“ ‘Why can’t you be a dutiful son like Rama?’ – here is one common reference to mythology in everyday life that many, many Indians have heard in their childhood.” Paula Richman, acclaimed specialist of the Indian epics, joined LILA once again for a Special Lecture, searching, this time, for the contemporary insights ancient narratives can offer us. “Epics touch us, but too often they do in the form of two extremes: either we want to follow them literally, or we deny them altogether since they are ‘from another time’.” The tension is inherent from the very nature of epics: those stories narrate the lives of archetypes, ideal kings, ideal queens, etc., setting the bar high, indicating the path to an ideal life… but epics also contain very concrete and easily applicable messages, lessons that can help any individual in the small and big questions of life – millennia ago, just as today. Paula Richman’s presentation highlighted a few of these.
This was not supposed to be your habitual lecture. It could not have been. Daya Bai is much, so much more than a discourse. She is, to say the least, a model. A life, a lifestyle, a series of life decisions with as many confident no-returns as necessary. As many checkpoints left by life to verify that the force of her character is still there, firmly grounded and ready to face all the resistances, the fights, the abuses and the aggressions that our world produces when established orders are questioned. Here she was – tiny body, frail pitch. The hypnosis of an evening. A few minutes to recount some of the marking events of a life dedicated to causes – to the realisation of an ideal, in the most simple and practical forms, by living, by ‘becoming a local’ in villages of Bihar, of Haryana, of Maharashtra, of West Bengal, and finally of Madhya Pradesh, where she has been living with the Goondi people of the Barul village for nineteen years.