For the love of a ‘good’ woman

20 Nov

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So the Prince of Wales and his consort were in Sri Lanka recently to open the Commonwealth summit. A plethora of words have been written on the summit itself and the host venue, so I won’t contribute to it. In the middle of all that jockeying however, one fellow journalist found the time to update his facebook status with the observation: “Prince Charles had the best of both worlds. First he married the most good looking woman on the planet. And then he married the least good looking woman on the planet.”
And just like that, Sri Lankans endlessly debating the pros and cons of CHOGM were diverted into another endless debate: Who was better? Diana or Camilla?

Although the status got a phenomenal number of ‘likes’, the opening comments started out with politically correct ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ type admonishments. People said Camilla was lovely in her own way too, that it was what was in the heart that mattered and so on and so forth, chastising the journalist for his shallowness.
It was not long before the pro-Diana camp kicked in however. That Camilla had a ‘lovely’ heart was vehemently denied and both Diana’s looks and character were eloquently praised while the duchess’s was pilloried. It made for some amusing diversion in the midst of a fiasco-ridden week for Sri Lanka , thanks to CHOGM.

The lovely Diana whose memory still lives on

The lovely Diana whose memory still lives on


It got me thinking though. We in Sri Lanka are an ex-colony of Britain and a rather bitter ex-colony at that. Why, this many years after Diana’s death are not only the Britishers but even we, so interested in this topic?
It brought to mind my mother’s irritation over another long running debate that Tamils apparently love to have: Who was the better woman? Kannagi or Madhavi? To those who are not familiar with the story, this is based on the famous Tamil epic Silapattikaram, purportedly written in the first century AD, by a Jain prince.
In this story, the heroine Kannagi, a beautiful chaste woman loses her husband to a courtesan called Madhavi, yet never castigates him or bemoans her fate. Eventually Kovalan returns to her but the story ends in tragedy because Madhavi’s mother had cheated Kannagi of all her wealth and so Kovalan returns to poverty. All that Kannagi has left are her anklets and Kovalan goes to the city of Madurai to sell one of them, whereupon he is put to death by the King’s guards who are out searching for a thief who had coincidentally stolen their queen’s similar anklet.
The woman who had famously not gotten angry over her own husband’s infidelity now got enraged at an entire city of people and due to her ‘extreme chastity’ was able to set it on fire with a curse, thus reducing it to ashes.
Kannagi Amman statue at Marina Beach, Chennai

Kannagi Amman statue at Marina Beach, Chennai


Centuries have come and gone, perceptions on what it means to be ‘chaste’ has changed and changed yet again. Yet through it all, Tamils love to bring up this topic in professional debates: Who was the better woman? Kannagi the dutiful, uncomplaining wife or Madhavi the courtesan who dedicated her life to Kovalan, took no other lovers and eventually became a Buddhist monk?
The product of all that debating unfortunately is ultimately proving that neither woman was good, as each party tears down the character of the opposing camp’s heroine. Tamil intellectuals have called for the cessation of this particular debate topic, due to this.

Well, at least we Tamils are not alone. This fascination to endlessly debate the character of the women involved in a love triangle (while conveniently leaving the man out of it) seems to be a world-wide phenomenon. The Brits are not the only ones with a famous modern love-triangle, to entertain the masses and keep them divided forever more. America, not to be left out produced the ignominious Jolie-Aniston fiasco.

Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston


That’s another famous never ending debate whose central characters are much to be pitied. Not because of the unfortunate love triangle which they seem to have long since gotten over themselves, but because of the seeming inability of their respective fans to move on too. Poor Aniston and Jolie. Neither one can do something without the press trying to find evidence of a non-existent running feud between the two.
Recently it was reported that Jennifer Aniston hastily cancelled a flight she was booked on because she and Angelina Jolie had coincidentally booked themselves on the same flight. When the issue was brought to Aniston’s notice by an airline employee, she apparently cancelled.

Now, going by past reports, if the two had somehow ended up on the same flight, there would have been endless speculation about which of the women had deliberately tried to show up the other, through prior knowledge of the booking. Since Aniston apparently cancelled, it was accepted at face value that it was a coincidence – but then the speculation was about what she was running from, and whether she was still not over Brad Pitt.

A more literal case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ couldn’t be found. And in this case, even though a number of news sites reported it, the story very likely wasn’t even true in the first place. Aniston’s rep has denied any such booking or cancellation took place.

And the sultry Jolie

The sultry Jolie


Meanwhile in comments sections everywhere, the respective fans of both actresses duke it out with each other on who is the better woman. Some things it would seem, never change.
And where do I stand on all this? Well, I am generally one of those who roots for the wife over the mistress – but there is something I cannot help liking Madhavi on. She asked the one question that people throughout the ages often refrain from asking. That question was what prompted Kovalan the ‘hero’ to ditch her in disgust and go back to his long suffering wife. And what was this terrible question she asked? She asked why the man should be privileged enough to have more than one woman and get away with it without censure, while the women bore the blame?
The beautiful courtesan Madhavi

The beautiful courtesan Madhavi

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