Avik Chattopadhyay: Brand Ram in the 21st century

21 Apr,2022

By Avik Chattopadhyay

 

Avik ChattopadhyayOn the morning of April 10, most of the WhatsApp groups I am part of were full of Ram Navami greetings, mostly with memes and a few without.

 

Am sharing a few representative ones here…

 

 

It was interesting to see six-pack Ram memes and angry Hanuman memes being shared. Gone were the days of the more traditional Ram-Sita-Lakshman images blessing us, with Hanuman at their feet, smiling in obeisance.

 

Ram has got an image makeover.

He is a symbol of manhood, thus has to be out of a gym.

He is a symbol of protection, thus has to be with his bow.

He is a symbol of control, thus has to have a stern look.

 

He cannot be smiling, seated and unarmed. That does not do justice to today’s Ram who is less a symbol of justice and more a symbol of power.

 

Brand Ram in the 21st century is a far cry from the obedient, selfless, optimistic, benevolent young man whose journey was more important than his destination. This journey of fourteen years built the foundation of his method of governance.

 

He is indeed a far cry from a time in my land when he could be adored by all and adorned on all walls.  He is a far cry from the little child dressed up as him for the school Ramlila, sharing the samosa and nimbu pani with Ravan and Kumbhakarna. He is a full grown man now…,

 

First, he was on the calendar.

Then he was Arun Govil.

Now he is Vidyut Jamwwal!

 

Would Tulsi’s Ram enjoy his current avatar? I doubt, for the very DNA has been replaced. “Purushottam Maryada” has been misread as about mere ‘purush’ and not ‘purushaarth’. The means was what defined yesterday’s Ram. The end had to be an outcome and not the purpose. Today, the end justifies his current form on steroids. Then the protection was of values and society. Today, it is about dogma and oneself. The chant of Jai Shri Ram is less about reassurance and more about retribution.

 

Gandhi had in fact revived the concept of “Ram Rajya”. And it was a big blunder according to me. In a cultural menagerie called India where monarchy was the one common factor, to tout the concept of “rajya” in a fledgling democracy was disastrous. The core concept of selflessness and governance was lost on most of us and of course twisted to the benefit of the politicians as is being done right now for reasons quite the contrary. Seventy-five years ago, it should have been the concept of “Ram Shaasan” and never “Ram Rajya”.

 

Ram is what lies deep within… the soul. The character is the manifestation of the current state of the nation and sentiments that drive the average person. The multiple incidents of socio-religious unrest that we have seen this Ram Navami is a clear demonstration of the same.

 

Ram was about benefaction then.

Ram is about belligerence now.

 

Brand Ram is what a large part of Indian society is today. For he is the prospect, proponent, and prophet rolled into one.

 

I remember having experienced Aamir Raza Husain’s magnum-theatre “The Legend of Ram” around 20 years ago. Then it was a demonstration of the spirit that a person of another faith could put together such a splendid show. Today, the sets might get burnt down before the first show. The bandana-clad Ram would never stand such transgression while the beatific Ram would stand a mute spectator!

 

I cannot think of a better way to end than reproduce the poem by Mohammad ‘Allama’ Iqbal called “Ram” whom he lovingly calls Imam-e-Hind, in Hindi and English scripts.

 

लबरेज़ है शराब-ए-हक़ीक़त से जाम-ए-हिंद

सब फ़लसफ़ी हैं ख़ित्ता-ए-मग़रिब के राम-ए-हिंद

ये हिन्दियों की फ़िक्र-ए-फ़लक-रस का है असर

रिफ़अत में आसमाँ से भी ऊँचा है बाम-ए-हिंद

इस देस में हुए हैं हज़ारों मलक-सरिश्त

मशहूर जिन के दम से है दुनिया में नाम-ए-हिंद

है राम के वजूद पे हिन्दोस्ताँ को नाज़

अहल-ए-नज़र समझते हैं इस को इमाम-ए-हिंद

एजाज़ इस चराग़-ए-हिदायत का है यही

रौशन-तर-अज़-सहर है ज़माने में शाम-ए-हिंद

तलवार का धनी था शुजाअ’त में फ़र्द था

पाकीज़गी में जोश-ए-मोहब्बत में फ़र्द था

 

Labrez hai sharaab-e-haqeeqat se jaam-e-hind 

Sab falsafi hain qhitta-e-maghrib ke Ram-e-hind

Ye hindiyon ki fiqr-e-falaq-ras ka hai asar

Rif-at mein aasmaan se bhi ooncha hai baam-e-hind

Iss des mein hue hain hazaaron malak-sarisht

Mashhoor jin ke dam se hai duniya mein naam-e-hind

Hai Ram ke wajood pe Hindostan ko naaz

Ahle-nazar samajhte hain iss ko Imam-e-hind

Ejaz iss chiragh-e-hidayat ka hai yahi

Roshan-tar-az-seher hai zamaane mein shaam-e-hind

Talwar ka dhani tha shuja-at mein fard tha

Pakeezagi mein josh-e-mohabbat mein fard tha.

 

The best translation I could get from a member of an Urdu group I am part of follows…

 

“The cup of Hind

overflows with the wine of truth.

Philosophers of the Western world

are its devotees.

The mysticism of her philosophers

makes Hind’s star soar above all constellations.

Thousands of angels have descended

to proclaim Hind’s name before the world.

And proud of his existence

the discerning eye sees in Ram, a prophet.

The glow from this lamp of wisdom

makes Hind’s evening more radiant

than the world’s daybreak.

Valorous, brave, a master swordsman!

In purity, in love, Ram was unmatched.”

 

Jai Hind!

 

 

Avik Chattopadhyay is a senior strategy consultant. He writes on MxMIndia every other Thursday on branding, culture and the confluence of both. His views here are personal.

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