AIIMS Skit Fiasco: What An Educated Indian Should Ask Himself Before He Sets Out To 'Re-Interpret' The Ram Lila

by Sumati Mehrishi - Oct 22, 2021 06:53 PM +05:30 IST
AIIMS Skit Fiasco: What An Educated Indian Should Ask Himself Before He Sets Out To 'Re-Interpret' The Ram Lila(Flickr)
  • We are mere audiences to the choices that "intelligent", "educated", urban Indians make to interact with our epics, heritage and tradition.

    Most of this interaction though is under the cultural left’s pressure and under the excuse of “entertainment”.

A skit performed on the Ram Lila by the students of AIIMS Delhi sparked an outrage on social media recently. Video clips of the skit became viral. Several sections of netizens reacted strongly to the skit and many seemed 'offended' by the content and language used. The students' body at AIIMS noticed that the outrage was soaring on social media, in sections of the media, and apologised for it. This “apology” did not seem to impress many.

This report says that AIIMS "issued a stern warning on Monday addressing all of its student bodies and employee unions, threatening disciplinary action if they continue to dwell in such acts."

It's pretty natural and easy to go on about what was wrong about/with this skit; easier still to come up with adjectives for it. And that's definitely not of interest or value to this author.

As evident, the skit itself seems light years away from qualifying as "cultured" or “cultural”. It, for a moment, made one doubt the purpose of “education” and “intelligence” as these terms exist in today’s score-job-driven scenario parlance.

This probably reflects what's currently lacking in the way a section of urban adults, bright and young professionals or professionals to be, are "evolving" to interpret culture and tradition. Evolving through tradition is a matter of choice for adults. How they interpret 'culture' is a matter of choice. Retelling the Ramayana in order to further connect the audience to the epic, too, is a matter of choice. Cultural and spiritual responsibility, which come with the performing of the Ram Lila, too, are a matter of choice.

Whether these choices are exercised or not by educated adults in general, is not in anybody's control - nor should it, at any point of time, be.

We are mere audiences to the choices that "intelligent", "educated", urban Indians make to interact with our epics, heritage and tradition. Most of this interaction though is under the cultural left’s pressure and under the excuse of “entertainment”.

Expecting schools and educational educations to make students interact with Ramayana in order to make them think, enquire and create better – is plain wishful thinking.

The core of Ram Lila is religiosity, bhava, emotion and bhakti for Ram,
Hanuman, Lakshman, Sita, the larger Ram parivar, and for the Ramayana. For thinking people who are NOT inclined to this emotion, here is a
simple series of questions.

1) What, then, is/would be the purpose of your choosing to perform
anything that seems based on the Ram Lila?

2) Would you have the drive for task components that are based on the
Ramayana or Ram Lila, then, as part of your education and training?

3) Are you aware that the Mahabharata has prompted and opened several
doors to understanding strategy, management, leadership, relationships?

4) If yes, do you think that the Ramayana, just as the Mahabharata, can compel you to think, create and challenge your brains to find solutions (no matter which profession you are training yourself for)?

If the answer to the above four points is towards the positive, here is a list of "soft" challenges inspired by the Ramayana from this author. Let’s keep it to the broad family of science/s. Accept any or all. Choice – yours, dear intelligents.

1) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on the aspect of
physical healing, wounds, and the concept of healing in Ramayana.

2) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on the flora diversity in the Ramayana.

3) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on the prospects of
the rich botanical heritage today/ the enriching grounds for pharmacognosy in the Ramayana.

4) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on the concept of
flight in Ramayana.

5) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on interactions
between the different species /forms of life (Ram and Jatayu, Ram and
Vanaras, Ram and flora, Sita and Ashok Vatika, and so on).

6) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on the impact of
separation and death -- the several stages in mind experiences, recovery, factors that help recover (extra marks for exploring it in the context of the pandemic, diseases).

7) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on the lessons from
the Ramayana on fighting inner demons (enough metaphorical material
there?) through wellness, mind and body.

8) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on the concept of "sleep" in Ramayana.

9) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on the concept,
design, use, of weaponry in Ramayana.

10) A skit/choreography/theatre/excerpt/performance on the role and interaction of water, water bodies, rivers and the ocean in Ramayana.

Let's not forget that there is a global parallel against which we fade
-- miserably -- when it comes to the celebration of the Ram Lila. It is the performance of Ram Lila in the regions of South East Asia and some countries in the Indian Ocean.

As we hope for a solution to the growing insensitivity and indifference of a section of people towards the Ramayana within India, the youth in distant, distant, Fiji; in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam is engaged in studying and performing the Ram Lila.

The Fijian troupe at the fifth International Ramayana Festival
The Fijian troupe at the fifth International Ramayana Festival

The youth in these countries perform the Ram Lila as part of their cultural "duty" towards their own people, their heritage, and the faith in Ram, Ram parivar and the Ramayana. Several times over work, this author has met actors, musicians, dancers from these countries. They are gifted with the arts and talent to make the Ram Lila performance richer for the masses in their own country.

Maybe with an exception to any ballet that sprouts from the Indian classical and folk performing arts, nothing else from India shall or can come close in form, emotion, production, weight, detail, thought, costume, and quality to Ram Lila versions from these countries. Coming to Fiji, Ramayana depiction was not the top cultural priority of their government , yet, the performers balance work, home, rehearsals and keertan with utmost dedication and brought their Ramlila to India.

What or who helped them achieve this? Culture? Schools? Parents and family? Hardships? Let’s not answer it for the 'educated' Indians in our country. Let’s see whether and how they use the 10 challenges in this piece, to begin with.

Sumati Mehrishi is Senior Editor, Swarajya. She tweets at @sumati_mehrishi 

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