Last week I was in Ubud Bali, Indonesia. One night I went to a traditional Balinese dance ceremony that told the ancient Hindu story of Ramayana. A story I was unfamiliar with, as I'm sure most are, but I'm surprised hollywood hasn't hopped all over this yet - it has everything in it, mythical creatures, gods, demi-gods, true love, kings, queens, princes and princesses, epic battles, long voyages. It's an exciting story, sort of a mix between Romeo and Juliet meets The Prince of Egypt meets 300...let me sum it up as best I can:
The story revolves around the two lovers Rama (the hero and Prince) and Sita (the heroine and Princess). A prequel to the action packed middle of this story involves Rama winning the hand of Sita in marriage by proving his worthiness to her king father. Like Hercules, or Achilles, he has a God-like quality and unmatchable strength that deems him neigh unbeatable by man. His weakness? Sita of course as she has the reputation of being the most beautiful woman in the world (who's the fairest of them all, am I right ladies?). They fall in love despite their marriage being somewhat arranged and for twelve years live happily together...until....
Rama's father, The King, is dying and intends to have Rama succeed him. The King however has four sons, from the three of his wives - [enter our evil stepmother]. The mother Kaikeyi blackmails The King into submitting to her demands - that her son become next in line to the throne, and that Rama and Sita be banished and exiled from the kingdom for fourteen years. The King dies soon after from the grief and guilt. Rama's other brother Lakshmana goes to help protect them during their banishment. They settle somewhere in a forest and a few more years pass peacefully before one day in town Rama catches the eye of a young woman, Surpanakha, the sister of the powerful demon-king Ravana (in some versions Ravana is said to have ten heads and resemble that of Medusa - frankly I picture him as Jafar from Aladdin, don't ask me why, my noodle is a strange one and it just popped in there... anyway....) She desires him for herself. When he respectfully rejects her "As you see, I am already married" she becomes obsessed. Surpanakha sneaks into their home and is apprehended by Lakshmana in an attempt to murder Sita, he cuts off her nose and she escapes, fleeing to her brother Ravana's kingdom. Upon seeing his sister mutilated he becomes furious and assembles his armies to kill Rama and his brother, then hearing of Sita's incredible beauty he decides to kidnap her instead and force her to marry him.
Ravana forces the help of Maricha, who has the power to change himself and his voice into any form he desires. Late one night, Maricha transforms himself into a golden deer to lure Sita away from the others. Instead Rama makes to capture it, they chase after it and Rama shoots an arrow into the doe and as it makes impact, Maricha's body is revealed, to their horror. Quickly realizing, the two run back to find Sita gone. Without turning this into a novel I'll skip ahead a bit - since a year passes inbetween as Rama sets off on a long journey through treacherous trails to rescue his love - he finally reaches Ravana's kingdom. An epic battle ensues by which, yes, you guessed it, Rama kills the great and powerful demon-king Ravana and they all lived happily....well....actually....not quite...
Sita is freed, and in tears leaps into Rama's arms. He too cries at the sight of her and falls to his knees. She goes to kiss him and then something happens.... he recoils, refusing to meet her lips. She is confused and doesn't understand, she looks up at him with watery seeking eyes. His eyes remain downcast and he whispers to her "It's been a year since you were stolen from me, and you've been here with that beast, how can I be sure you remain pure?" [insert moment where I begin to not like this story so much anymore]. She looks to Rama in disbelief, "Was it my choice to be taken? The monster carried me away against my will. While in his residence my mind and heart were fixed on you alone, only you, only ever, and always, you, my Rama, my love". His eyes remain down as he says "How can I be sure? It would be improper for me to take you back now". He stands and leaves her. So....she decides she must die, for she cannot live without him. Lakshmana builds her a fire upon her request, and she invites everyone to take witness: "If I am pure, Agni [The God of Fire], will protect me"
Now this is where it gets interesting because there are two endings to this story, or so I've been told. The one that ends happily, and the one that ends tragically and I'm sure you obviously know how it goes now.
Happily: Sita steps into the flames, which part from either side of her (are you thinking of Khaleesi? Yeah, me too) she remains unscathed and unsinged, Agni lifts her from the fire and presents her to Rama, proving her pure of body and heart...and yes...then....the happily ever after...
Tragically: Sita steps into the flames, burning, screaming in agony, as Rama enters the grounds to take witness at what is happening. As he realizes it is Sita burning in the fire he screams wretchedly and makes to save her, but is held back by his brother and the ten men it takes to restrain him. He falls to his knees wailing watching his love suffer and cry out his name. Not able to live without her, he kills himself (I told you, Romeo and Juliet). And then there's a moral of the story or something or whatever....
So, why am I telling you this story dear reader? You know, I don't really know the answer to that other than it really made an impact on me for some reason. I was watching these beautiful women and men dancing to music and instruments that made sounds I have never heard the likeness of before and hearing the story I was profoundly moved. In the ceremony they ended with the happily ever after ending, which understandably made the tourists very happy. However, I was sitting next to a woman and her sweet daughter, who didn't speak hardly any english but upon meeting me fell into my arms with a big hug and kiss on the cheek, and began teaching me how to dance (which for those who know me, is not an easy task..) and she told me that there was an alternate ending. Ever the nosey Manda, I asked her about it, and under hushed breath she told me of the tragic ending....and I knew right away that I thought that was how the story really ended. I like to pride myself on being an optimist, but there are times where I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel, you know? In my big little heart, I want so much to believe that the lovers end up together...but honestly, the moment he walked away from her when he thought she wasn't "pure" was the moment I decided Rama didn't deserve her. Demi-God? Maybe. Handsome? Yes. Strong in Battle? Sure. Good Lover and Provider? Probably. But still...he did not love her enough...not as she deserved...not as anyone deserves. All those wonderful things, and he'd spent an entire year devoted to her rescue and then upon seeing her, left, due to the fact she may have been 'sullied' by another man? No matter if it was against her wishes or wants.
More than anything I think I realized this couldn't be a true love story...not true love surely? No man ever leaves a woman he truly loves, values and adores. Ever. And the same goes for any woman. All of us...no person, leaves another person they want...if they don't want them...well then they leave. And it's hard because you usually pick someone you assume will stay, but some do and some don't and that's somehow okay because you grow from experience and do better the next time and the next and the next. As for me, I just have to believe what I want...and believe that when I find love again, that person would cross oceans or middle earth just for me, and kill a demon-king needing killing...or you know...draw me a bubble bath with Billie Holiday in the background, and nose kisses waiting for me after.... I'll take it.
On an unrelated note... Bali is incredible. I had the most amazing time there and I can't wait to go back! I always say Fiji is my home away from home because I grew up there...but man, Bali could be giving it a run for it's money I tell ya...
Well, it's 4am, I'm jet-lagged...again...and all nostalgic...again....I wonder if this is what I'll look like when I'm forty, curled up in bed with a computer or a book in my lap, pondering the existence of Prince Charming... Oh dear God I hope not.... Let's hope when I'm forty I'm on a beach somewhere in a two piece with a Mojito in one hand and a Hunter S. Thompson novel in the other thinking to myself "not bad"... with Johnny Depp or Tom Hanks lying next to me of course... oh but wait, when I'm forty they'll be 75! or dead... see??? Jesus...not. meant. for. this. generation. Can someone please invent anti-aging elixir? And not like those commercials of Jennifer Anniston or Ellen Degenerous talking about Anti-aging this and that... I'm talking like Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her Elixir okay?...but without the chipping part (sorry if you didn't catch that reference by the way, it's a cult film, and if you haven't seen it, well you're seriously missing out because it's just the best thing since Tim Curry's laugh montage.. )
Goodnight dear reader,
P.s. Tom, Johnny, If you're reading this... I'm sorry about the dead joke...I didn't mean it...you'll both still be rockin' my world at 70 and 80 and 108....I have this theory that the two of you might be super humans and are waiting till just before the apocalypse to save the human race from utter oblivion , or you're both descendants of the Dúnedain and will live forever... One can only hope. Xx