It was a pleasant morning in the dense Jungle. Thick canopy of trees covered the whole area. Beyond the forest, there was a rivulet on the banks of which a cluster of thatched huts looked like moles in the green body of the jungle. Valmiki, the great poet finished his morning ablutions and came out of his thatched hut. He looked at the trees at the entrance as if expecting someone. Birds were chirping, squirrels were running on the branches of the trees. The cacophony of sound made by birds, animals and insects was so loud that nothing else was audible. Morning Sun was rising in the east. His red and yellow rays coming through the trees and bushes were radiating warmth in the cool ambience of the place. Dew drops on the leaves of grass were shining in the sunlight that would swallow them in a matter of minutes without trace. This was their offering to the Sun God, who gives life to everything on earth. Dew drops could, show within them, though only for a few minutes, the mighty Sun that was so big and powerful. Like the Child Krishna, who showed the Universe in his mouth.
It was a peaceful place, suitable for educating pupil without any outside disturbances or distractions. Only male students were attending the Gurukul. Valmiki had sent his disciples on a tour of begging, to the villages and towns nearby. The cereals and raw materials collected would then be cooked for the Rishi and his disciples staying at the Ashram for education. This was the custom passed on from generations of Gurus. This is part of practicing simple life. Begging makes a man humble and erases his vanity. Valmiki and his disciples lived by the grace of god and patronage of the people of the villages nearby.
Valmiki had chosen this ascetic life when he was very young. Born in tribal community, he grew up as an illiterate boy. Though he had a few material things, he was free and happy with what he had. He knew everything about the jungle, animals, plants and seasons. Once a seeker of knowledge came and stayed in the jungle for meditation. Valmiki remembered his name, Narada. He did meditation for many years. Taking pity on Narada, meditating for such a long time without food, people helped him to survive in the jungle as is their wont. On completing the meditation Narada was very happy that he had acquired what he had sought. He also felt obliged to the people of the jungle and Valmiki who had served him well. Observing that Valmiki was curious beyond his age and very intelligent, he taught him alphabets and inspired him to record his knowledge on the jungle, plants and animals and the tribal customs, songs and stories. Though, valmiki had a vast knowledge about the jungle and animals and planats, Narada, told him, in the educated elite, these are not considered as ‘Knowledge’ and that knowledge is defined by the gurus and sages as the knowledge and memory to recite the Four Vedas without a mistake and that too in the rhyme and pronunciation that has been passed on for thousands of years. But Narada knew Valmiki was exceptional. He taught him alphabets. After teaching Valmiki some literature and grammer, Narada left the place. He knew that Valmiki would be one of his best students and blessed him for achieving excellence. But he cannot accompany him to the city or palace. Only in his laters years Valmiki realized that he had been a student of Narada, the veena-bearing great worshipper of Vishnu.
Valmiki was learned scholar, but still a tribal at heart. He wanted things to be simple. He eat the food cooked for his students. His only goal was attaining more Knowledge and more wisdom and for attaining his goals he was ready to sacrifice anything. He was respected by kings and emperors and worshipped by his disciples and ordinary folks.
Once Prince Rama visited him and requested him if he could have the fortune of his counsel in the affairs of the state and that Valmiki’s knowledge and education, intelligence and wisdom might not flower fully in the jungle. He would be happy if he had to handle many challenges in running the affairs of the state. He assured Valmiki that he would be given exalted position in the Durbar.
But Valmiki refused his offer. He said “I would be drawn into the worldly affairs and pleasures and would forget my goal. Wisdom and Knowledge come from studying and observing and that it is all hard work. It is not a boon granted by Gods. Simplicity, and humility, Poverty, not plenty, provides the inspiration for thirst for knowledge. Wealth compels the people to enjoy the pleasures of life and to forget the reality of the world. I would continue to live in this jungle for myself and for the sake of my students. Gaining and spreading knowledge are the vocations I had chosen for this life. Kings and elite could avail of the services of many wise and intelligent men. There are wise men who exchange their knowledge for money and power. Those intelligent men who enjoy good life could only remain with the kings and advise them. I am not one of them. Knowledge is an ornament in the chest of the rich and powerful, but a lamp in the hands of seeker to drive away darkness of ignorance and a weapon for cutting the unnecessary things in order to establish new paths of knowledge. I want to educate those who could not otherwise get educated. They would be seekers of knowledge, who reject everything else. If I involve myself in running the country, I would be surrounded by self-seekers and those who have ambitions of power and money. If you want to do something for me, please arrange to build huts for myself and my students”. The hutments in the jungle were built with the money and material provided by the Prince Rama.
The king had sanctioned annual grant of money and material for the maintenance of the Ashram. But the expenditure on the students and seekers of knowledge arriving in the ashram far exceeded the grants given by Rama and Valmiki was not the person who begged the kings. He could beg before people of the nearby towns who for him could do anything. He belonged to them.
Over the years, Valmiki had heard about emperor Rama and his glorious rule in the country. Every sage, citizen and even enemies were praising and appreciating the good work he had been doing. Valmiki could not believe that such a ruler could exist and enforce his dharma. He had the opinion that future generations would hardly believe that such an emperor ever existed on this earth. Valmiki was inspired by the merciful Lord of the Rama Rajya. Spontaneously he started composing story of the emperor in verses. It was as if a spring of poetry has suddenly burst and filled his existence and an epic was born. It was an epic born of a love of the hero. It was to show that ordinary human beings trapped in the worldly affairs could achieve greatness. It is not necessary to renource the world.
Since hero of his epic was still alive, he had to foresee the events that would happen in the life and times of Rama. He had started the epic and incorporated the events that had happened and he went on narrating the story as it happened and he could also foresee the events that would happen. He had completed the epic inspite of the fact that events narrated in the epic had not happened till he finished the epic. He had initially reckoned that the epic could be finished within a few years. It had become his all consuming passion. It took away the best years of his life. Now he was 90 years old, but was very healthy and satisfied. His students reported that every educated person in the society had read some part of the epic or heard it being recited with reverence. However, even Valmiki could not have prepared himself for the event which challenged his understanding of the life. It was a woman whom he considered as the epitome of virtue, who threw the challenge.
On a day he was exhausted and was taking rest, he had a strange premonition that something was amiss. As he had reached such an advanced age when nothing, including death mattered, he did not bother to find out what it was. If he had desired, he would have found out as to what was coming as he had the potence to know past, present and future. However he decided to confront the reality as it came. He was confident that he had the maturity and diligence to handle any situation. He knew that challenge lies in not knowing the future and still facing it as a surprise rather than knowing everything that would come and then shaping it as per his convenience. There was no thrill in it.
There was a call at the entrance of the Ashram. Someone has turned up in the middle of the day and called him. It was an odd hour for someone to visit him, between noon and evening. At first, he enjoying his afternoon siesta, ignored that call presuming that to be a delusion. But, he heard someone calling three more times and he had to get up. The sun’s rays were turning yellowish and the shadows of the hut and the trees were growing longer and longer. Even his pet animals, Deers, Cows and Dogs were quiet. He slowly walked with the support of his stick and crossed the front space to the open the wooden gates. The visitors wore best of the clothes, which were dirty, may be because of travel. They were tired. They waited for him for considerable time and appear to be cultured; they waited for him to open the gates. He could see a woman and two young boys standing in front of the gate. They were not from the nearby places, he guessed. The woman looked very tired exhausted because of the long journey. The young fellows’ soft cotton dresses indicated that they were from a rich family and their distress showed in their faces. Dishelved hair of the woman and the agony in her face seemed inappropriate to the beautiful face.
They fell at his feet and and cried. Valmiki softly told them to get up and once they did, he embraced them like a father. The woman sobbed like a small girl. After few minutes he asked them who they were. She told him in very low tones that she was Sita, Rama’s wife. He could not recognize them. His memory was failing. She again reminded that she was the wife of emperor Rama of his epic and the two boys were her sons. Valmiki hesitated for a moment and thought whether this could be real or he was in the middle of a bad dream. But Sita said again “Sir, I am Sita, wife of Rama, cohart of the great Rama of the epic Ramayana that you created. You created an epic from our life, your epic in turn has created our life. Our life has become miserable. Only you can save and protect us”. Valmiki still failed to understand as to what she was talking. The Woman in distress was speaking in trembling voice, and Valmiki could not understand. There was an invisible screen that separated their understanding of life. He was shocked. His guests were royals and they had come to him in this condition. He welcomed them into his hutments. He noticed that in the middle of such a pain there was some relief in Sita’s eyes.
He asked them “Did you mean to say that you have come all the way from Ayodhya without any escorts?”
Sita replied “Yes we have travelled alone, in bullock carts. In many stretches we had to walk. My sons are the only escorts and defendents. I have them for my protection and they have only me for their love and care. We do not understand that what fate has in store for us. It might not be good anymore. My god, my husband has failed me. You had the prescience about the events in our life and incorporated it in your epic. Could you not foresee this? If you have, please tell me what have we done to deserve this? Also guide us to do the right thing. My husband, the virutuous, had to thorw me out not only from the palace but also the country.”
He consoled them that he would take of their life and would educate the boys further. “You are my daughter and you would get anything you want here. Don’t worry about anything. I am here. Your boys can join the others in this Ashram and they can study further. Relax and take rest for you have travelled a long distance from your home. Were there not robbers, animals on the way? You should not have come alone. It took me a while to recognize you. Robbers and animals would not know that you were from a royal family”. His words calmed Sita a bit. She thought that there was no difference between a royal family and others in treating women of their households. There was nothing royal about their suffering.
Valmiki knew that Sita’s sorrow was caused by unnecessary doubts and gossip. But why was Rama had got himself carried away by these? He could not think about Rama in such a low esteem. Probably Sita had not informed the King where they were heading. But why the king had not taken care of them or sent some escorts. He could not understand.
The sage was not convinced that the epic he had composed with the blessing of god could be changed by him now when the events have gone beyond his power. He felt very sad that Rama had done this to them. He had portrayed him as a paragon of virtue and her an example for generations of women. Is it the fate of future women too? He said “You look tired and harassed, mentally and physically. You take rest at the hut. I would arrange something for your food. We will talk in the morning”.
Sita, on finding that there was no one in the place, told him amid tears that she would take care of cooking and he should show the kitchen for her to prepare food. Valmiki said “If you are hungry prepare food and eat and then take rest. Give me something. Let us talk about your life in the morning. I would take care of you and relieve you of your suffering. This is my promise”. He could not visualize Rama’s life without Sita. Had his creativity failed?
Sita and her sons had a hearty meal after many days and felt as if they were staying at her father’s place. They felt very relieved at the hospitality extended by Valmiki. She was living in grief like a fish in the water. She did not know how to get out of it. It was clear that her reputation had been spoiled irreparably and there was no way of redeeming it. After being banished by Rama, no one would hear her. It would be her word against the words and reputation of the greatest king, Rama. How could she tell the saint that Rama had doubted her loyalty and virtue and told her to leave him and Ayodhya. This order was passed purportedly, to save the reputation of the King. For Rama’s wife had to be above suspicion. She wondered if rumours could shake the emperor and his reputation. If her mere presence in Ravana’s palace-garden waiting for Rama to rescue her could create this doubt and end in such a sentence, what about Rama who was enticed and liked by many woman in including Surpanaka and others?
Instead of doubting her, he could have ordered them killed or poisoned all of them silently without anyone knowing. That would have been more honourable. Nobody could have questioned the affairs of the emperor. She had to be humiliated in public in order to retain unblemished glory of the king, in public. He had done this to a woman who suffered in waiting for years in the Ashokavan, within the fortress of Ravan’s palace. Sita could not sleep properly from the day King conveyed this through his emissaries. She even doubted whether king had actually passed the orders. He refused to meet her. There was a wall made of falsehood, reputation, politics, intrigue and subjugation. Why only she should be held responsible for what has happened and punished. Rama, the great warrier, could also be found guilty of chasing a mirage of a deer and not rescuing her in time, after she was abducted. Who would bear the blame for these?
She had started her journey in search of Valmiki who had created her in the epic. Perhaps he could revise the incidents or show the way beyond as the one who created her. At the least he would save her reputation. She watched her sons in the middle of the night. They were pretending as if they were sleeping. They were worried about their mother. She tried to go out of the hut in the night. Both the boys got up and called her ”Oh mother, where are you going?”. She, without answering, returned to her bed. Three of them could not sleep for the rest of the night. On the morning, Lava asked his mother “Have you lost hope, mother? You had told us that Rishi Valmiki would be our savior. Why could not we wait to hear what the sage says? We could think of the next step after discussing with him”. Sita did not reply. Tears flowed from her eyes. She could tell her owes only to someone elder to her in age. Lava and Kusa were brought up as children of the king. They did not know the world and its ways. Even she knew only Rama and nothing else and he ditched her. Her children should learn from the society. That is what she desired.
Kusa, asked his mother “You said that this great sage was the author of our story, Ramayan. How could Ramayan be our story? It was about our father. We had all but small roles to play in the Epic. There are thosands of characters who had contributed to the greatness of the emperor and his achievements. We cannot claim sole credit for it. Why Mother, you were created? Is it only to bring glory to the emperor? Were we few of the bricks that built the great reputation of Rama? Having built the reputation, there is no need for us and now that we have been reduced to this, would not this affect the edifice, like those who sacrificed themselves in a war”
Lava, said ”Emperor Rama, for now that I do not consider him our father, could not have achieved many things without the contribution of many people. Even as we were not solely responsible for his achievements, had we not played our role? When he could patronize and reward the squirrels that helped him build the bridge to Lanka and even the people who, remaining within the palace, had started the rumours about our mother, could he not tolerate our presence in the capital. Exile is more dishonourable than the punishment of death. Whole of the country would be talking about our sin and shame.” Sita’s boys had been discussing this endlessly for many days. They could not be consoled by any reasoning.
Though, Valmiki was in a separate hut and not listening to their conversations, he could not sleep. He thought about Sita’s fate and the lives of Lava and Kusa. The greatest agony for a wife is husband’s doubt about her. At this age he could not recall exact verses or words in which he had described the lives of Rama or his family. Had he done some serious injustice to them? Were there some poison seeds in the character of Rama that he missed them or was it the public opinion? Having renounced the throne once for the sake of his father’s words, couldn’t he do anything for his wife in the face of spreading canards? He had ended the Ramayana with coronation of Rama. How was it that an event illogical to the spirit of the epic ruin the beauty of life of his characters? Had he in his enthusiasm for telling the story of Rama, forgotten to mention human frailities? If whatever he had composed had become true, could he revise the epic after the lapse of more than fifty years? Would this revision of his epic affect their real life? These were some of the questions that bothered him whole night. Even Valmiki was a human being. He was worried. At this age he had become so weak that he could not even think properly. Perhaps he was also feeling guilty for unwittingly doing something wrong in the epic.
Lava and Kusa were surprised that this great sage and a very humble, learned poet, wise and sympathetic to them, had never thought of anything bad about Rama. Their mother was innocent. Why was the king bent upon punishing her and them? Could anything that began as a virtue end in such vitriol? If he knew that all that had happened to them would happen, why did not he prevent them from happening? Or why in the first place he should create in his epic such endless suffering for a Lady who was goodness personified? Was it all simple for the sake of literature? Or Is he the God whose decision, irrespective of reason, is final? If he can create life out of his literature, surely he must have been the most powerful of the Gods and should be able to create a revised edition of the epic.
Sita and her sons were satisfied that they had come to the right place. But they were not sure that the sage would solve all their problems. Perhaps he could re-create situations in the epic in order to make them happy. The changes in real life would definitely follow. While God created them, it was he who essayed their lives. If only he could consider revising the epic and their life, everything could be as in heaven. They did not know that revising an epic composed by a poet at the height of his creative trance, when all his wisdom and knowledge about the world, Men and women and their characters and his perspective on life, were at work, is not so easy. The epic was written with his life and blood, virtually. But even though he composed the epic on their life, it is their life which is at stake? Is he not answerable to the fate of his characters Or to the fate of the human beings that are real?
Valmiki, wondered whether he could revise the epic to accommodate Sita’s desires and resolve her problems. How and when he could finish and complete the story of Rama and Sita? He knew that Sita underwent an ordeal of fire to prove her innocence. Still doubts had persisted. It might be that Rama was convinced but he did it for others so that his kingdom could be saved? Is it his throne? Is it a throne of betrayal? A king, whose wife was kidnapped and kept in prison by Ravan, and who waged a war and rescued her, killing Ravan, could exile his wife for staying in the very place where she had been kept as prisoner? Then why did husband rescue her? Is it only for establishing his courage?.
Valmiki woke up in the morning. Sita was missing. Lava and Kusa were searching her and crying. He could not do anything. He saw one of his characters vanish into thin air.