Storytelling is no more what it used to be. Now we have to retell stories according to the want and need of the hour. Two days ago, I was walking with my son, Sonny, when I decided to be a good mother and tell him stories from Indian epics. I asked him which story he would like to hear and gave him three choices:
A story from the Jataka Tales
He chose Rama because Sonny is very interested in archery but it’s forbidden by me. I don’t believe in learning anything that kills. My personal quirk, I know, but we have enough killers around us without adding another trained one to the mob. I feel I am doing my duty in establishing a utopian, peaceful society and other blah blahs.
Anyway, I started with the usual ‘Once upon a time’and reached the stage when I informed him that Dasharatha had three wives.
Sonny stopped me immediately and asked, “Why, Ma?”
“Why what, darling?”
“Why did he have three wives?”
“Well, in those days men were allowed to have multiple wives.”
“Oh! So the wives could have multiple husbands too?”
The dormant Indian nari immediately woke up inside me and I started a long lecture of how women were chaste and could only marry once.
“So Dasharathawas not a chaste man?”
As a mother, I instinctively knew that whatever I was going to say would be a foundation stone for his future. A future where he will have to find his own principles and establish those very principals for his own family. My answer in this moment of absolute truth could very well decide how his character would turn out to be and how he would treat women.
I’m begging forgiveness right now to my future daughter-in-law as I failed to give a reasonable answer. I failed to have a valid explanation as to why a man could have multiple wives and be considered chaste but the same quality in a woman earned her names like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’. I suddenly developed a cold feet. What if the answer I gave him now ruined another woman’s life in the future? I couldn’t just be flippant about this. Not at this day and age.
So I decided to take the coward’s way out. “You will love Krishna’s story more.” He was disheartened for he had not found the answer yet. But hey, I am the mom and I can do whatever I want. So, we continued and I started with Kansa’s story and had to nail in the fact that imprisoning your sister is not okay. It’s against the law in the modern society and you love your sister too much for that. But most importantly, your modern-day Devaki will bash you with her cudgel if you even think of something like that. I was relieved when he understood that point clearly.
And then came the part when Krishna would tease the gopikasin Vrindavan.
“But Mom, Mrs. O, our class teacher, says we can’t tease girls.”
“Umm…yes, you can’t. Of course you can’t,” I was quick to hammer in that point. “If you do you will be in prison. It’s called eve-teasing. And it’s disrespectful to women. The dialogues like teri ma behenki beep beep would be pointing towards me and your sister. Would you like that?”
Thankfully, he didn’t ask me what was teri ma behenki for he was still worried about Dasharatha’s chastity.
“No mummy, I won’t tease girls ever. But when Krishna did it, were bad words used on him too?”
How the hell am I supposed to know that? It was in my last incarnation a few centuries ago and I have no memory of it. But, in this life I do know this is wrong. So why am I glorifying this rasa of Krishna? How can I tell him that if the Gods did it we call it a Leela and in the modern times, if men do it, words like eve-teasing and rape have been associated with it?
I left the story mid-way and started telling him the story of the crow and the fox. But one question that went on haunting me was: To whom do I owe my loyalty more? To the Gods whose Leela is misinterpreted in the modern times or the future generations of women? Isn’t it the need of the hour that every woman teaches the present generation of men that we are Goddesses, we are warriors, we are nurturers, but most of all we are humans, with vices just like yours. So what you don’t want us to do, don’t do it yourself.