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     Volume 4 Issue 46 | May 13, 2005 |

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Dear Devdas

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

I hate Devdas. Well, let me rephrase that a little. I love Shah Rukh Khan, I loved the movie -- in all its glory, but forgive me for saying this -- I just really hate Devdas as a character. Why, you may ask. He is the icon of broken hearts. His is the epitome of tragic love stories. He is the legendary romantic figure of Bengal. He is, after all Devdas. But I still hate him.

I didn't always feel this way. There was a time (shortly after the movie came out) that I was in love with Devdas. I wanted to be his Paro. I would even settle for being his Chandramukhi, because I loved Devdas so much -- to the extent that I was sitting at the dinner table with my father and stated very proudly to him that if and when I ever got married, I would name my first son (you guessed it) Devdas. I had thought at first that my father would be very proud of me. I was finally taking an interest in Bangla literature, and instead of talking about the Rhett Butlers and Mr. Darcys, I was referring to a character that he too, was familiar with -- one that he had grown up reading about. His reaction was not what I expected. He stopped eating, turned to look at me and said in a very deadpan voice, "Why would you want to name your son after a character who is famous for ruining the lives of two women?"

Well, I have to say I was dumbfounded. I hadn't thought of it like that. In fact, with the sounds of Dola Re forever playing in my head, the sequins of Madhuri and Aishwarya's costumes blinding me and the sheer brilliance of Shah Rukh being Shah Rukh, I had never really thought about the actual story or what it stood for. So, I read the book and watched the movie again.

It is fair to say that my father ruined Devdas for me forever. Dola Re sounded too happy and gave me a head ache, the brightly coloured costumes now seemed garish and cheap and although Shah Rukh remained Shah Rukh, I began to see a Devdas that I had never seen before -- the one that, as my father claimed, ruined the lives of two women.

He was spineless. Neither did he face up to his parents nor Paro. Instead he took the man's way out -- something that most Bangali men make a habit out of -- he ran. He ran conveniently right into the arms of beautiful courtesan Chandramukhi. At some point he ran back to Paro when he learned that she was marrying someone else. When she told him that it was too late, he decided to give to her a scar as a wedding present -- so that she would always remember him. Also part of this remembrance scheme was his dramatic death right in front of her husband's house, so the whole world would know their business and Paro would live her entire life never getting over her darling Devdas.

Why should we blame men for this? Women are responsible. We give them this right. In fact, society applauds men like Devdas. He is what we, in modern day times, would call a player. He had two women pining after him his whole life. He sure hit the jackpot there. Unfortunately, it is not only acceptable for men to be able to achieve this. Rather it is commendable -- job well done, handshakes all around, a pat on the back and so forth. Yes, this is our society. We commend lechers and exploiters. We are proud of these traits. That's just wonderful.

On the other hand (and it has to be said) if a woman were to do the exact same thing -- if a woman was, for example, Devdasi and played two men the way our Devdas played two women, would she be congratulated, applauded? No, but I will tell you what would happen. This society would call her a whore, a woman lacking in morals, a shameless hussy. Are you shocked? You should be, because it really is shocking how we have such obvious double standards and how normal it is for everyone to live under these standards.

People who are educated, literate, exposed to many different cultures and backgrounds, all have the same set of morals when they come back to Bangladesh. They share their ideas with the so-called society, because somehow, people lose their brains when they come across society. Isn't it true? Nobody thinks for themselves. They think what society thinks.

It does not matter who you are, how much money has transported you to how many random corners of the world, how much Star TV you watch, how many books and poems and autobiographies you have read. At the end of the day, if you claim to be an acceptable part of this society, then you have no brain, no soul, no nothing. You are left with an empty shell.

It's just a fictional character, a friend of mine keeps saying to me. Why are you making such a big deal out of a stupid character? But it is not the character. It is not the Bollywood movie, and it is not even Devdas himself. It is the concept that men can get away with doing so much damage and harm and women let them. It is the fact that men are seen as heroes when they exploit women, and the poor women who are exploited are often victimised in the process. It is the idea that men have become so superior in our society, that they are allowed to do whatever they want and women are left to burn in the pits of hell if they do the same. I understand that there are things about our society that we have to accept, because "that's just the way things are in our country", but honestly can we live with ourselves, being educated and somewhat liberated people thinking this way?

This is a country in which men and women walked side by side marching and protesting for our language and our freedom, where women have made such a difference in our history. Are we to be stopped because society won't let us move past this invisible wall that they created? No, I am not saying that I want all women to start acting like Devdas. But is it so hard for people to view wrong-doings equally, regardless of sex? Have we all become robots where we cannot judge things for ourselves? We have come so far, only to be sent back to square zero, because of what society thinks.

It is unfortunate that poor Devdas should take such a beating. He was such a pathetic character. At the end of the day, he was just another typical male -- selfish, selfish and more selfish. And it took another male -- my father -- to bring me out of my glamour-filled reverie to see it.

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