Book: Sita’s Sister
Author: Kavita Kane
Publisher: Rupa Publications Private Limited
Genre: ‘Epic’ Mythological Romance
In One Line: The untold love between Urmila and Lakshman – revealed!
Note: When the story is based the Ramayana, it is difficult to do a book review in the traditional format. After all, I can’t really be commenting on ‘plot setting’ and judging if Mithila and Ayodhya have been amply described or not! Not much can be said about ‘characterisation’ either because that has already been done eons ago.
What Kavita does in this book is to use her artistic license to create a picture about a character who has often been overlooked. So, most of my comment for this review would hover around her style and consequently questions that one asks once the read is over.
Ramayana is all about Ram and Sita. All the rest of the characters are woven around them. But they dim when contrasted with the two central characters. That’s where ‘Sita’s Sister’ becomes different because Kavita Kane breathes life into a character who has remained in the shadows in the epic and who one doesn’t often talk about. Urmila. King Janak’s first ‘real’ born and Lakshman’s wife.
While Ram accepts the exile, Bharat chooses abstinence, Sita turns into the dutiful wife, Kaekyei gets labelled as the woman who played a game to save Ram, Ravana becomes the symbol of demon-hood, Hanuman flies with the mountain and even the hunch back Mathara gains importance in the epic because of her manipulative ploys; there are many who get neglected. Their misery, worry, anger, because of the decisions of these few larger than life characters, get ignored. Urmila is one such. Their greatness and the support that they lend is overlooked and lost in between the lines of the epic tale. This is what the author brings out. Deftly and innovatively.
The Book’s Style
Ramayana has always showed the women in a uni-dimensional form. Either they are an epitome of virtue or they are scheming women. ‘Sita’s Sister’ brings about a freshness in its approach. The women are shown to be both brave and vulnerable; scheming and yet virtuous.
Secondly, we know who the characters in the epic are. But Kavita makes them more believable. While the mind is aware of the four sisters from Mithila, because of the author’s potrayel, we imagine them in a more believable fashion. Be that the ten year old “wide-eyed, lovelorn idiot” Sita or Urmila asking herself “would hatred be easier than loving?” when Lakshman is preparing to leave her for the 14 year exile.
Often, many in the pic have been elevated to the role of Gods and Goddesses. This book turns them into humans. Ram is found struggling despite his perfection, Dashrath almost paranoid when Ram leaves, and Kaikeyi insecure and ultimately a broken woman.
The language used by the author has its pros and cons. While the modern day wording helps the reader to read the book easily; on the other hand, at times, it becomes a little difficult to imagine the likes of Ram-Lakshman-Sita and the other use such lingo (or even be described thus). For example, ‘being dolled and decked up’.
Also, some phrases have been over used like ‘colour flooded her cheeks’, ‘said huskily’, ‘opened her hair pin’ etc. It gets a little monotonous.
One can’t change the plot in a story like this. One would dare to! But the story flows in a fast pace because of the narrative style that the author adopts. The language is modern and that makes all the characters more realistic. For example, the way the conversations have been presented is in a fashion that we speak today and not as one would speak many years ago. Also, the show of emotions is what one can identify with it in the current age. When she writes how Lakshman opens Urmila’s hair pin or how he uses his thumb to caress her wrist, one is likely to feel that he is reading a modern day romance and not really about Ramayana. Then, of course, there are her one liners and short paragraphs that I simply loved. Being the complete romantic that I am, this is my favourite:
“I love him too much to let him go. I love him too much and accept him with all his conditions. And I love myself too much to suffer again the misery of being without him. I am lost without him and I am ready to take what I am left with.”
The one flaw in the narrative, however, is the structuring of the story. While half the book is about their courtship, the exile period is rushed through. Although the author has said that information about Urmila was hard to come by, nevertheless, since a lot that’s been penned is based on the author’s imagination, a more paced out structuring might have kept the flow evebly paced.
I believe the title is a deliberate one. A way by which the author tries to tell us that those who stay in the background are as important as those who hog the limelight. It is her way of telling us that those who remain quiet should also be given attention to. After all, Urmila has always been known as Sita’s sister. No one really recognises her lineage and calls her Maithili, Janak’s first ‘real’ daughter, Lakshman’s wife or even Urmila! Let alone, ‘Mila’ that her husband addresses her by. But, that I guess, is the author’s modern day thought process of addressing the wife by an endearing name.
Urmila’s black and white sketch shows the poignancy on her face. And is the picture of the trio on their way to exile done on purpose in such a way so that Lakshman is found on the front cover while the husband and wife have been sent to the back? After all this book is about the former!
Thoughts in my Mind When I Closed the Book
What Is The Real Dharma?
Ramayana has always spoken about dharma. But what is the one’s real dharma? Is is the duty towards people and society or towards one’s loved ones?
Does Love Make One Weak?
When challenging times arrive, can love keep one going? Or does one buckle under the pressure of the expectations that it brings with it? Does one really need to live under ‘false hatred’ to carry on? Can’t love keep one alive?
What Is The Husband’s Duty Towards His Wife?
Ever so often the Indian society has told the woman what her duty towards her husband is. But what is the reverse? We find Urmila questioning it in her vehement way when Bharat goes to bring Ram back but decides to become an ascetic when Ram refuses to return. “We have talked about all sorts of dharma – of the father and the sons, of the king and the princes, of the Brahmin and the Kshatriya, even of the wife for her husband. But is there no dharma of the husband for his wife? Of the son for his mother? Is it always about the fathers, sons and brothers?” This makes the story more acceptable in the modern day where the feminine gender is always wanting to find their voice in the patriarchal society.
When We Have Nothing Else To Blame, We Blame Fate!
If marriages don’t take place when the nakshatras are auspicious then it spells doom, curses of Gods that can’t be undone, and evil demons abounding everywhere – right from the days of the Ramayana to ‘Sita’s Sister’. Is it our fear that makes us blame situations on a ‘non existing’ invisible hand called fate that we give different terms to? Thankfully, somewhere, the author’s voice is also heard. Especially when she makes Lakshman tell Ram, “don’t blame it so conveniently on Fate, brother.”
When One Loves, Then She Just Loves!
When it is true love, the the heart just knows of love. It doesn’t demand the same from the other. When Urmila marries Lakshman, from the beginning she knows that she is ‘second’ or when Sita says, “I love him. I have to marry him for myself. To make myself happy.”
Are All Decisions In Life Due To A Personal Reason?
Often we take decisions in the name of politics, religion, career etc. But, somewhere aren’t, all these personal? Just as Urmila says; “everything, Gurudev, has been personal here, every single political decision.”
Everything Seems Perfect From The Outside
When we are going through a troubled phase in our life, we tend to think that the other person is living a better life. But, on closer inspection, a crack, no matter how small, will be found everywhere. This is what Kavita Kané shows us by removing the shrouds of idealism from those who the world know as ‘great’.
There’s A Little Evil In All Of Us
Mandavi gets influenced by Manthara and speaks ill of her sisters. Ram asks Sita to give agnipariksha a second time. Truly, a “little evil residing in all of us” is very correct.
The Family That Holds Together Lives
When Ram, Sita and Lakshman go for their exile, when Bharat decides to become an ascetic, when Dashrath dies – the family is all set to break. But Urmila holds them together. With her grit she manages to bind them together. But it all ends again when Ram decides to make Sita go through the agnipariksha again and kills Lakshman because he broke a rule. For how long do rules hold? Till when do they hold supreme? Is a rule always over a family?
My Reaction When I Finally Closed The Book:
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