Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book Review : Sita's Sister

Title : Sita's Sister
Author : Kavita Kane
Publisher : Rupa
ISBN : 978-81-291-3484-4

So  many questions keep flooding a thinking individual's mind, more so after reading thought provoking books like Sita's Sister. What is just, what is dharma, which is bigger - a role or an individual, where does duty of one end and the personal space of another begin, who decides which role takes precedence over another, does love mean being someone's weakness or strength, should love surpass duty or the other way round, and many more.

Kavita Kane brings to fore one of those characters of the epic Ramayana who have grossly been ignored by the center stage lights. Urmila is often remembered as one of King Janak's daughters, Sita's younger sister and Lakshman's wife.  Paeans have been written about the sacrifices of the prime characters of the mythology in whose shadow many characters have been eclipsed. Lord Ram smilingly renounced his right on the throne of Ayodhya to follow the promise that his father gave to one of his wives. His worldly consort Sita gave a glimpse of her fortitude by choosing the same path for herself as was destined for her husband. Lakshman chose to let his course get automatically sealed as he could not think of not being with his elder brother during the exile period of 14 years.  Bharat decided to spend the 14 years of Ram's exile in complete abstinence of all royal pleasures as a way of his penance. These are the towering embodiments of ideals in the epic story, but often, the larger than life sagas end up neglecting the contributions of some, who silently bear the consequences of others' decisions and promises. Their greatness lies in invisibly supporting the main players.

In Sita's Sister, Kavita Kane has lent that missing voice to Urmila. The title itself is extremely well thought out, true to the life spent over-shadowed and outshone. Here Urmila is portrayed as a delicately beautiful, spirited young princess who knows her mind and has no qualms in voicing it too. She is not the one who wants to live in illusion or any make believe world. She comes across as an individual who acknowledges and accepts her situations gracefully - whether it is of being a second fiddle to the adopted elder sister Sita or submitting to the fact that her husband would remain committed to his brotherly duties over and above her. But this does not push her down rather she reciprocates the favour by being a source of strength for her loved ones.

She displays the mettle and the fortitude to provide the anchorage to her family whether it was her parental one or later her marital kinship. She tries her best to sew the relationships and while doing so, she poses some very pertinent questions from time to time. Her voiced displeasure on Bharat's decision of spending the next 14 years in Nandigram is clear example of her confident and intrepid nerve. She questions his dharma towards his wife Mandavi - '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 the husband. But is there no dharma of the husband for his wife?'

There cannot be any surprise on the plot front yet the narrative from the perspective of a different character makes it appear so very uniquely distinct.

Some other characters that make their presence felt significantly in the story are that of mother Sunaina and Lakshman. Though a queen, Sunaina is a mother first and wants happiness of her daughters even if it means disregarding the political bindings. The part where she confesses her conduct in front of Urmila, would surely touch readers' inner chords. 'Probably I expected too much from you. Or, because I felt you were mine, the daughter of my flesh and blood, unlike Sita or the motherless Mandavi and Kirti. That's why I was over-protective for them but harsher to you.'

Lakshman has always given an impression of being a person who is devoutly committed to his brotherly duties all through his life and his personal relationships and bonds never surface in prominence. But in Sita's Sister, he comes across as a person who is equally vulnerable and emotional as is any other individual. He also needs someone from whom he could derive his treasure of strength. To deliver on his lofty ideals, he depends on two women in his life - his mother and his wife. Separation from his wife is no less torturous for him either but he wants his 'Mila' to make it easier for him because he acknowledges what she is, in his life 'you are my strength but also my weakness'.

This story very strongly brings back the memories of MaithiliSharan Gupt's Saket, another must read by the connoisseurs of mythology and appreciators of subtle human emotions.

Kavita Kane's language has contemporary feel to it which makes the narrative more relatable for the present-day readers. Also, some of the questions that are raised in the narrative seem equally relevant. Personally I see nothing wrong in re-defining and re-analysing the age old mythology. I firmly believe that the way any story (epic or otherwise) is understood, analysed and presented has a lot to do with a myriad of factors - the time, and the prevailing mindset, customs and culture of that time. So when we experience almost complete metamorphosis of our society with time, perhaps mythology also looks for re-definitions from time to time. 

Cannot help quoting some pearls of wisdom from the book -

...when love surpasses duty, it is salvation.

Unhappiness makes us self-absorbed, it makes one think only of oneself- of the pain, and misery one is suffering.

Only with detachment one learns the value of love versus the range of emotions - exile from attachment. 

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