Title: Sita’s Sister
Author: Kavita Kane
Originally published: 2014
Publisher : Rupa
No. of Pages: 309
Sita’s sister and Lakshman’s wife…This is how most of us know of Urmila. Little has been written about her in the epic Ramayana. A young wife who was left behind in the palace as her husband went off to fulfil his dharma or duty above all else. Sita’s Sister is yet another book from the author Kavita Kane putting spotlight on a lesser known mythological character, that of Urmila, who is King Janak’s biological daughter and yet never called as Janaki- an epithet which was reserved for the adopted Sita.
After reading The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty, I wanted to read more of the author’s works mainly because I wanted to know more about these lesser known female characters. We all know the story of Ramayana and hold Ram, Sita and Lakshman in high reverence. However, the ultimate sacrifice by Urmila has been often neglected. Ram goes to exile for fourteen years at his father’s order and being a dutiful wife, Sita decides to accompany him. Being a devoted brother, Lakshman considers it his duty to follow Ram to the forest leaving young Urmila behind to look after the family. Urmila does her supposed duty with utmost sincerity while pining for her husband through the long years of separation.
Kavita Kane’s Urmila is bold and beautiful who longs for her husband and yet doesn’t let the long wait break her spirit. On the other hand, Mandavi, Bharat’s wife is embittered and loses all hope when she is also forced to live apart from her husband when Bharat decides to lead the life of a hermit in Nandigram till Ram’s return. Urmila engages herself in bringing some sort of happiness back in her grief-stricken family and at the same time, studies religiously under the wise gurus of Ayodhya to shine forth as an outstanding scholar herself.
Urmila is the lone feminist voice in the story who dares to question the norms. She is the outspoken scholar who questions the dharma. She doesn’t hesitate to question the brothers in the presence of entire family, elders and gurus when Bharat also decides to stay away from the palace. Fearing that Mandavi also faces the same fate as hers, she doesn’t mince her words and asks if the brothers have no duty towards their wives. She is fiercely protective of her sisters and thus can’t stay quiet when it comes to Mandavi though she herself has been a victim of the same cruel blow of fate. The author has done a commendable job in creating a strong character for Urmila who voices questions and puts forth concerns about the actions of brothers and its impact on the entire family.
Laksman’s character is also beautifully portrayed in the book. The budding romance between him and Urmila with the intense gazes, his unbraiding of her hair of fondly calling her ‘Mila’- It shows another side of Lakshman, that of a loving and devoted husband.
Kane has used a simple language with a modern touch. With a classical epic making the background of the book, one expects subtle and graceful words. And so the fast and pacy conversations come across slightly jarring considering that these are the character we have grown up revering. Imagine Lakshman angrily exclaiming ‘What the hell!’ on spotting Manthara in his palace! Equally upsetting was the way all the characters address each other on the first name basis.
Love, tragedy, anguish, hurt and the happy ending- the book has all the usual potboilers. The story is hurriedly fast paced once Ram goes into exile and I would have liked the book better if a little more time would have been devoted to those years of separation. Though it’s always better to read the epic to know mythology but sometimes it’s good to read the same tales from a different perspective. We are indeed flexible to allow such tales based on our epics to come to fore. And of course, the credit goes to the author to dig out such lesser known characters and bring out their stories so effortlessly and fluently. On the whole, a good and engaging read!
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