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In a Man's World

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In A Man’s World
Nora Ephron, screenplay writer once stated that, “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
She was born out of fire, in circumstances that were not even expecting her, had a complexion which was considered inferior, washed her hair in the blood of the people she held responsible for her fate, followed her husbands because of her love for them rather the duty which ordained, was called Sairandhri (literally meaning the perfect maid) and finally fell on the way to Heaven without getting help from any of her husbands (she had five) except Bheema. She was considered the most virtuous and was known to have a magnetic charm with inexorably pulled men and women towards her. She did these deeds and possessed these qualities – All in a Man’s World.
If one gets into the mind of Draupadi, one will immediately start wondering if she had the time to even look at herself as a victim. In the face of the Assembly Hall where a few moments prior, her clothes were almost ripped off, she asks NOT for revenge on the person acting, the audience witnessing or the person responsible but she asks for the freedom of her husbands when Drithrashtra offers her 3 boons, such is the strength of Yajnaseni (born out of fire). She has not given the world permission to call her a victim. Her troubles are a result of a destructive cocktail of her actions, fate and Dharma peppered with the ideologies of patriarchy.
All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.
Draupadi’s actions showed a serious disregard for the accepted customs and norms. She challenged, refused, refuted, hurled insults and questioned. A woman does not question; she accepts be it good or bad; she does not mock; she does not laugh in the company of men; she does not refuse the contestants of a Swayamvar; she does not refuse to be a commodity of her husband; she does not fall for the enemy; she is a woman; she must live like a woman. Krsna had literally challenged all of these norms by the end of Mahabharata. There is nothing wrong in challenging except maybe the consequences.
At her Swayamwar Draupadi chooses to insult Karna by refusing to be a wife of “Suta Putra”. In Palace Of Illusions Divakaruni suggests that Draupadi did that as an impulsive action, this incident though became one of the major reasons why Karna supported Duryodhana when he ordered Dushasana to disrobe her in the Assembly Hall. Another instance of her action which made this incident a consequence was the comment made by her when Duryodhana accidently fell into a pool in Indraprastha. She said, “Andhey ka putra Andha” which translates to “Like blind father like blind son” and even though it sounds like an elementary school insult, those were sensitive times and women were not supposed to be brave enough to me comments on princes and kings. This was enough reason for him to harbour hate against her and act against her. Revenge is after all the driving force behind a lot of wars and banes.
“Unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing-glove.”
― P.G. Wodehouse
Mahabharata compels us to believe that everything that we go through and everything that happens to us is fate though as Dr. Madhu Gupta points out the “spirit of Mahabharata is not fatalistic”. Draupadi since the moment was born was referred to as being born for the destruction of the Kauravas and Kshatriyas. Already destined to have five husbands because of a milieu of reasons (never-ending lust, cruel fate, boon by Parvati etc.); she accepted her destiny and worked relentlessly to keep her husbands happy. The fate of the war also seemed to be predecided by Krishna and other celestial Devas. The tragedy of the characters lay in the fact that they were not aware of their own sealed fate. Calvinistic notions of Predestination immediately come to mind when Indian mythological texts are talked about. This silent acceptance of one’s fate is an extremely disturbing point of this great epic even though she questions her fate; it seems to be accepted by a larger part of the “audience”. If there had been no game of dicing there would be no betting and no disrobing hence the war would not have taken place at all. It just seemed like one big conspiracy to clear out a race of corrupt human beings.
One who sees the Dharma sees me.
One who sees me sees the Dharma. * Buddha
The concept of dharma is very broad and is very difficult to grasp because there is no clear-cut definition of dharma that captures the essence of it. The basic purpose is that when the scales tip whilst balancing between Dharma and Adharma then Gods descend upon the Earth to set things straight by hook or by crook. Yudhishthir or rather Dharamraj is the reason for the trouble that poor Panchaali goes through. It was his Dharam which prevented him from refusing the challenge posed by Duryodhana. Sakuni was sure of victory and knew that once challenged the eldest Pandav cannot refuse. Dharma is not a negative thing nor is it supposed to be but the circumstances in which it is used make it negative. For example during the battle Ashwatthama the elephant dies and Yudhisthir tells Drona that the warrior has passed away and since it is a universal fact that Dharamraj cannot speak what is not true, Drona believes him and is killed off by Drishtadyumana. Somehow even in this situation it is the Dharma of the Kauravas which is judged. Another flaw of the flawless - Was there no Dharma regarding how women are to be treated? On surfing through Google and other search engines all one could find was how a wife should behave and what should be her Dharma, her duties as a wife, there is no questioning that she “belongs” to the husband much like a piece of furniture after marriage to the said “husband”. Milton’s Paradise Lost paints a better picture of the role of a husband than Indian epics ever could! Where was the Dharma of humanity when a Goddess reincarnate was dragged by her hair into an Assembly Hall full of men, one wonders if there is even such a thing as Dharma of humanity.
Women are the victims of this patriarchal culture, but they are also its carriers. Let us keep in mind that every oppressive man was raised in the confines of his mother's home.
Shirin Ebadi
Ebadi makes a compelling point; she targets the source of the problem. But the problem lies in the roots of the mother herself. Gandhari so bound by patriarchy that she ties a cloth on her eyes simply because her husband is blind! One cannot help but wonder wouldn’t she have been of more “use” if she could see. On the other matriarchal structure you have Kunti who silently watched while her husband got another wife and as critics say, tested poor Draupadi’s culinary skills when she first came home. With mothers like these one can’t really expect the boys to behave like sensitive sane human beings. Dushashana’s brilliant act of dragging Draupadi by her hair in a hall full of men and then trying to disrobe her is enough evidence that there was a severe power lust and superiority complex in his mind. How dare a woman refuse to pay heed to what the male power wants? The other corner occupied by the luminous Yudhishthir who gambles away cattle, castle and finally the consort. One cannot challenge Iravati Karve when she states that a woman suffers publically, gets called a “whore” in front of an Assembly Hall then is packed off to the forest because of her Dharma as a wife is in itself a huge instance of patriarchy. At the same time the fact that she questioned Yudhishthir instead of silently accepting her fate is enough to suggest that she was willing to let patriarchy and Dharma co-exist with feminism and individuality. Most critics would agree that the nearly all dynamic characters of literature have a duality which is internalized.
Draupadi is the most complex and controversial female character in Hindu literature. She can play the role of a woman, nurse, maid, wife, mother and a mother – in – law with equal ease and grace. At the same time she can question, raise her voice against the people “responsible” for her, embodies the spirit of Roman Furies, the Goddess Kali, the beautiful Ahalya and designs a set of virtues of her own. She secretly vowed that one day she would definitely seek vendetta on the injustice meted out to her. She did it by igniting the spark of revenge in the hearts of the Pandavas. At the same time one could say Krishna used her to annihilate the Kauravas. Either way she was the major catalyst in one of the most glorious battles ever seen by Hindu mythology. She is known and held responsible for a battle which not only killed off some brave men but also some solid misconceptions like Dharma, patriarchy and fate. In a world of men, she did more than a man could. She purified.
* * * * * Iravati Karve’s “Draupadi” * “Draupadi’s Question” * Palace Of Illusion - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni…...

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