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Rama, they say, is the greatest ever of the Ishwakus - greater than Dasharatha, greater than Aja, greater than Ikshwaku himself. But let me ask you, Lakshmana, has any other Ikshwaku ever done anything as shameful as this glory of the Ikshwakus did?
Lakshmana, you should have prepared that pyre for him.
Though I doubt if the fire would have succeeded in purifying him.
And if you couldn’t do that, Lakshmana, then you should have prepared it for yourself.
In protest. In anger.
And if you had done that I’d have worshipped you forever, Lakshmana. By that act you would have sanctified yourself, Lakshmana. And you would have atoned for all your sins.
They say Sita is the mother of the universe. I do not know about it. To me my sister is purity itself. She is virtue incarnate. She is the symbol of all that is beautiful in creation.
And before preparing a chita for her, you should have prepared one for yourself.
A man’s touch does not defile a woman’s body. But arrogance does defile a man’s heart. Conceit does defile the human heart. Unlimited ambition that tramples all that is noble in men does defile the human heart. Boundless pride does defile the human heart. It creates such darkness around one that even the brightest light becomes invisible. It turns men into heartless beings.
Rama could not see Sita was undefiled.
I pity him.
And you should have prepared that chita for him, Lakshmana. Or, at least for yourself. Urmila would then have worshipped you for all eternity, in life after life, for that single act of yours.
You loved her so much, Lakshmana. You revered her so much. Why didnï¿½t that thought come to your mind, Lakshmana?
Or was it that you were still furious with her for those cruel words she spoke to you in Panchavati? No. I can't believe it was so. For all your slavery to Rama, you were never so heartless. Certainly not when it concerned Sita. I am sure you had already forgiven her that. I am sure you believed what she had suffered from that day for a whole year was more than enough punishment for those words.
Why didn't that thought come to your mind then, Lakshmana?
And I don't approve of what you did to Shoorpanakha, Lakshmana.
Chopping off a woman's nose, ears and breasts!? For the crime of approaching you seeking love?
Why didn't you kill her, Lakshmana?
Approaching you seeking love! Approaching you? And seeking love? She deserved to be killed. She certainly deserved to be killed.
In all my years with you, I never approached you for love once. A woman has no right to. What a shameful thing to do! Approaching a man seeking love! She should wait. Wait silently. Wait prayerfully. For the kindness of love bestowed upon her by the man. A woman shouldn't take the first step. Never.
And Shoorpanakha broke that rule. She approached you for love. Of course she deserved to be killed.
For, for a woman to approach a man for love is to admit she too has needs. A woman is not supposed to have such needs. A woman with such needs is ugly. She is a slut. A wanton woman. She is a whore. And you could do anything to a whore. That is perfectly fine.
Women are supposed to be pure creatures. And pure means sexless. She should please her man in bed. She should be available to him. But on her own she should not have any desires. Not have any physical desires. No needs.
A woman has no sexual desire. The men's world denies her that right. She can't have any. For, for a woman to have sexual desire is a frightening thing. She should deny that part of herself, suppress it, if it is there. Otherwise she would be a threat. A threat to man's ego. For the sexual act is a power game. In which the man subjugates the woman with his superiority. He has to be on top. How can she be on top? That will upset all equations. Only the whore can be on top.
And anything could be done to a whore.
Women should be sexless. They shouldn't seek sex. They shouldn't seek love.
But did you, and your God, ever consider the possibility that there might exist other cultures, other societies, other ways of living, in which a woman does not have to so completely pretend that she does not have the sexual impulse? That perhaps poor Shoorpanakha belonged to such a society? Such a culture, such a way of life, that in her way of life perhaps it was not wrong to approach a man?
There are perhaps societies in which women are still kin to the night and the earth, Lakshmana. Women who are not out of tune with themselves, with their rhythms, with their music, as our women are. Our women are not free inside themselves, are bound up in a thousand knots, knots tied by a thousand years of suppressions and repressions, by a thousand years of being dominated by their men, during which time they were told again and again that whatever was natural to woman was ugly, that to be free within oneself was to be ugly.
The first knot, I’ve heard, was tied by Shwetaketu. And then there were a thousand others to tie her up in other knots. Until she was unable to move, to breathe. Until she looked to her man before she took a breath. She needed his permission.
But wasn’t there a time before that, Lakshmana? A time when our ancestors told that a woman could approach a man for love and when she sought it, the man should never say no to her? Arthinee stree anupekshaneeya – isn’t that what they used to say, Lakshmana?
But of course those are ways of life of a past time that we have left behind, ways of an uncultured past. In our culture a woman’s only function - apart from giving birth to children - is to please her husband, to provide pleasure to him and to look after him and his children.
Shoorpanakha was very wrong. And she had to be punished. Even if it was not exactly sex she asked for. Even if it was to be your wife she asked for.
Remember, she wanted to be your wife. That was what Rama sent her to you for, telling her you were still a bachelor.
But she had to be punished.
Just as Ayomukhi had to be punished later. Exactly as Ayomukhi had to be punished later. For the same reason.
What exactly did Ayomukhi tell you, Lakshmana? ‘Come, be my love and we shall sport in the rivers and the caves of these mountains’, she had said. She too had wanted to be yours for ever. So long as life lasted – wasn’t that what she said? And she gathered you in her arms, offering herself to you.
This time you did not even wait to be asked by your God. You just pulled out your sword and chopped off the woman’s ears, nose and breasts. In quick, efficient strikes. In perfectly smooth motions.
I know you were furious. It was not long since Sita had accused you of having dark plans over her. She had said you were waiting for your brother to die so that you could have her. Dark words. Evil words.
So you were furious. You were in a terrible mood, all right. But why did those words so infuriate you, Lakshmana? Did you, by any chance- No, I won’t even say that. I won’t even think of it.
Let’s just forget the whole topic. What is chopping off the ears, nose and breasts of two women after all? And in any case they were only Rakshasis - not even Arya women. At least not Ayomukhi. At least not that we know of. In Shoorpanakha there was some Brahmin blood. So what? She was just a Rakshasi, after all. So let’s just forget it.
One last thing, though. Poor women - they would have been disappointed if you had accepted them. What did I get marrying you?
By the way, did you ever realize that if you hadn’t been so heartlessly cruel to Shoorpanakha, so savagely brutal to her, Sita would never have been kidnapped by Ravana? Sita would never have had to spend a year of agony in Lanka?
It was to avenge Shoorpanakha that Ravana had come to that hermitage, Lakshmana. To have revenge for what you had done to his sister.
Of course he became obsessed with Sita’s beauty. But that would not have happened if you hadn’t done that to Shoorpanakha.
You sent Sita to Lanka, Lakshmana.
You made her suffer indescribable pain and privations for a whole year in Lanka, Lakshmana.
Did you ever realize you sent the Sita you worshipped into the pyre?
And there is one more thing for which I’ll never be able to forgive you, Lakshmana.
That night when Rama called you into his room.
That evening had been particularly beautiful for Sita. Rama had been very loving to her in the Ashokavanika attached to the antahpura where they spent that evening. After walking about in the gardens they sat down and Rama, with his own hands, gave Sita a drink of exquisite madhu maireyaka, even as Indra gives drinks to Shachi. They sat together under the trees watching the sun setting in the distance. Refreshments were served to them there. Apsaras, Naga maidens and Kinnaries danced. Rama asked Sita about her pregnancy, his hand over her growing stomach. Sita was five months advanced in her pregnancy then. And then Rama asked her the question every loving husband asks his pregnant wife - though you never asked me that question, but that is another matter. Well, Rama asked Sita what she wanted - was there any desire in her heart? And of course, Sita said, none, none whatsoever, his love was enough for her.
Sita was like that. So full of her Rama. He was enough for her. His love for her was enough for her. She didn’t need anything else. With his love, her world was full. If she found a place for herself in his heart, that was enough for her. She still shook in fear at what he had said to her in Lanka - those terrible moments, those unreal moments, before she entered the pyre. He shouldn’t repeat that - that was enough for her. He shouldn’t banish her from his heart - that was enough for her. He shouldn’t disown her - that was enough for her. She wanted to live as his - that was all she wanted. He should never abandon her - just that.
The memories of Lanka hadn’t been forgotten by her, either. The one long year, every moment of which was like a year. Every moment of which was pure hell for her. A year for most of which she had no news of him. She had counted that as punishment to her - punishment for desiring anything other than Rama, anything other than her Rama’s love. She had been tempted. She had allowed temptation, desire, to enter her heart. She had desired that golden deer. And she had been punished. Almost instantly. Ravana had come and carried her off. No, she didn’t want anything other than her Rama and his love for her. She just wanted to be loved by him and the right to love him in her turn – that’s all. Nothing else.
She said, ‘No, Rama, I desire nothing. You are beside me, that is enough for me.’
But she must have shivered at the mention of the word desire. No, she desired nothing.
Except that she be never separated from him. Not physically, not mentally. That was all.
Sita loved Rama as no woman ever loved her man - yes, not even me. No, Lakshmana, I never loved you with the love Sita had for Rama. I wasn’t capable of loving like Sita loved. Loving so completely, so totally- That required a different being. She had it. I didn’t.
And yet Rama insisted. And eventually she surrendered to his insistence. And she said she would like to visit the hermitages of the sages in the jungle whose sacred presence she had liked so much on her way to the jungle exile.
Rama was pleased.
And promised she would go to them the very next day.
It was later that evening - rather late into the night - that Rama sat with her friends listening to their light talk. And towards midnight he asked them - the group included his spies - those questions that ruined Sita's life for ever.
‘What do the people say about me?’ he asked. ‘And what do the people say about Queen Sita?’ he added.
I wonder why he asked that question. That second question.
I can understand why he asked the first question. As a king it was his duty to ask that question. But about the queen? About Sita?
True, Sita was the queen and therefore a public figure. But apart from that fact, she did no public works. She never appeared alone in public. Sits was the most private person I ever knew. She never, ever appeared in public unless it was with Rama. And then, as in private, her conduct had always been impeccable. Ever since she returned from Lanka, her conduct had been blameless - just as it had been before. Why then this concern about what people said about her?
People adored Sita. Particularly after they learnt of her coming out of the fire unscathed. And Rama knew this.
I maybe wrong, Lakshmana, completely wrong, but sometimes I’m tempted to wonder if Rama did not grudge Sita something.
Unbelievable, I know. Shocking, I know. But, did he?
Coming out of the fire unscathed gave Sita a goddess-like stature. A stature she had gained not through Rama, but by her own action, by her own being - by the sanctity and inviolability of her being. The God of Fire acknowledged that he couldn’t touch her.
People began adoring Sita - as much as they adored him, if not more.
And I don’t think Rama could handle this. He wanted himself to be the centre of all attention. He alone. That is how it had been ever since his birth and that is how he wanted it to remain till the end - no, not his end, but the end of the universe. That one thing he couldn’t share with anyone and now Sita was being given a share of it. A big share of it. Much more than what was comfortable to him.
She being adored by the people - they called her not Queen Sita but Mother Sita now - was not something he could tolerate. He wanted the stage exclusively for himself. Others could be there, on the stage, but not with him. A little behind, as part of his background.
He wanted the shrine exclusively for himself. Or with Sita as a mere appendage to him. But now she was claiming - no, she was not claiming it but people were giving her - equal status with Rama.
Some were even building separate shrines for Sita. Exclusively for Sita.
Sita was not where she should be.
Could it have been that?
And he got one rotten washerman to his aid. One rotten, drunk, wife-beating, mother-defying, arrogant wretch of a man. The kind of man who should be tied to a pillar and whipped.
And that was enough for Rama. That one washerman was enough for him to abandon his pregnant wife whom the multitudes adored calling her their mother and a goddess. Because of the drunken words of a beast, Rama would abandon her whom the masses called the Mother of the Universe.
For, that was what people were calling her.
And Lakshmana, that night you did something for which I cannot forgive you. And the next morning you did something for which I cannot forgive you.
That night you did not faint when Rama asked you to take Sita beyond the Ganga and abandon her there in the jungle. That I cannot forgive you, Lakshmana.
Before asking you to do that evil deed, Rama had called Bharata from his palace, past midnight, and asked him to do it. And Bharata had lost consciousness and fallen down in a swoon at the cruelty of those words.
And then Rama had called Shatrughna and asked him to do it and Shatrughna too had fallen down fainting at the inhuman cruelty of those words.
And then he called you and asked you to do that evil job.
You did not faint, Lakshmana.
And I cannot forgive you for that.
Instead, you agreed to carry out your brother’s orders.
The elders have to be obeyed, you said to yourself. Parashurama killed his own mother when his father asked him to do that, you said to yourself.
Why didn’t you think of following the example of Chirakari instead of Parashurama’s, Lakshmana? When his father Sage Gautama asked him to kill his mother Ahalya, he did not obey him. And Gautama himself praised him for it later.
Blind obedience is not always a virtue.
Did you know Lakshmana that even Rama did not expect you to obey him?
He knew of your immense love for Sita. Of your boundless devotion to her. And he did not expect you to carry out his command. Rama expected you to defy him for the first time in your life. He was afraid you would defy him - for the first time.
That is why he called Bharata first. And then, after he swooned and fell down, Shatrughna. You know he always called you first for everything. But not this one time. Because he expected you to say no. For the first time in your life.
But you did not. You said yes. I know it killed you to say that yes. I know that yes always tortured you till your very end. I know when you walked into the Sarayu to offer your life in a final sacrifice, that yes was one of the things that moved you, that haunted you.
But say yes you did. And early next morning you took Sita to the jungle and abandoned her there.
I know you hated what you were doing. I know you wept all along the way.
But you did it.
And for that, Lakshmana, I can never forgive you.
You failed yourself there, Lakshmana. It was an opportunity for you to once come out of your slavery to your God. For once to defy him. For her sake - for the sake of Sita. Your love for her should have given you the strength. Strength would have come to you, Lakshmana, from her, if you were open to it, if the thought had entered your mind, had half entered your mind.
Sita could have been your strength to come out of your slavery. Your love for Sita could have been your strength to come out of your slavery.
But you failed.
And I would say you failed even your God, Lakshmana. For it was your duty to Rama to defy him then. To defy him and to stop him from doing that immeasurably shameful act of his life.
For glory’s sake Rama abandoned Sita. And that act brought shame upon him for all time to come.
You could have saved him from that, Lakshmana. You could have saved him from that by defying him, by refusing to obey that command.
But you failed.
Failed him. And failed yourself.
For that act, Lakshmana, I can never forgive you.
You never told me anything about it, Lakshmana. Not one word.
But when I learnt of it, a part of me died. A big part. A part of me bigger than myself.
For Sita was a part of me that was bigger than myself.
After that I no longer waited for you, Lakshmana. Not once any longer. For, I wasn’t really alive any more. With that act of yours, you had killed me. I became a dead body. Just a carcass.
What you found in your bed when you came to sow the seeds of Tashaka and then Chhatraketu in my womb was my dead body. It was on my dead body that you procreated them. It was my dead body that bore your seeds, nourished them and metamorphosed them into two human beings. Your images. But it was not I that did it. It was just my body. A dead body. It breathed all right, but it was dead.
Takshaka and Chhatraketu are a dead woman’s gifts to you.
And, Lakshmana, you failed me another time.
Rama had sent for Sita. And that news had brought me back to life.
For sixteen years, I had waited for Rama to make enquiries of Sita. To make one enquiry of the wife he had abandoned so abruptly in her pregnancy. He did not.
And I waited for sixteen years for you to make an enquiry of her. To find out what happened to her. For you loved her. Loved her and adored her. Truly and devotedly. I waited for you to make that enquiry. You did not. Of course, how could you have, unless he asked you to?
It was as though she did not exist. As though she had never existed. For sixteen years, there was not a word spoken of her in the palace of Ayodhya that was her home.
When the Ashwamedha began, it was a golden idol of Sita that sat next to Rama - as though she was dead.
How appropriate! An idol of Sita was preferable to the real Sita. Rama did not need Sita. An image was enough for him - a golden image. A golden image that makes no demands on him. It does not have the complications of a real person. It wouldn’t ask him to take it to the jungle with him, if he were to go to the jungle. It wouldn’t ask for the golden deer. You could put it in the cellar and lock it up and forget it. And when you need it, you could take it out. It makes none of the demands a woman makes on a man.
Even the sages and the priests said an image would be enough. The gods would be satisfied with an image of the wife beside the man. The gods did not mind an image replacing the wife. The gods did not require the presence of a living wife, her feeling, her emotions, her devotion, her prayers. An image would do. An image that does not live, that does not feel, that has no emotions, that does not feel devotion, does not pray.
But Sita did not make much more demands on Rama than an idol would make! Those are the only two things she ever demanded of Rama. To be taken to the jungle with him and that golden deer. Just those two things. Otherwise she was no more troublesome than her idol.
But of course the idol was perhaps still more perfect. It wouldn’t make a single demand. Not even those two.
I wonder if Rama wouldn’t have preferred an idol of Dasharatha, too, a golden idol, in place of the flesh and blood Dasharatha. It would not have been subject to the will of Kaikeyi. It wouldn’t have any of the weaknesses of Dasharatha.
But perhaps that is what he did. It was to make Dasharatha an image of perfection that he left for the jungle, more than for anything else. Dasharatha should be perfect. Images are perfect.
I wonder why he did not have an image of you made, too, Lakshmana, after you left for the Sarayu. But then an image of you would be useless to him, I suppose. Your image can’t guard his door. It can decorate the door, but it cannot guard it.
The Ashwamedha began with the golden idol of Sita beside Rama.
And then I heard that Rama had sent for Sita. And life came back to me. Suddenly my limbs were alive. My heart was alive. My soul began breathing.
No, I didn’t expect Rama to go and fetch her from the ashram where he had learnt she had been living all those years. I knew him too well to expect that.
But I expected you to go. You to be sent, that is.
Instead, it was the sage himself that brought her.
Rama sent Valmiki to bring Sita back!
In fact, he did not sent the sage to bring Sita back. No, not to bring her back, but to give her a message from him. Again a message, as in Lanka. And the message was: If Sita is pure in character and if there is no sin in her, then let her come here, with the permission of the sage, and prove her innocence. To erase the blemish that is on me, let her come here and take a vow of her purity in the middle of the parishad tomorrow morning.
Of course you knew everything that happened exactly as it happened. Rama learnt that Lava and Kusha were Sita’s children and she had been living in Valmiki’s ashram. Then he sent his messengers to the sage telling him that Sita should come and take the oath in public if she was willing to and if she believed she was pure. And the sage told them, the messengers, that she would do that. Whatever Rama orders, that is what Sita would do. For to a wife, the husband is God himself, these were his words.
I expected you to act then. Act on your own. Once in your life. It was the last chance you had to redeem yourself.
For, you should have known what was to come. Because, it was not Sita, his wife and the mother of his children, that he was asking to come back. It was the queen he was commanding to come back. He was asking her to come to the parishad, to the assembly, and not to the antahpura, not to where his mothers were staying, not to where Mandavi, Shrutakeerti and I were staying. Sita should come directly from the ashram to the assembly!
To the assembly of Rama!
To the court of Rama!
It was not to be a private occasion. Rama meeting his wrongly abandoned innocent wife after sixteen years was not going to be a private occasion but a very public occasion. With all the ministers present. With all the courtiers present. With invited special guests present.
He had made sure there would be a huge crowd present in the temporary court in Naimisharanya where the sacrifice was in progress. The moment he received word from Valmiki that Sita would come the next morning to prove her purity, he announced to the sages and kings assembled for the sacrifice: ‘Revered sages, I invite you all to come to the parishad tomorrow, along with your disciples. And I request all the guest kings to come with all their retinues. And everyone else who wishes to witness Sita’s taking the vow of purity is welcome too.’
The sages and kings who had come in their tens of thousands from all across the land were to be present there.
And in their presence, Sita should prove her innocence.
But she had already proved her innocence!
That was in Lanka. She should do so now in Naimisharanya. Before the assembly.
Would that be enough? What about those who were not present in Naimisharanya? Maybe she should do it again for their sake too. For the sake of the hundreds of thousands of common men and women of Ayodhya who were not present in the court? And then, maybe, since the people of Ayodhya cannot all assemble in one place, since the population is too large, Sita should prove her innocence again and again in each street corner in Ayodhya?
And how should she do that? Would a vow be enough? Would that please the people? Convince them? Wouldn’t some of them doubt even a vow?
Maybe Sita should enter the fire in each street corner in Ayodhya?
And again and again if required. For there might yet be some wretch who still did not believe in her innocence. Yet another rotten, drunk, wife-beating, mother-defying, arrogant wretch.
Rama wanted it to be a very public occasion. A festival - to which all were invited.
And, let me tell you, Lakshmana, it was a command he sent to Sita through the sage. Not a request, but a command. An order from the king. From the glory of the Ikshwakus. There was no conciliation in the tone. There was no apology for the wrong he had done. There were no regrets.
It was as though his position justified his actions. He was the king. And he was the man. He can’t do anything wrong. What he did was perfectly right. It required no apologies, no atonements. He was making amends, wasn’t he? He was ordering her to come back, wasn’t he? He was giving her a chance to be accepted back, wasn’t he? All she had to do was prove her innocence, wasn’t it? What more should he do?
It was as though Sita was really the guilty one. As though it was she who had sinned.
Rama was punishing her, Lakshmana. He hadn’t finished with his punishments for her.
He loved her, Lakshmana. Rama loved her. It is not that he did not love her. I am not saying that. But it was the love of an autocrat. The love of master for his slave. The love of a master who was tied up in knots. Who could reward one moment and punish the next. Who could be tenderness itself one moment and heartless the next moment.
That kind of love is frightening. Terrifying.
You should have acted then, Lakshmana. For you should have known what was coming. There is a limit to what a woman can take from a man. Even a woman like Sita.
You could have prevented Sita from committing suicide. You could have saved her life.
You loved her so much. And she loved you so much.
You failed again, Lakshmana. Failed her. Failed yourself.
You could have reminded Rama it was he who had abandoned her, not she him. You could have reminded him she was at no fault then, at no fault now. You could have told him that he should go to her and fetch her - not send an order for her to come. Or that you would go and fetch her, just as you had gone to abandon her.
You could have objected to the public ceremony. She had been forced to go through a public ceremony for the same purpose once in the past. That was enough. There was no need for another public ceremony.
You could have asked him what faithlessness Rama wanted Sita to disprove. What unchaste act of Sita did he have in mind? What faithlessness he had in mind.
You could have reminded him that if it was what happened in Lanka, then she had already proved herself innocent of it. With multitudes as witnesses. With the gods as witnesses.
You could have asked him if he meant some other unchastity, a new unchastity? Something after Rama had abandoned her in the jungle?
Did he mean she had been faithless to him after that? Unchaste after that? With someone in the ashram? You could have asked that.
But of course these are questions that men of honour ask. You were always a slave. These questions would never have come to your mind.
Sita entered the assembly, quietly walking behind the sage, her head bent, her palms joined in prayer.
She did not look up. Not at Rama. Not at you or Bharata or Shatrughna. Not at the ministers. Not at the courtiers. Not at the sages. Not at the kings. Not at the rest of the crowd.
She did not acknowledge anyone. Not Rama. Not you or Bharata or Shatrughna. Not the ministers. Not the courtiers. Not the sages. Not the kings. Not the rest of the crowd.
She had last looked at Rama in Ashokavanika that evening before her abandonment. She would not look at him ever again.
She had last seen his face that evening in Ashokavanika. She would not see his face ever again.
She had last spoken to him that evening in Ashokavanika. She would not speak to him ever again.
Like some sad shadow, she walked quietly behind Valmiki.
A quiet stream of tears flowed from her eyes. An incessant stream of tears. A silent stream of tears.
Like Sarayu tonight, Lakshmana. Flowing quietly, incessantly, silently.
And standing there, in the middle of the vast assembly, with Sita behind him, the sage spoke. He said, ‘Son of Dasharatha, this Sita, whom you abandoned for fear of ill-fame for yourself, is ever steady in her religious vows and has never swerved from the path of righteousness. She will now give you the proof of her purity. Command her. And these two children are your sons, twins born to Sita - this I tell you as the truth. Son of Dasharatha, I am the tenth son of Prachetas, and I don’t remember I have ever uttered a word of untruth. And I am telling you now - these are indeed your children, valiant both of them. I have performed austerities for endless years - if there is any evil in Sita, may I not get the results of that austerities. I have never committed a sin by word or deed or in my mind - may I reap the result of it only if Sita is without sin. Son of Dasharatha, when I found Sita near a waterfall in the jungle, I took her in my care only after ascertaining of her purity with every sense of mine and with my mind. She is pure in conduct, sinless, and worships you, her husband, as a god. And she will give you, who are afraid of what people will say, the proof of her purity for which I vouch, having known her very thoughts with my seer’s vision.'
And Rama made that announcement. ‘Great sage, I respect your words. And I know Sita is pure. But I will accept her only if she proves her innocence, now, here, in the middle of all these people.'
The assembly must have been shocked. The world must have been shocked. The gods in heaven must have been shocked. So heartless were those words.
Asking Sita to prove her purity again.
They say the gods themselves came down from the heavens to witness the scene.
But not a tremor passed through Sita.
She had already known the outcome of this meeting. Sita had finally understood her Rama.
I can see it all in my mind, Lakshmana, as though it is happening before my eyes.
Not a tremor passes through Sita. She does not look up. She does not break down weeping. She doesn’t rush to Rama and fall at his feet. She doesn’t beg to be forgiven.
She stands quietly for the end of the play to come. Which she knows would come soon. Very soon.
And she is ready for it. She has readied herself for it.
She has had sixteen years to prepare for it. Sixteen years to realize the nature, the true nature of the man she had married and to ready herself for the end.
Sixteen years is a long, long time. Especially for a woman who has been abandoned by her man. Abandoned by a man who is her life’s breath.
She does not react.
The world stands still.
The Adityas and the Vasus wait. The Rudras and the Vishwadevas wait. The Maruts and the Saddhyadevas wait. Varuna and rest of the gods wait. The sages and the Nagas wait.
It was now time for Sita to act.
She walks forward. And she does not raise her head. She does not look up.
She does not to look at Rama. She does not look at you or Bharata or Shatrughna. She does not look at the ministers. She does not look at the courtiers. She does not look at the sages. She does not look at the kings. She does not look at the rest of the crowd.
She does not even look at the sage who was a father to her for the last sixteen years of her life.
She does not look at her sons.
She looks at the earth at her feet. The earth from which she was born. The earth which had brought her forth.
At Mother Earth.
At her mother.
With eyes that were closing in prayer.
Her face lustrous.
And then her head slightly rises. With her eyes still closed. With power spreading all over her.
A woman standing in the pride of her being with her eyes closed and her head held up offering her final prayer to the source of existence.
You could have acted then, Lakshmana.
Her voice does not shake as she invokes the Mother Earth.
She says, ‘I do not think of a man other than Rama even in my heart. If this is true, Mother Earth, accept me unto yourself.’
‘With my words, with my deeds and with my heart, I constantly worship Rama. If this is true, Mother Earth, accept me unto yourself.’
‘I know no man other than Rama. If this is true, Mother Earth, accept me unto yourself.’
Did you rush towards her, Lakshmana, when the earth at her feet split open and Mother Earth took her in her arms?
Or did you look at Rama seeking his permission?
I fully approve of your last act of life, though, Lakshmana. I entirely approve of your offering yourself to the Sarayu.
But you should have done it earlier.
You could have walked straight from that court to the Sarayu. The moment Sita disappeared.
In which case I wouldn’t have minded at all that you did not come to me to take leave of me. Not one bit. You would have made me proud. And I would have forgiven your lifelong neglect of me. Your thousand cruelties to me which you were not even aware of in your slavery to your God.
And, the moment I learnt of it, I would have walked myself to the Sarayu. To offer myself to her. So that I could follow you. For ever and ever.
That one act would have sanctified you.
But you stayed back.
You would end your life only after you have offered one more service to your God. You would save him from the curse of Durvasa.
Rama had closed himself inside the visiting hall with the God who had come to visit him in the guise of a sage. You were guarding the door.
You had instructions not to let anyone in. Nor enter the hall yourself. On penalty of death. That is the condition on which the God had agreed to talk to Rama.
And then Durvasa came. He demanded to be let in.
It was either him cursing Rama and the entire Ayodhya or you losing your life.
You chose to lose your life. You entered the hall and let Rama know of Durvasa’s arrival.
Rama had no more business left with the God when you entered the hall. Rama came out and met the sage. And offered him what he wanted. Which was nothing more than a good meal to end his austerities that he had been performing for a long time.
After Durvasa left, you wanted Rama to kill you.
For the glory of Rama. So that the world will not say he ever erred from his word. So that history will not say that Rama ever swerved from his pledge.
You wanted your life to be the last offering at the feet of your God.
Of course, Rama couldn’t do that. So a compromise was arrived at. Instead of killing you, Rama would abandon you. Reject you. For, for noble ones, death and abandonment are the same.
Rama wouldn’t take your life offered at his feet. But still you would make the offering.
How else could Lakshmana’s life have ended? All his life has been an offering at the feet of his God. His death too had to be an offering at the feet of his God.
Just once thing was required. Just one last thing. Rama’s permission to do so.
And he gave the permission. In the form of his rejection of you.
He knew rejected by Rama, Lakshmana couldn’t live one day.
And you walked towards the Sarayu.
With not a word to me.
No complaints, Lakshmana. You had forgotten me a long, long time ago. You had forgotten the vows you took walking round the sacred fire at our wedding. I don’t blame you. Your duty to your God comes first, of course.
And you fulfilled that.
But now time has come for me too to walk to the Sarayu.
I shall prepare a pyre there for myself since you will not prepare one for me. And I shall enter it. Quietly. Serenely. At the midnight hour. With no human beings around. With the moon and the night as my witnesses. And the Mother Earth. And the Sarayu, of course.
I am not entering that fire to follow you, Lakshmana. I do not want to be a burden to you in the births to come. I do not want to be an encumbrance to you - though I believe I wasn’t much of one in this life either. Serve your God, Lakshmana, Wholeheartedly. With no thought of anyone or anything else. Let me not stand between you and him.
I am not entering that fire to follow you, Lakshmana.
I will be on a lone journey.
Where I may perhaps meet others like me. Other lonely, abandoned, accursed souls.
I do not want to be part of that crowd that will follow Rama and offer themselves to the Sarayu tomorrow morn.
For I do not want to go to his heaven. I have seen the heaven he gave Sita. I know where your place will be in that heaven - at the door, as the doorkeeper. And as the one privileged to fan him on ceremonial occasions as he sat on his throne. And maybe to massage his feet when Sita is absent.
And I know where my place will be. In the darkness of some lonely antahpura, forsaken, abandoned, ignored, banished into a dungeon of unwantedness, left there to wait in misery and wretchedness for what I know will never come, without even hope in my heart.
I have seen Rama’s heaven on earth. And I want no more of it.
I do not want to follow Rama and offer myself to the Sarayu tomorrow morn.
I hope the winds will blow strong tonight. So that even my ashes will be scattered in the eight directions and nothing will be left of me.
Nothing of Urmila.
I would like to say - nothing of your Urmi.
But you never called me by that name.
It is the name Sita called me by. And Mandavi and Shrutakeerti. And my parents. And Kaikeyi.
Not you. For you I was always Urmila. No endearing names but just Urmila. Not even your Urmila but just Urmila.
By the morning of the morrow nothing of that Urmila shall remain in Ayodhya.
I hope not even her memory.
May God’s blessings be always upon you, Takshaka and Chhatraketu!
And if by haps in the infinity of time our paths cross again, pretend that you have never known me.
I do not want to meet you ever again.
Nor your God.
Particularly not him.
Sometimes I think of the curse of Valmiki to the hunter who killed one of the Krauncha birds - Ma nishada.
May you never attain peace in all eternity, Oh Nishada, for you killed.
And I feel I have known that Nishada all my life.