Nation and Censorship: A reading of Aubrey Menen's Rama Retold

Rajorshi Das, Indraprastha College for Women


In Rama Retold (1954), a satiric retelling of the Hindu epic Ramayana, Aubrey Menen remarks – “There are three things which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. Since the first two pass our comprehension, we must do what we can with the third” (276). The contemporary Indian government invested in the task of nation building did not quite appreciate Menen’s right to offend and the book was abruptly banned in 1955, ironically by the champion of free speech, Jawaharlal Nehru. Menen’s text marks a significant rupture in India’s tedious affair with the figure of Ram as evident from its further politicization during the Ramjanmobhumi movement. By imagining the epic characters as less than ideal, Menen as an insider-outsider (born to Indo-Irish parents) not only questions the hallowed Gandhian notion of Ramrajya as an ideal democracy but also anticipates the making of a homogenous majoritarian nation-state that responds to irreverence and laughter with compulsory violence, administered by the state or otherwise. The purpose of my essay is to read Menen’s use of satire as a product of his queer anger that allows him to forge an intersectional alliance as also evident from his critique of British colonialism and caste hegemony in The Dead Man in the Silver Market. In Valmiki, Menen finds a comrade who was accused of killing a Brahmin and marginalized by their majoritarian worldview. He states: “generations of Brahmins have rewritten his (Valmiki’s) poem so that in parts it says the opposite of what Valmiki plainly intended…. I shall aim at reviving his attitude of mind” (6). Whether or not Menen’s alternate reading challenges the metanarrative and adds to the multiplicity of the epic, his sarcasm generates an anxiety of contagion ingrained in any monolithic understanding of myth or history. In this process, the “nation” itself becomes a product of surveillance and censorship excluding anyone or everyone who refuses to become the adarsh nagarik (ideal citizen).


Ramayana, Aubrey Menen, Censorship, South Asia, Nationalism

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