Goodreads blurb: As Sita prepares to go into exile, her younger sisters stay back at the doomed palace of Ayodhya, their smiles, hope and joy wiped away in a single stroke. And through the tears and the tragedy one woman of immense strength and conviction stands apart—Urmila, whose husband, Lakshman, has chosen to accompany his brother Ram to the forest rather than stay with his bride. She could have insisted on joining Lakshman, as did Sita with Ram. But she did not. Why did she agree to be left behind in the palace, waiting for her husband for fourteen painfully long years?
At the outset, let me clarify that one word to brieftly describe this book would be ‘mindblowing’.
While most regular readers of my blog would know that I am quite a big fan of Indian mythology and it therefore follows that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata remain two of my all time favorite books for multiple reasons. Of late, what has piqued my interest are the various retellings of these great epics by various Indian authors ranging from the extremely multi-faceted and knowledgeable Devdutt Pattanaik to personal favorites like Sharath Komarraju with The Winds of Hastinapur (read my review here). Almost all of these books, the good ones at least have always managed to rekindle my interest in the originals yet again and I tend to redouble my efforts to go back and revisit them. Sita’s Sister by Kavita Kane is truly a notable addition to this growing list of retellings and novels derived from these great epics.
Using Urmila, Sita’s sister and the wife of Lakshmana as her central protagonist, the author manages to convey the story of one of the most overlooked and probably the most under-appreciated characters of the Ramayana. Using information available in the Ramayana itself and also her creative liberty and imagination in trying to imagine the situations that Urmila found herself in, Kavita Kane manages to quietly but surely pull us all into her version of the palace of Ayodhya in the middle of the turbulent days immediately following Urmila’s marriage to Lakshman and takes us on what might have been her personal journey of fourteen years when her husband was on exile with Rama and Sita.
What endeared this book to me so much was the fact that the author has asked all those questions from Rama, Dasharatha and all the other elders of the Ishkvaku clan that probably all fans of this great epic have debated over the course of very many years; that of the fate of the women of the palace that Rama left behind when he went on exile, his mother Kausalya, Lakshmana’s mother Sumitra, Lakshmana’s wife Urmila, Bharata’s wife Mandavi when he decided to live the life of a recluse hermit in Nandigram for those fourteen years. Using Urmila as the medium to ask these questions, the author manages to put forth extremely pertinent points as to how the women of this epic suffered quite a bit due to the insistence of the men of the family to follow their dharma and perform their duties to their parents and kingdoms even at the cost of their mothers and wives. While these portions of the book deal with topics that could easily have been treated with a heavy hand of feminism, the fact that the author chose to deliver her questions and points extremely logically without resorting to ‘rabble rousing’ speaks volumes for her levels of even mindedness with which she understands and has handled these sensitive questions.
What also struck me about this book was the treatment of the main protagonist, Urmila. While most of us who have read the Ramayana earlier would probably have assumed a weak, moping wife who would have resigned to her fate and her dharma as Lakshmana’s wife, Urmila strikes us a strong, confident, independent woman from the very outset. Her loyalty to her sister Sita, even though she was adopted, her parents’ preferential treatment to Sita from a very young age, and her unflinching love for Lakshmana through the fourteen years of exile, are all brought out extremely poignantly and beautifully throughout the book.
Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.