Dec 31, 2011
Dec 25, 2011
If you have ever wondered how gods are made, one look at the Ramayana narrated within the Mahabharata is enough to illuminate this process. Yes, there is a Ramayana inside Mahabharata, and it is substantially different from the Valmiki Ramayana. Ramayana is supposed to be older than Mahabharata, and we can see how in a few generations, myths have sprung up about the major characters and deified them.
Dec 24, 2011
Congratulations Koili, great job!!!
Lali deserves honorable mention as she came second through great campaigning :)
Dec 16, 2011
Koili walks into the room wearing tiny clothes. Sewa looks her over with a critical eye.
NOTE: If you like this post, please vote on the poll on the top right corner. And please vote for Sewa, since I am the one who brought this conversation to you :D
Published in Parakhi blog: http://www.parakhi.com/blogs/2011/12/02/winter-in-america-part-i
Dec 11, 2011
“Is it cold outside?” Sandy asked, looking at my jacket. With the first impression of their secluded life, I replied affirmatively. “Danny and I live just around the corner,” Sandy introduced herself. “I used to say when I lived there, that when I get out of here, I won’t go very far. And I didn’t get much farther than around the corner...,” she laughed.
Patty mentioned that her daughter had a developmental disability, and she herself had ten different diseases. She said she couldn’t live at home because someone took away her apartment, and her boyfriend’s check was late. She had an oxygen pipe going through her nose. Sandy followed suit soon, talking about her two daughters, how she put a rope in the middle of their room to divide their territories because they fought so much. Her husband Danny was gruff, and didn’t even respond to my hello. The conversation turned to why Sandy and Danny were there. “I was at a hospital and then went back home. We thought we could manage on our own, but we lasted a total of six days. They brought us here as we couldn’t take care of ourselves, he kept falling over…” Sandy wiped a tear from her eyes. She had a pipe coming out of her back.
“Yeah, you come in here, you see a lot of interesting things,” said Patty, to lighten up the situation. “I am winning this game,” I said in a bid to steer the conversation. We were playing cards, and I had a lucky hand. Danny apparently didn’t think much of it. “Beginner’s luck!” he boomed, and we laughed.
Soon they were speaking to me in conspiratorial whispers. “There’s that lady down the hall, who is always yelling and screaming: Turn off the light, turn off the light!” Patty said in her nastiest voice. “Yesterday she came in and switched off the lights in this room. She lives halfway down the hallway, it doesn’t even bother her,” Sandy chimed in. “And sometimes she even goes down the hallway with her potty bowl, naked!” Patty added. Right on cue, I heard her yelling “Turn off the light, turn off the light!”
“There’s a guy who always says: Now I gotta start that truck” said Sandy. I asked why that was. “He is confused,” they were all quick to defend him. “There is a woman” Danny suddenly spoke up. “That always says tomorrow my mother is coming to visit me. And the man next to her says, listen, if your mam visits you then I’m outta here because your mam is 140 years old.” “The woman is 94 years old” Sandy explained. This was one woman I felt really sorry for, waiting for her long dead mother to visit her.
From time to time, they gave a running commentary for my benefit. “There comes our snack cart,” said Patty, and a woman handed them their snacks of choice--crackers, granola, and peach. Patty also told me that Sandy’s delicious looking chocolate milk actually had protein shake in it. I asked Sandy if it tasted good, and she grimaced. “In the morning she gets it with tomato juice, and you should see her face then,” Patty laughed. “I am just taking it to so that I can get better, and can go back to my life again.” This was a woman 64 years old!
Later, I would meet some of the characters from their whispers. The guy who wanted to start a truck ambled in. He was in a wheelchair, and looked lost. “What are you doing, Bob?” Sandy asked him. Bob mumbled incoherently for a long time. “I am fixing the toilet,” he finally said in a barely audible whisper. “But you did that yesterday,” Sandy reminded him. “Did I...?” Bob was very childlike. Eventually he went away as confused as he had come.
Patty called her family and we heard her yelling on the phone. Later, she discussed the events with Sandy. “My boyfriend didn’t come to see me because his father had a car accident two days ago and he had to go to a chiropractor,” she relayed. “Why is he telling you so late?” asked Sandy. “Yeah, I know, that’s what I told them; don’t forget that I am here.”
Somewhere along the way Sandy managed to tell me that she and Danny had been married for 50 years. “I tolerate him,” she said with a laugh. “It’s the other way around, actually” Danny said with a rare smile. “You can tell, can’t you?” Sandy immediately turned to me. Patty added that she had been with the same man for 17 years. Larry walked in, and I asked him about his married life. “I tried marriage, twice, and didn’t like it,” he replied. “I have a daughter, she never visits me. I have two brothers, they never visit me either. I’ll probably die a lonely man, and I don’t care!”
Suddenly, everything that I had always feared was staring me in the face. I was scared of being forgotten by my family like Patty, of dying lonely like Larry, of losing my memories like Bob, and I was scared of spending my last days waiting for the visit of someone long dead. But I also found a lot of inspiration and love. Strangely, these were the people who spoke the clearest English, and understood me perfectly, never asking me to repeat anything. They were so well spoken, and perfectly sane in every other way but their illness. And most of all, I was inspired by their optimism and their will to go back to the life they once had despite being so ill!
Published in the Kathmandu Post http://www.ekantipur.com/2011/12/11/oped/life-interrupted/345341.html
Dec 5, 2011
Dec 2, 2011
Nov 26, 2011
The name of Ram’s stepmother who sent him the forest is pretty well known. But not many people know that Kaikeyi is not this woman’s name at all. The word Kaikeyi is a generic adjective meaning that she came from the kingdom of Kekaya (speculated to be Caucasus Mountains). In fact, this name is so generic that several women in Hindu mythology are called Kaikeyi. In the Mahabharata, Queen Sudeshna of Viratnagar (where the Pandavas spent their Guptavas), is often referred to as Kaikeyi. Ram’s stepmother just happens to be the most famous of all the Kaikeyis. Throughout the Ramayan, she is called with this reverse eponym and not once are we told her real name.
Why did this happen? Why was the name of a major character forgotten and not recorded in the story? A closer look at names of other mythical characters informed me that this was not a coincidence, but was part of an overarching trend of gender bias in myths. Gender bias in our myths is a foregone conclusion, but the etymology of names gives a fascinating view into the vast reaches of gender bias.
Our myths contain hordes and hordes of such forgotten women like Kaikeyi who are named simply after the kingdom they come from. Ram’s mother Kaushalya, for example, is so called because she is from the kingdom of Koshal. In Mahabharata, the mothers of Dhritarashtra and Pandu are often addressed as Koshalya because they are from Kashi. They are lucky, because their given names Ambika and Ambalika, are also mentioned in the epic. In contrast, Gandhari, who comes from Gandhar (a West Asian kingdom in modern day Afghanistan), is not fortunate enough to have her name recorded. Similar is the fate of Madri, coming from Madrades (modern day Madras, as is not difficult to decipher.) We do not know Madri’s real name. Kunti is the luckier wife here, because her given name Pritha is mentioned quite a few times. The name Kunti comes from the name of her adoptive father, Kuntibhoj, and so is not her own name. The same fate also encounters the next generation, where Draupadi is called after her father Drupad. She is also often called Panchali after the kingdom of Panchal (not after her five husbands). She was named Krishnaa for her dark complexion, but this name is used far less frequently.
Why should all of this be a problem? For starters, it is simply not fair to recognize a woman just by her origin; imagine if every female student in America were to be known only by the name “Nepali.” That would be a gross injustice to the individuality of each woman. Besides, most of the men who have parallel roles in the myths are given individual names. Ram’s father is not called an Ayodhyan, he is called Dasharath, and the husbands of Madri and Gandhari are not called Hastinapure, they are called with their proper names of Pandu and Dhritarashtra. Gandhari is not given a proper name even though she is as prominent as her brother Shakuni. Even when Madri’s brother had a much smaller role than Madri, he has a proper name, Shalya. These men are never called Madre or Gandhare. Sure, Draupadi’s brother is sometimes called Drupad after his father, but he is more often called Dhristadhyumna, which refers to his daring nature.
Besides the galling discrimination to begin with, it also appears that men can accumulate new names that give them more praise. The original text often refers to the Pandavas by names that reflect their achievements. Yudhishthir is called Dharmaraj, referring to his just ways. Bhim is called Vrikodara, which means wolf-stomached, referring to his voracious appetite. Arjun is called Dhananjaya, meaning he is the winner of wealth. In fact, these newly minted names of men often overtake their original given names. Karna was named Vasusena by his adoptive parents, but soon became famous for giving away the kundals that adorned his Karnas (ears). Ved Vyas is called so because he divided the Vedas into four different parts, and in time it overtook his first name Dwaipayan, which means “born on an island”. Parashuram’s name was changed from Ram because he did great deeds with his Parashu (axe). Krishna was so named because for his dark complexion, but soon his other names like Madhusudan (killer of Madhu), Keshav (killer of Kisi), Hari (one who takes away sins), Govinda (one who takes care of cows) etc became just as famous as his original name.
In contrast, women with multiple names never manage to outstrip the fame of their origins. Sita is known by the various names of Janaki, Vaidehi, Mithila, and many more, most of them referring to her father’s kingdom. Even her given name Sita refers to the furrows created by the plough from which she was born, it does not refer to her virtuous qualities or her deeds.
To be fair, there are many mythological women whose proper names are mentioned. Tara, Mandodari, Damayanti, Savitri, are some of them. There are also a small number of women named for their achievements. But what tips the scale is the overwhelming number of women who are known simply by their lineage, and the few men that fall into this category. The overarching theme is that women are only known for the identity of their country, or at best, their father. Nothing they do after that in life matters: neither their individuality at birth, nor their achievements thereafter, are worth recording. Men, on the other hand, are given names that reflect their individual characteristics, and have the opportunity to cement their reputation through new names commemorating their success. (This trend applies only to human females and not goddesses who have their proper names.) I find this trend to be a reflection of the norms of Hindu society where traditionally, women were not allowed to have careers, their only career of home management was not deemed noteworthy, and only male achievements were counted.
Published in the Kathmandu Post: http://www.ekantipur.com/2011/11/27/oped/whats-in-a-name/344517.html