In my continuing rant against the amazing Indian role models, specifically from that all pervasive mythological part of our culture, I am going to look at another of my favourite fantastic ideal men from our epics… the great Yudhisthir, also known as dharmaraj…or the king/lord of ethics.
The USP of this demigod is honesty and ethics. He never lies, never cheats, does no wrong. Or so the great epics and popular and common understanding of culture would have us believe. But think about it. This man “SHARES” his younger brother’s bride… supposedly because mom told them to share whatever they had brought home. At worst, it is sheer lust and covetousness of a renowned beauty, who just happened to have been won by a younger bro. Mom’s unknowing instructions just acted as a nice easy way, and cozy justification, to realize his own nefarious desires. At best, it is considering the woman an object, a THING to be shared out among five brothers… never mind which one she wants, all because mom said so… with no idea what they were bringing home. Doesn’t really sound very ethical or honest to me.
If this was the worst of his sins, he would still not be a man I would in any way be persuaded to like. However, this is merely the tip of the awful iceberg that is the great personality of this great epic hero. Having co-married a woman very much in love with his younger brother, he assigns himself first conjugal rights, to continue for one whole year. Why? Because he is the eldest of course! How stupid of you to ASK!! Then comes Bheem’s turn, for another year, until she finally, after bearing two children, comes to the man she really loves and the one who won her in the first place. What about what the woman wants? Isn’t she in love with Arjun? So? Who cares? She is a mere woman, property and chattel of the lord and master, so who cares what she wants? She’ll bloody well be amenable to orders and do what she is told!
At the end of the Mahabharata, when the 5 brothers and the wife are on their way to heaven, Draupadi falls by the wayside. When asked why she does not deserve heaven, this man has the temerity to say that it is because she always loved Arjun more in spite of being the wife of all 5 Pandavas!!! OBVIOUSLY she loved Arjun more! Heloooo! That’s the one she always wanted, loved and desired! That’s the one she rigged her swayamvara for so that ONLY he could win, winning her hand in marriage along with the contest! Is she really expected to give up that love, or SHARE it out among four men she does not give two hoots for? Merely because you force her into marrying them?
Having spent all his life pursuing a steady policy of pusillanimous appeasement of the arrogant and power hungry Kauravas, Yudhisthir agrees happily to the beggarly handout of five villages, one each for the five brothers, instead of claiming their rightful half. Be that as it may, the time share arrangement of the wife continues, with each brother being forbidden from interrupting or interfering while she is with one of the others. While this is fine under normal circumstances, it so happened once that Arjun forgot his arms at Yudhisthir’s rooms. With one of his subjects begging for help, Arjun is put into a quandary. He can either disturb the esteemed Dharmaraj in his private time with the time-share wife, or he can disregard his duty as a ruler and a warrior, and neglect to help.
Choosing duty over the inconvenience of interrupted coitus, he enters Yudhisthir’s apartments and gets his arms, helps the subject and returns. Instead of understanding the necessity that drove Arjun, Yudhisthir is unable to see beyond his own interrupted lust, and the covenant the brothers had agreed to. A true DHARMA RAJ, in my opinion, would have seen the difference between wanton and willing interruption of another’s solo time with the time share wife versus the necessity of retrieving arms to protect the weak and punish the wrongdoer. Instead, he punishes Arjun with 12 years in exile, to be carried out in abstinence, thus further eliminating the biggest rival for the wife’s affections for a good solid chunk of their lives. WHAT an amazing role model!
That’s nowhere close to all either! The Kauravas, angry and jealous at the amazing pleasure palace and capital the Pandavas have built in Hastinapur, invite the brothers to a game of dice. Yudhisthir the inveterate and obsessive gambler, manages to lose everything he owns, as well as his entire kingdom which he only holds in trust with his brothers, and does not own outright. They give it back to him, he loses it all again! Then, he proceeds to wager, and lose, his brothers, as if they are property he owns, as well as the time share wife because, after all, she is his and his alone, a piece of property to be done with as he wishes. Then he proceeds to sit and watch while the “winners” drag her into a full royal court, and proceed to strip her! This is an IDEAL man? I think NOT!
When, eventually, at long last, he finally goes to war against the Kauravas, he sanctions innumerable unethical strategies and tactics, including lying outright (the great un-lying, ideally honest hero). It is one of the most irreconcilable aspects of the Mahabharata that the supposedly honest and “right” Pandavas use the most amount of cheating and subterfuge, from mild tricks to in-your-face cheating, from a fib and a white lie to outright genocide, this model of ETHICS and HONESTY uses all and every means to win at any cost. Hardly the behavior of an ideal man.
Hardly surprising then, that the whole Indian ethos is so skewed. That we consider women mere property whose only duty and role is to do the bidding of the husband and the in-laws. That we do not even have a concept of “what the woman wants” forget about actually trying to find out. Women do not have dreams, desires, aspirations, ambitions. They cannot have. And as for honesty and ethics? Well, they are highly flexible commodities, to be brought out and paraded when convenient, and coolly circumvented when they stand in the way of what we desire.