Monday, June 01, 2020

A Question of Consent

Arjuna and Subhadra
I think it was Plato who wisely said that 'Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder' adroitly endorsing a surrender to relativism when it came to a question of viewing things that are subject to subjectivity. Take the above pic for instance. Some would sigh wistfully and say it is the height of romance for Arjuna to briskly whisk away the love of his life on a chariot drawn by swift steeds to a shared notion of paradise on Earth. Others would curl their lips in disapproval and insist that Arjuna's abduction of Subhadra is a violent act and an ancient #MeToo story, deserving of the severest censure. As a confirmed fence sitter, who has repeatedly been condemned for the same, all I can say is that both arguments are valid from the standpoint of those making them. 

These thing ultimately come down to individual perspective and personal interpretation which is usually complicated and varied. Everyone is entitled to their views and I wish people will try to remember that when they are trying to force their extremely inflexible opinions and ideas  (which IMO is also a form of violence) on others, especially those who don't see eye to eye with them. Having said that, regarding the rights or wrongs of this particular situation, consent is the key word. The way, I see it, the epic makes it clear that Arjuna talked things over with Krishna, Subhadra's brother who informed him in no uncertain terms that the object of his affection reciprocated his feelings and had never made a secret of her adoration of him from an early age. Some versions suggest that Balarama had planned to give her hand in marriage to his fave pupil, Duryodhana and she was quite unhappy about this which prompted the omniscient Krishna to act in her best interests. Hence, Arjuna made his move knowing that Subhadra loved him and since she did not resist at that point, and had long wished for him to become her husband, perhaps we can safely assume she had few if any issues at all with the way her love story panned out and was content to revel in her stature as the love of his love despite the fact that he had many wives? You disagree? That is fine by me... To each his/her own. 

Moving on, I think the epics make it clear that when a woman's consent is taken out of the equation, the consequences will be dire for all parties and that a good man will do well to ascertain the wishes of the woman he seeks to woo or wed. This is made abundantly clear in the story of Krishna and Rukmini. The latter was no shy maiden given to blushing in confusion over her feverish thoughts. Rukmini knew her mind, and when her brother, Rukma ignored her wishes and arranged for her to be wed to Shishupala whom she loathed, she took matters into her own hands. An epistle was furtively penned and dispatched to Krishna, declaring her love and demanding that he rescue her from an odious marriage not of her own choosing. Krishna obliged and carried her away after defeating the belligerent hordes that followed in their wake led by Shishupala and Rukmi.

In the swayamvara of Amba, Ambika and Ambalika though, it is obvious that Bhishma goofed up by not educating himself about Amba's wishes beforehand before abducting the three sisters. He paid a heavy price for his lapse as did Amba. I have discussed this matter at length here. Human desire is a complicated thing and any conversations regarding the same or concerning  the formulation of rules and regulations to govern proper, acceptable conduct in this sphere, will be useless if bereft of nuance as well as a willingness to suspend judgement and condemnation in favor of understanding and tolerance. 

Take the story of Surpanaka for instance... I hate that she is always made out to be a hefty, ugly, dark - skinned. Rakshasi who threw herself at Rama, didn't handle his kindly rejection of her well and attacked Sita prompting Lakshmana to lop off her breasts and nose. Many blame her for compounding her error by emotionally blackmailing and manipulating Ravana into carrying away Sita to avenge her humiliation. It annoys me no end that she was sacrificed on the altar of popular opinion while Lakshmana got away scot-free for his sordid deed.

The Princess of Lanka was smitten with desire when she beheld Rama, and she was well within her rights to express her passionate feelings. Of course, she could have handled his rejection with more grace but folks who believe themselves to be consumed by 'true love' which not surprisingly is confused often for good old fashioned insanity are seldom if ever reasonable and Lakshmana would have done well to show more restraint when the situation spiraled out of control.

The way, I see it the epics never intended for those who are the pawns and tools of fickle fate to be treated with contempt, abhorrence or derision. Surpanaka's feelings for Rama went unrequited and if that and her subsequent injuries were not bad enough, she has been uniformly reviled ever since but the universe in its infinite wisdom did make amends according to mythological lore. In her next  life, Surpanaka was re - born as Kubja, Kamsa's handmaiden whose extraordinary beauty was marred by a birth defect which left her hunchbacked. When Krishna came to Mathura, she was charmed by him and applied sandalwood paste on his forehead. Pleased with her love and affectionate regard for him, Krishna placed his fingertips on her chin and and as he raised her face towards him, her spine straightened out and she was cured of her infirmity. Kubja begged Krishna to visit her home for a meal, but he had to decline since there were pressing matters for him to attend to but he promised to return once he had fulfilled his duties.

Krishna kept his word and did pay Kubja a visit. She had been diligently awaiting his arrival every single day since his departure and all was in readiness for him, and Kubja was highly gratified by his presence which she had awaited for so long. There is no consensus as to whether she became one of his lovers but given the fact that his legion of lovers were legendary, I like to think that he made time to fulfill her desire for him as well. Because everybody's feelings matter even if they are unreasonable or at odds with our own, and fully deserving of consideration (within reasonable limits of course :) ) . 

For those who would like to hear my account of Arjuna and Subhadra's union as well as the kindness and respect he showed towards Uloopi, the Naga Princess who loved him fervently though Arjuna did not feel the same way, I suggest you check out episode 9 of Mahabharata with Anuja. 

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