Where are Hindus going as a people? Do we have a latent contempt for our ancestral culture that finds expression when we are in the public sphere? How do I interpret the hostile remarks of two senators trying to score political points using the sacred and pious character of Sri Ram and Ramleela, the dramatization of Sri Ram’s struggles with demonic forces and his final triumph?
I must be honest here. Good or bad, any mention of Sri Ram, Ramleela or the Ramayana is welcome. The fact that our people can mention Sri Ram and Ramleela is adequate proof that our culture is alive.
Putting that aside I would like to know what Senator Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal, a government senator, has done to ensure that funds are released for the more than twenty venues where Ramleela was staged. Senator Sagramsingh-Sooklal was abundantly clear that she has a long association with Ramleela, having narrated Ramleela for fifteen (15) years. This is quite an achievement I must say, and I salute her. My question to her is this: What have you done to ensure there is adequate and timely funding for Ramleela?
And the same question I direct to Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial. Does Senator Lutchmedial know that her colleagues have demonstrated utter disregard to the organizers of Ramleela? A Member of Parliament from her political party responding to a request by the President of a Ramleela group reacted that “Ramleela is not important.” Senator Lutchmedial must know that another MP in her party said that “I am busy with the budget debate.” Did this shadow minister raise the issue of the lack of financial support for Ramleela and Indian culture generally in his budget presentation?
If the PNM and the UNC have no interest in Indian culture, then why is Ram and Ramleela coming out of these politicians’ mouths? Is it to score cheap political points? A song by Kishore Kumar from the movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna referred to the vain utterances of the name Ram. The song says that one must not make a mockery of using the name Ram. It was the debut film for Zeenat Aman who played the role of a hippy indulging in smoking marijuana under the guise of searching for the divine.
This is the dilemma that both senators found themselves in, that is, using Ramleela to score cheap political points. I would like to suggest to these two senators and more so Senator Sagramsingh- Sooklal, to immediately approach the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism to ensure that our Ramleela practitioners are given the funding they so rightly deserve under the constitution that governs our country.
This contemptuous posturing of diasporic politicians was again witnessed in the insult and scorn poured on India by Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary of the UK Government. Of Indian ancestry, Braverman charged that Indians are the largest group that overstay their visits to explain the delay in her government issuance of visas to Indians.
This contempt for India was demonstrated days before the signing of a trade agreement that would help to rescue the UK from the economic doldrum that it has found itself. Braverman appears to be keener on demonstrating to the British that if they had any doubt that she is less British, it was time to put it to rest.
Braverman and many who pretend to be politicians are the characters that shaped and developed V. S. Naipaul’s literary career propelling him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Where else in the world are these complex characters to be found in such abundance? One guest in an Indian talk show said that that Suella Braverman is striving to be ‘more British than the King of England.’ Even our Indian Muslims are showing no sign of letting down with relation to students wearing the hijab in the classroom. While the women of Iran are revolting against the compulsory wearing of hijab, the Indian Muslim women are viewing the hijab as a symbol of piety and dignity.
What has Senator Sagramsingh-Sooklal learned after narrating Ramleela for fifteen years? Given that the government she belongs to have failed Ramleela, one can only conclude that the message of Ramleela has failed to penetrate her being. As for Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial she should ask what her party has done to assist Ramleela groups in accessing funding from the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism.
I must admit that I am a bit angry but again, I love those characters. They are interesting materials to put pen to paper. I hope these individuals would be around for a long time to add some color to the mystery that is life. And we must remind ourselves that in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, Deryck Walcott cited the Ramleela in Felicity. So, there is always going to be great things happening around Ramleela and Sri Ram of Ayodha.