, you cut-rate Valmiki!

AKB: So you’re saying that there’s no merit in the racism or aryans, sorry aryas, versus South Indians or tribals theory?

RAVANA: That theory is as stupid as the German people who now claim that the Holocaust never occurred at all! It’s revisionism of the worst sort. I repeat: ‘Arya’ is not a racial description. It is an adjective. I am as ‘arya’ as Rama or Krishna or any other person of noble spirit and character.

AKB: Some scholars believe that your name actually refers to your knowledge of 10 scriptures — the four Vedas and six Upanishads — rather than a literal reference. There is literary precedence in Atharva Veda where the terms Dasagva (tenheaded) and Navagva have been used before ‘Ramayana’ too.

RAVANA: Look at these 10 noggins waving like balloons on my neck. Do they look like literary references? They’re very real, you bankrupt Banker! Besides, all those references in Atharva Veda, what kind of people were they referring to? Scholars? Pole dancers? Montessori school teachers?

AKB: No. They were actually referring to rakshasas and asuras, like yourself.

RAVANA: Case rests.

AKB: But what about the widespread belief that North Indians unfairly wrote you off as a demonaic villain, whereas in fact you were the wronged one, the great scholar and brahmin, worshipper of Shiva, grandson of the great sage Pulastya, great-grandson of Brahma himself, son of Kaikesi, princess of the Daityas, and your father was Vishrava himself. You’re an accomplished veena player — in fact your sigil flag bore the veena icon. And your maternal grandfather Sumali ensured that you upheld the Daitya reputation for ethical kingship and governance. Your long penance to Brahma, your devotion to Shiva for whom you composed the Shiva Tandava Stotra, your benevolent rule of Lanka…there is overwhelming evidence of your good qualities.

RAVANA: Even serial killers have families and treat them well. Hitler loved his dogs and treated them with great care and affection. Things aren’t always black and white. That’s what I liked about Valmiki’s original poem — he told it like it was. I did some bad stuff.

Rama did what he did. I didn’t claim dharma as justification, he did. We each did our thing, and to hell with the consequences. It’s only when you start taking sides — North versus South India (what does that even mean, next we’ll be having left-handed people versus right-handed people), or ‘aryas’ versus tribals, and so on, that you start looking at everything upside down. Stop putting a spin on the facts. Yes, I was all those great things, and yes, I did a lot of bad things too. In today’s language, I’d be a Hitler. Things aren’t always black and white, and neither were we, neither Rama, nor myself. The rest is how you want to spin it! All this hindsight, it’s all political.

Kamban’s translation placed even Ayodhya in South India, and all the tribes and castes mentioned were entirely South Indian, as were the food items, clothes, customs, jewellery, etc. What happened to this North-South argument then? Some legitimate historians in Europe now insist that Ayodhya was in Kazakhstan or some nearby place! Valmiki narrated the plain facts without any modern-day bias or political motive, and obviously today nobody is interested in just the facts, so you people will keep spinning it until you’re all dizzy! Well, happy spinning. I’m off.

AKB: Thank you for... Mr Ravana? Ravana, sir? Well, thank you anyway for your time and perhaps in future you might consider continuing our dialogue. Hope to see you again. Good day.

ASHOK K BANKER
(The writer is the author of ‘Ramayana’ Series.)

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