I always thought the family soap operas that infest our television channels defy all common sense and logic.
In one serial an ex-wife (No. 1) dresses as a maid to go to work in her husband’s current wife’s (No. 3) home to rescue the children of Wife No. 2 who has cancer. No one catches on.
It’s “ganjakhuri” – absurd nonsense – as if any of this is remotely possible, says my incensed mother glaring at the television set.
But it’s a good thing then she’s not watching “real” news where the Kumar Vishwas Agnipariksha soap opera shows no signs of ending. Instead in true soap-style it is spawning side plots and introducing new characters. And its plot is getting more and more bizarre and unbelievably convoluted.
A man is being charged with ruining the character of a woman that he denies any relationship with. She denies any relationship with him either. But an entire soap opera carries on nonetheless around “restoring” her dignity.
Confused? Well, take a second look. What we have here really is a post-modern Ramayana where the Sita has never been abducted, Rama is AWOL, and Ravana is loudly protesting his innocence. But a full-tilt monkey-trial by media is going on anyway.
This is all so avant garde it could give Valmiki nightmares. So here’s a quick guide to who’s who in the mega serial unfolding right now on a television screen near you.
Sita: The woman volunteer in Amethi who is accused of having had an illicit relationship with Kumar Vishwas while he was campaigning in Amethi. “I am unable to explain to anyone that I am not having an affair with Kumar Vishwas,” says the frustrated Sita. Unlike the original Sita, this one has no intention of going into vanvaas or asking the earth to swallow her. She wants Ravana to go through an Agnipariksha instead to prove her moral probity. “He (Vishwas) had told me he would address a press conference and make it clear that I’m like a younger sister to him,” she complained.
Rama: The husband of the woman from Amethi. In this po-mo Ramayana he is actually a side character, merely a cameo. Unlike the old Rama he does not go into battle for his wife’s honour or send her to the forest when a washerman doubts it. This Rama just sends himself off into vanvaas after a meeting with Ravana and leaves Sita to move pillar and post and the Delhi Commission for Women to prove her innocence.
Ravana: As is fitting for the po-mo Ramayana it is the anti-hero Kumar Vishwas who is the main character. This is Ravana as sensitive poet family man who insists he is more sinned against than sinning. He claims not only to have never abducted this Sita, he is instead hiding behind what college students all over India know as the “raakhi defence”. Vishwas says clinching proof that there was no illicit relationship is that the woman called him “bhaiyya”. But at the same time he says chhoti bahen has been tutored to speak against him in a conspiracy by political rivals to discredit him.
Kumbhakarna: The Delhi police. The woman gave her complaint to the Delhi police which slept on it and did nothing for 15 days forcing her to go to the Delhi Commission for Women. In the Ramayana Kumbhakarna eventually wakes up. This one snoozes on.
Vibhishana: Shazia Ilmi, Anand Kumar. It’s a sign of our times that there are multiple claimants to the title of the in-family enemy. Kumar Vishwas’ former party colleague Shazia Ilmi has now openly switched to the enemy camp and is proceeding to give him hell. “If a girl’s dignity has been violated to such an extent, it must be probed,” said Ilmi. Though of course the more her party talks about the relationship both the woman and Vishwas deny, the more the woman’s dignity is besmirched. The controversy caught fire when senior AAP leader Anand Kumar warned that the party rift would reach the bedrooms and drawing rooms of the leaders. In Ramayana days the conflict reached battlefields but in Delhi politics it’s easier to fight it out in bedrooms and drawing rooms with the same Balaji-style freeze-frame jhatka camerawork.
Mandodari: Manju Shah aka Kumar Vishwas’ wife. Ravana’s wife apparently loved and venerated her husband despite his minor flaws like abducting another man’s wife and sacrificing the lives of thousands in a battle to hold on to that abducted wife. Sita has in her complaint alleged that Manju Shah caught her husband in a compromising positing with “another woman” and spread the rumours about her. In the po-mo Ramayana, Mandodari has also been summoned by the Delhi Commission of Women but like Mandodari of yore she is neither confirming nor denying anything.
Hanuman: Shail. In this version, Rama does not have a loyal Hanuman but Ravana does. Shail is supposedly Kumar Vishwas’ Man Friday who looks after his political affairs. This Hanuman does not carry messages of solace for the abducted Sita. On the contrary, Sita in her complaint says she has received threatening messages from him to keep quiet about the entire affair.
Dhobi: The mysterious Ajay Vohra. Remember the dhobi who while washing some dirty laundry in public speculated about Sita’s virtue? Well he has a name in this soap opera i.e. Ajay Vohra who sent the original email to senior party officials saying Vishwas accepted black money and indulged in a physical relationship with a female volunteer in Amethi. As is fitting, in the po-mo Ramayana, Ajay Vohra appears to be computer-generated.
Agnipariksha: The Delhi Commission for Women. If only there had been an Ayodhya Commission for Women, Sita could have been spared the Agniparikha and the exile in the forest. She could have obtained a hearing and a moral character certificate and that Ramayana could have ended differently and far more happily. As Barkha Singh of the Commission has explained, Vishwas, “by not clarifying that she was not the woman” he was alleged to be having an affair with, “has led everyone to believe that the rumours were true”.
The Great War: In olden days Rama had to build bridges, put together an army of monkeys and bears, and ride into protracted battle. In the po-mo version we do not even need the cheesy special effects of those slow-motion arrows in the Ramanand Sagar Ramayana. We have instead Twitter as the battlefield, the main weapon of choice is not some divine weapon but a hashtag. Will #ExposingKumarVishwas bring down today’s Ravana? And once a million hashtags fly, will the brahmastra of IPC 509 – insulting the modesty of a woman – deliver the mortal blow?
Stay tuned for the next episode. We do not make any promise that it will make any more sense. However we can promise that despite much grandstanding and drama, in this po-mo Ramayana no fake blood is needed because lives are not at stake, only reputations.