I find Vibhishan’s very name odious. Bhishan means terrible, Vibhishan means especially terrible. That is exactly how I see him. If he was going to rule the people of Lanka by terrorizing them, that was a poor way to rule. Rama was responsible for foisting a lousy ruler on the poor people of Lanka. A poor decision, as I said.
Clearly Ravana was an impulsive fellow. Of all the women in the world, he set his eyes on Sita, who happened to be Rama’s wife. That was not a smart move. There were plenty of pretty girls who would given their right arm to marry royalty. Instead Ravana settled on somebody’s wife. Not just any body, another king. With lots of soldiers, as many as four brothers eager to fight, and a whole lot of other resources. Moses, even while lost in the desert, made it a point to tell his people not to covet another man’s wife. Clearly, Ravana made a very silly choice. But that is how some people are, very emotional, ready to lose their head over a pretty woman they don’t even know.
What did Vibhishana do then?
He abandons his brother, goes and joins Rama and his horde, and fights against his own brother, Ravana. This really takes the cake. I cannot imagine a worse act of treachery.
I have two brothers, and none is a lesser rascal than the other, in their own unique way. From poetry to politics, woman to whatchamacallit, on no conceivable subject can we ever reach agreement. But, to abandon my hell-bent brothers for that reason, would be unforgivable. Let them go to perdition, I will, reluctantly of course, go with them. That is what being a brother means to me.
When I was a kid, I read E. M. Forster’s classic declaration, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” I heartily endorsed it and believed in it. In fact, I completely disgusted my colleagues in the diplomatic service, all eager to display their patriotic fervour, when I cited it as my cardinal belief. If it is that important not to betray your friend, it must be just as important, if not more, not to betray your brother. Vibhisan does a double betrayal: he not only betrays his brother, he chooses at the same time to betray his country. He well knows that the ensuing war will devastate his country, but he goes ahead anyway, joins the enemy and fights against his own country.
A turncoat is a despised species in all lands. The name of Mirzafar has become synonymous with the act of treachery. Vibhishan was just that. From a perverse sense of virtue, he left his country and joined those bent on attacking it. But far more perverse to me is his abandonment of his brother. If his brother Ravana did not listen to him, it was his obligation to persist in an effort to change his mind, in the same way that it would be my duty to keep persisting with my brother if he were an alcoholic or a drug addict. It would not do to simply give him a sermon on addiction and move on.
Rama, our putative hero, shows a great lack of judgment when he accepts Vibhishan as a respectable friend. He should have accepted Vibhishan only as a strategic ally, for purposes of the conflict ahead, and cast him aside the moment the conflict was over. The British people demonstrated acute insight when they accepted Churchill’s leadership during the World War and promptly repudiated his empire-driven ideas the moment the war was over. Rama, to his eternal shame, did not show such insight and planted on defeated Lanka precisely the traitorous man who had betrayed his brother and his country. A bad decision all over.