In the spirit of Dussehra gone-by, and Diwali on-approach, I would like to discuss the Ramayana. I have heard and read many versions of the Ramayana. There's the standard bookstore version, in which a man wrongly steals another man's wife, resulting in a brutal, no-holds-barred war featuring the greatest warrior ever born. It was written by some fellow named Homer, and there's a very exciting scene in there involving a wooden horse.
Then there's Mani Ratnam's version, in which Abhishek Bachchan steals Aishwariya Rai and there's a giant battle, at the end of which the audience loses. There's also a BJP version, which goes like this: "Once, there was a man named Ram, so don't vote for the Congress. The end."
Artistic licence: Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan in Mani Ratnam's Raavan.
Then there's the Sooraj Barjatiya version. It was called Hum Saath Saath Hai where Saif Ali Khan and company took the "We must get Sita a deer" part of the story a little too seriously. There are many versions of the Ramayana, and like the World Cup final, they are all rather unfair to the Lankans. But to my mind, they are all controversial and questionable at best, and outright propaganda at worst. It gives me some joy then to report that I have finally found a version of the Ramayana that I love unconditionally, a version that is non-controversial. It was performed by the students of ABC play-school, all of whom were three years old.
It began with Ram, Laxman, Shatrugan and Bharat at their gurukul, and they were all reciting a poem. All except Bharat, that is, who was peering into the audience looking for his mother. Lesson one of the Ramayana: Love your parents. They were then called in to the court of Dasharatha, who informed Ram with a heavy heart that he would be sent into exile. Ram just smiled and said "Okay!" and set off, skipping. Lesson two of the Ramayana: Meet every task, no matter how horrifying, with a smile. My nephew played Laxman #1 (yes, there were two, because that way "everyone will get a chance, Mama" as my nephew explained), who was also ordered into exile. Except, he decided he enjoyed being on stage too much to actually go, causing an awkward moment in which Priyanka ma'am had to get on stage and lead him off.
Lesson three of the Ramayana: when someone sets you a task that is unfair and mean, it's okay to tell them to stuff it. This was then followed by a rousing number in which the children all played dandiya, just because. Lesson four of the Ramayana: Sooraj Barjatiya always wins. Following this, Ram went into the forest with Sita, where she saw a golden deer dart past. Ram then went off to hunt the deer, except he looked a bit uncomfortable about this, because the deer was his good friend Rahil, and two, Sita was a girl, and in Ram's own words "Girls are very yuck."
Lesson five of the Ramayana: When you're three, girls are very yuck. Except while Ram was away, Sita was abducted by Ravan, and she was powerless to resist. This may have had something to do with the fact that Ravan was a 22-year-old ex-student of the school who was the only person around that could lift kids at will. When Ram came back, he was heartbroken to find Sita gone, but his gloom was lifted at the sight of his mother, who had wandered up front to take a photograph. Lesson six of the Ramayana: Always hold your poise in front of the media.
This was then followed by four year-olds in monkey-costumes doing somersaults. In the end, Ram reached Lanka, and aimed his bow and arrow at Ravan. In the climax he fired his arrow, which hit the monkey standing next to him instead. Everyone rejoiced, and the monkeys did more somersaults, and everyone danced around holding hands. When I asked my nephew how a group of monkeys could build a bridge, he looked at me and said, "It's just a story, Mama!" and that may be why this is my favourite version of the Ramayan yet. Because lesson seven was taught to me by a three-year-old. Let's forget the politics, let's throw the religious implications out the window, and hang the subtext out to dry. Because really, it's just a story. And even three-year-olds know that.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo