Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Draupati's diatribe- extract from 'Samlee's daughter'.

As I write this now, it occurs to me, I haven’t mentioned how Arif and Ribena came to be reconciled. The tension between them had still been palpable when we assembled in the drawing room for post-concert cocktails. Karl, with his insatiable American thirst for information, pounced on a book Ribena had been reading. It was Daksha D’Souza’s “Draupati’s Diatribe- Feminist Theodicy In Ancient India.” Alarmed by this symptom of literacy amongst the natives, Karl needed reassurance. It was urgent that he immediately receive precise information about the book- its exact weight and dimensions in Imperial units, estimated reserves of petroleum and natural gas, do you eat it with chopsticks or while holding nose and hopping on one leg?, where precisely do you insert it to intensify orgasm? etc. etc.
Ribena was in an awkward position. Karl was Arif’s guest. She started to speak in a desultory manner but soon trailed off. I came to the rescue.
The thing to do, with Americans, is to marshal all relevant facts very clearly in your own mind before beginning to speak. You must have a ‘point of view’ and display all the information you provide according to its single light. This is because, Americans- being adolescents at heart- are allergic to cognitive dissonance. Equally important, you must, give an acceptable, European, genealogy for any idea expressed.  This is because, the Americans- through the instrumentality of pulp fiction- have been contaminated by the fear Gibbon bequeathed the British- viz. that their Empire would be toppled, not by ideas or social forces already visible in their inner cities, but, as was Byzantium by the Bedouin, by some queer heterodox sect or practice from the very margins of the known. Thus, in the late ’30’s, Gunga Din gains glory seconding Cary Grant in his duel with the Mahdi, while Mr.Moto (a Japanese detective!) saves the British Empire- and by extension the West- from, of all things, a revival of Thugee.
Failure to establish an acceptable Western provenance for an idea or practice that emerges in the Third World can have very tragic consequences. The Americans might convert to it and, in their innocent ardour, destroy civilisation.
Draupati’s denunciation.
“The Lord God, the self subsistent, hurts one creature by means of another- establishing for himself an alibi… He plays with his creatures not as a father or a mother but as a child with its toys- and, since He acts so, others follow his example.
“I accuse the Creator who, for no benefit to himself, yet fosters disaster and injustice. If it is true that deeds (karma) pursue the doer and no other then by these evil deeds is the Lord himself defiled!”
Daksha D’Souza believes that what Draupati is condemning is God as Mayin, the cynical manipulator and magician, who plots the moral economy of the Universe, but,- in  a fashion typical of the upper class, Machiavellian, male- who uses, but uses merely for the frisson of an ignoble and unholy glee, the ruses of ‘false consciousness’ and ‘divide and rule’ to maintain His position at the top of the hierarchy.
What she does not say, what she can not know, is that the Mahabharata is constructed according to very rigorous rules so as to have a self-similar fractal structure- every episode, every character, yielding, on analysis, precisely the same soteriological message.
From the Feminist point of view, Draupati is important. But, not for the reason Daksha suggests.
To understand Draupati’s denunciation, we first have to understand her place in the Mahabharata’s system of correspondences. At first glance, we notice she is one of the three characters with ‘Krishna’ (black skinned) as her proper name. The other two are the author (Krishna Dvaipayana, called Ved Vyasa-‘editor of the Vedas’) of the book, and Krishna Devakiputra, the author of the Universe. Parity conservation requires all three to be born as part of a syzygy. From our present viewpoint, these are- Krishna with Bhadrakali, Ved Vyasa with (Vak’s[1] child by man) the reader. What about Draupati?
Let us go back to Amba. Her anger at Bhishma (son of Ganga) leads to her taking a terrible (bhishma) vow. She enters the fire and emerges, in female form, from the womb of Draupada’s wife. But, it is Draupati who emerges from the sacrificial fire in answer to Draupada’s request, from the sons of Kashyap, for children to avenge him on Drona. Drupada’s wife is so charmed with the beautiful black skinned child she asks that it should never know that she was not its birth-mother. From the point of view of Feminism, there is only one daughter. The mother sees two children- one, the womb-born, who has to be treated as would a son, the other, the fire-born, who is the ideal daughter. What is the distinction? Consider mother’s relationship with son. Separation from her is called death. But, the son must be separated, socialised, etc. This death, mother must herself inflict. That is why Ganga is depicted as son killer. As the one son of Ganga to survive, Bhishma must at some point, by the Mahabharata’s system of symmetries, confront Parasurama the mother-killer. (All sin being sin against the mother and equal to matricide). This happens at the instigation of Amba. But, it is a stalemate. The female has to work out her destiny on her own.
Drupada’s wife has two daughters. One is called Shikhandini. Why? The Shikhandini were the two Apsara daughters of Kashyap who contributed a particular verse to the Rg Veda.[2] The priests who perform the fire sacrifice from which Draupati was born were Kashyap Gotra. Thus the link is maintained. Shikhandini (Amba’s reincarnation) is brought up as a boy. Fire-born Draupati- the ideal daughter- the daughter free from the reciprocal death inflicted by and inflicted on the mother- the daughter who mothers the mother- is simply the most beautiful woman in the Mahabharata. She is the partial incarnation of Shree (Goddess of all auspiciousness) whereas her sister is called the partial incarnation of a Raakshas (male demon). Shikhandin changes sex and her/his role in the eventual destruction of Bhishma is scarcely edifying. Draupati on the other hand is supremely female. Not one but five husbands are served perfectly. If Ganga is the child killer, Draupati is an innocent Niobe, all of whose children are slain. But, she, like all the characters in the Mahabharata, is not a mere symbol. She has self-consciousness. She knows intimately both the author of the book as well as that of the Universe. Indeed, she is perennially clothed anew, by the latter, when vulgar programmatics, like yours truly, try to strip her of her sari. She understands the process by which the Universe is sustained. This is the same Universe as Einstein’s. Its one apriori feature is that all sentient beings have an equal chance of piercing its secrets. There are no privileged subjects or frames of reference.
Written for women & workers & worthless fellows like me.
The Mahabharata, alas!, is a grossly Indian book.
Since Daksha D’Souza’s monograph was based entirely on a couple of passages from Prof. Zaehner’s slim little volume on Hinduism, I began my explanation to Karl by invoking the memory of that great Oxford Don. Unfortunately, I had scarcely got into my stride when Prof. Pushan chose to interrupt. He hadn’t yet forgiven me for my dig at Shantideva and this, no doubt, was his way of paying me back.
“Oho!” he said loudly, “Is it Prof. Zaehner whose praises you are singing? Please forgive me, I’m just an ignorant rustic, but is not this great and famous Zaehner, whom you consider a greater authority on Hinduism than Manu himself, is he not, unworthy though I am to mention so great a scholar, is he or is he not the same scoundrel who toppled Mossadegh, destroyed the hope of Social Democracy in Iran, by the supremely economical, the supremely witty, device of having Mossadegh’s Security Chief invited to dinner, and then quietly bumped off, by none other than Teheran University’s Professor of Ethics?”
“What?!” said Arif, suddenly electrified. Previously, he had been hanging back, looking very aloof and blasé, but now he pushed himself forward like a terrier scenting a rat.
Prof. Pushan explained how the Oxford Don toppled Mossadegh- a mildly left-wing Social Democrat- in a manner not merely witty, but erudite. The fact is, the most famous book on Ethics in Iran is the Akhlaq-e-Nasiri. Its author, Nasiruddin Tusi, is still infamous, throughout the Islamic World, for having persuaded, first, his Pir to surrender to the Mongols, and then, Hulagu, the son of Genghis, that there would be no heavenly retribution for slaughtering the last Caliph. Thus, the Iranian upper class understood, the Americans (represented by Kermit Roosevelt) were as unreasoning and irresistible as the Mongols, and thus there was no alternative but to bend with the wind.
The effect of this news on Arif- though the events mentioned happened twenty years before he was born- was quite pitiful. For a moment he tried to be urbane- even attempted a verse on the sitam zarifi- the ingenuity in tyranny- of the so irreproachably perfect Western democracies we so fervently for- Ayaz qad’r-e-khud bi-shinaas[3]!- futilely love- but, it was hopeless. The slim Sayyad boy was not able to manage. He turned to Ribena. He had to grip her arm. He turned up big tear-brimmed eyes to her. “Is it true? Did it really happen?” She had to comfort him as only Mother can comfort a little child.  Their tiff was over. In fact, it was as if it had never been.
During Muharram, when the rozekhaan is telling the story of Kerbala, big, grizzled, men- veterans of Wars and Secret Police torture chambers- break down in just such manner. They look about them, eyes blinded with tears. They ask- ‘Is it true? Can it be? How?” At such times, they are comforted- regardless of age, class, or even gender- by whomsoever is closest by. This grief of bereavement is a triumph of family. Through it, relationships are reborn in a pure form- free of worldly considerations- like status and hierarchy.
To understand Arif’s reaction you must understand that he was the descendant of Hazrat Zain ul Abidin. His family history was the story of the grossest and most cynical betrayals and murders, by Caliphs and Sultans, of the most innocent and holy fathers and grandfathers of his line. But, what was their motive in this sorry tale? The answer is simple. The poor put their faith in the Family of Ali. The rich betrayed them. The eighth Imam was poisoned by the Caliph. Why? Had he done something wrong? No. It was just that the Caliph got carried away in his religious enthusiasm and appointed the Imam his successor. Hence, the poisoned gift.
Politics, says Hanif Qureshi, speaking of South Asia, has been sodomised by Religion. I don’t know much about sodomy- or Politics even. This much I know. The hopes of the poor, the hopes of the oppressed, they express themselves as Religion. Politics takes up Religion. It appoints it its successor. Then it poisons it.
Prof. Zaehner was not a bad man. On the contrary. His justification is the same as the one Kipling put in the mouth of District Commissioner Petitt. “It is expedient that one man should die for the people.”
But these, as Kipling well knew, were the words of Christ-killing Caiaphas.

[1]     Vak- speech. In Puranic mythology, the Gods once sold Vak to the Gandharvas (celestial musicians) whose company she liked so much that the God’s could only lure her back with the invention of the lute. Certain classical meters are considered the sons of Vak by the Gods. A type of love-lyric in the vernacular is called her love-child by the Gandharvas.
[2]     the singularly beautiful (also Sama Vedic) psalm beginning ‘SaKhaaya aa ni…’ (R.V. 9.104)
[3]     Ayaz qad’r-e-khud bi-shinaas!- Ayaz should remember his humble origins! The Turkish Conqueror,  Mahmud, raised his devoted slave Ayaz to the position of Governor of Lahore- but a mere native he remained. On one occasion, the Huma (bird of fortune, the touch of whose shadow bestows Empery) was sighted while Mahmud was reviewing his troops. All the Sultan’s soldiers ran hither & thither in the hope that the shadow of the bird would fall upon them. Ayaz, however, went & stood in Mahmud’s own shadow. He is the emblem of devoted love in Sufi poetry. Incidentally, the given name of the Pir of the Maah Taallab shrine was Ayaz. Dr. Siddiqui relates the story of the Saint’s meeting with a dervish who was crossing the Sahara desert without even a head-cloth to protect him from the Sun- ‘Come tell me, dervish, how ’tis done/ ‘Why mild but to you is yon Saharan Sun?”/ ‘I’faith, ’tis nothing- little faith’s displayed/ In one’s own shadow to trust for shade!’

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