Is wicked so attractive that we are ready to forgive the transgressions so easily? It keeps happening: we remember Shylock more starkly than Antonio just as in a recent film a brutal invader (read Alauddin Khilji in Padmavat) and a wayward actor (read Sanjay Dutt in Sanju) become sympathetic heroes. Mythology has its share of bad boys/spoiled brats but never are they glorified to blanche the black.
The first person who comes to mind is Duryodhan, an entitled pampered prince and a classic case of a wrong kind of love creating a problem child. He is product of an indulgent father, (Dhirthirashtra born blind and blind to his son’s failings) an indifferent mother (Gandhari symbolically blindfolded, again blind to her son’s faults) and a poisonous uncle (Shakuni) who grows up in the belief that is he is privileged having special rights, advantages and immunities. Maybe he never received any kind of proper discipline growing up (despite the presence of Bhishma, Vidura and Dronacharya); maybe he was a rascal who learned to manipulate his parents into doing what he wanted, and the parents learned that it was simply easier to indulge him than to contest about it.
He is almost like a bratty little boy who does not want to share his favourite toy – the kingdom with his cousins, the Pandavas. Yet he demands the same rights as an adult and as a prince but is not ready to accept grown-up responsibilities.
And no one is allowed to say that’s a wrong moral stance to assume. All those who disagree with him are handed the royal dismissive treatment – be it Bhishma, Vidur, Dronacharya or Krishna. He listens to no one, arrogant in his belief that he will win, banking on that one single weapon which he knows will defeat the Pandavas – his partner-in-crime, Karna.
We don’t have to travel far in the other epic, Ramayana to find another spoilt brat who resent being told ‘no,’ is argumentative in all his eruditeness, demanding and wilful, ignoring parental and teacher’s advice, and falling into tantrums or rudeness if denied a request or desire: Ravana.
For all his wealth and wisdom, he is shown self-centred, excessive, narcissistic, immature, who show lack of consideration for other people, recurrent temper tantrums, and is unable to handle the delay of gratification. That he could not win Sita, makes him abduct her, desperately tries to woo her but never for a moment realising that he is taking a woman against her wishes.
That he could not win Sita, makes him abduct her, desperately tries to woo her but never for a moment realising that he is taking a woman against her wishes.
To what is attributed such a flamboyant villain? Maybe it’s due to a very loving mother (Kaikesi) and a very confining father (Rishi Vishravas). But blaming it as a failure of parents to enforce consistent limits is not what all these men are about – they are what they are because of their own actions, not anyone else’s.
Sometimes people just fail to develop into social or intellectual maturity. Samba is one such character. As the son of Krishna, he considers himself entitled, demanding the same respect and worship that his father had earned. The fact that he closely resembled his father, made him all the more believe that he was indeed the great son of a great father. Once, taking advantage of this resemblance, he impersonates his father to play truant in the palace. A furious Krishna curses him that his face would be afflicted with skin lesions, making them distinguishable to differentiate between the true Krishna and the false one, a precursor to his role identification: that he is the unworthy son of a worthy father.
But blaming it as a failure of parents to enforce consistent limits is not what all these men are about – they are what they are because of their own actions, not anyone else’s.
Samba grows up to be a nuisance to his father and the Yadav clan. He abducts Lakshmana, the daughter of Duryodhan at her swayamwar and wants to marry her, though she was not keen on him. He wars with the Kurus, gets arrested and it is only when Balaram intervenes, that Duryodhan releases him and is forced to marry his daughter to Samba, as no other prince was willing to marry her after her abduction for fear of the Yadav wrath.
Later, there is this instance where Samba disguises as a pregnant woman and to test the powers of some sages, demands to know the gender of the baby. The rishis are not amused by the prank and enraged at this display of arrogance and immaturity, they state that the bundle Samba used for the baby bump would turn into an iron mace that would eventually destroy him and his entire family. It does, proving Samba to me the nemesis for himself and his family.
Samba is the proverbial man-child, who never misses a chance to flaunt and abuse his father’s lofty status.
Samba is the proverbial man-child, who never misses a chance to flaunt and abuse his father’s lofty status. He is clearly shown as a weak, dissolute son of a great man who cannot handle the burden of his father’s legacy to remind that even if Krishna is divine, his son is not. Birth and worth are neither hereditary, an inheritance or heredity.
He is not entitled nor born to privilege yet he is a much-loved negative character who strongly tugs at the heart strings – Karna, the tragic and probably one of the most popular characters of the Mahabharat. He is brave, he is loyal, he is handsome, he is generous but yet he is not as noble as he seems…
The fact that he is a rival of Arjuna makes him immediately an antagonist, a man on the side of the wrong (his loyalty to Duryodhan). His vulnerability makes many a heart melt, but he is tragic also because of his flaws and a fate which come together to usher his downfall and eventual death. His white is effectively tinted with black but there is no glory in his greys. For all his story of a man denied of his rights, his anguished struggle for identity, he falls short several times in the epic but, most starkly at Draupadi’s vastraharan and Abhimanyu’s brutal death on the battlefield. Yet Karna remains one of the most unforgettable, adored characters of the epic. But the epic reminds us as readers that by not seeing the right in the wrong is a dangerous and naïve of looking at serious crimes committed by thinking adults who must be held accountable for their actions.
There are the spoiled girls too: Devyani, Surpanakha, Kaikeyi, most of them precocious princesses.
Such minxes with their characteristic flaws are numerous. Be it for their wilfulness (like Duryodhan, Devyani) or immaturity (like Samba) or they could be the sympathetic character we come to love (Karna). Sometimes they embark on a late-in-the-day coming of age story, which ushers them into true adulthood (like Yayati) where that rite-of-passage works only some of the time. In many instances, he is a womaniser (like Ravana) who sees sex as a tool of pleasure and power and does not recognize its emotional significance. Even when married, the wife (Mandodari) ends up being a mother-figure, not only to their children, but to him as well, bearing all the emotional labour to bring some semblance of peace into the chaos they create.
Kavita Kane writes a monthly column named Goddess of All Things for SheThePeople. Views are author’s own.