Sita's Sister Paperback – Unabridged, 10 December 2014
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Conversation with Kavita Kane
PROLOGUE: THE FOUR SISTERS
‘That girl seems to have vanished into thin air! Where is she?’ Urmila could not contain the exasperation in her voice. Where was Sita? They were playing hide-and-seek and like always, the fun had dissipated from the game and it had become a mission to locate her elder sister. Her hideouts were as self-effacing as she was; Sita could come up with the most unexpected hideaways which took hours to track down.
Urmila found herself getting irritated; she was tired, her feet were hurting from running down the marbled corridors, climbing the pillared staircases and, the most trying of it all, searching for the hidden girl in the vast woodland that her father proudly called the ‘family’s garden’. It was a private forest. King Seeradhwaj Janak, her father—the pronunciation of which name was easy for Urmila as she was used to reciting Vedic verses every day—
might be one of the most prosperous kings and a respected scholar, but the environs he loved most were the expansive tree-studded greens that housed a million flowers, the little girl thought part sourly, part affectionately. It was her favourite haven too—one in which she could duck easily and remain untraced for hours together. Like Sita was doing right now…
Urmila’s aching feet reminded her that she was digressing and she had still not found her hiding sister. She was not going to accept defeat—Urmila’s tiny, stubborn chin rose belligerently. If she could mine out her cousins Mandavi and Shrutakirti (condensed to Kirti by her as she found the name a tonguetwister) from their respective hideouts—a tall-trunked, highbranched tree and a chest—she snorted derisively, she should be able to track down Sita too. But Kirti was just seven, two full years younger to Urmila’s wise nine, and Mandavi was the same age as she and they had been easy to uncover from their hiding posts.
Sita, however, was a year older, and that’s why she managed to select the most fetching places to hide, Urmila seethed. Behind the rising annoyance, however, was a tremor of worry that was shaking Urmila from her feigned anger. Where was her sister? Sita might be a little timid, but she was very strong in the face of mishaps and crises. Had she fallen? Had she hurt herself but was stifling the cry of pain lest her hiding hole was discovered? Had she fallen unconscious? Was she bleeding? Where was Sita?
‘You worry too much about her, Urmi, nothing has happened to her!’ Mandavi’s sharp voice cut short her perturbing thoughts. As always, Mandavi had astutely voiced her inmost fears. ‘Come, quick, let’s go to that hall upstairs—that’s the only place we haven’t checked.’
‘But we are not allowed to go there…,’ lisped Kirti, her big eyes widening.
‘Yes, and Sita being such an obedient girl would not break the rule. Why would she hide there when we have been forbidden to go to that wing of the palace?’ Urmila said uneasily knowing she would not hesitate to break any such rule. For Sita, she was ready to earn her father’s wrath.
‘I want to go to father! Let’s tell him we have lost Sita…’ Kirti was going to burst into tears any moment now. ‘Cry baby!’ Mandavi laughed scornfully.
‘No, dear, there’s nothing to be scared of,’ Urmila bent down and gathered her little sister close, giving Mandavi a quelling look. She could hear her youngest cousin’s heart thudding noisily, her slight body trembling against hers. ‘Why don’t you go to Ma and tell her we are here? And bring along uncle too…’ ‘Urmi, we’ll get into trouble…’ Mandavi said warningly. ‘We are already in deep trouble,’ Urmila retorted, her voice hardening, the fear spiralling fast to engulf her. She saw Kirti scrambling away as fast as her short, plump legs permitted her.
‘Let’s go find Sita,’ said Urmila, taking Mandavi’s hand. The two small girls ran up the high steps of the wide, curving stairway in a hurried rush to locate their missing sister. They had to find her soon, Urmila thought furiously, as she peeped into each room and found it dismayingly empty. ‘She’s not here in this room too…!’ Mandavi looked shaken, her face white. Urmila could hear the tears in her voice.
They came to a huge, carved door. It was the door to the room the girls had been warned never to enter: the sacred hall. It was shut, but not locked. The girls stood looking at each other, undecided and wavering. Would Sita be inside? That thought propelled Urmila to push at the door. It did not budge. She pushed it harder, with all her hope, might and urgency. Mandavi pressed on with her slight shoulders. They felt the door move and slowly swing open. The girls rushed in, their eager, scared eyes scanning the long, pillared hall.
‘She can’t be here! How could she have got inside if both of us together couldn’t open that door?’ Mandavi whispered urgently.
‘Let’s leave fast…before we are caught!’ ‘No!’ Urmila’s hand snaked out swiftly to catch hold of Mandavi’s wrist. ‘We have tried every room, every nook, every corner…she must be here. Sita has to be here!’ Urmila said chokingly, the tears welling up in her eyes and throat. ‘Sita! Sitaa!’ She screamed, her voice hoarse with despair. ‘Come out…please! Where are you?’
Her voice echoed distantly bouncing off the high domed ceiling. Her eyes barely noticed that the hall was extraordinarily long, lined with a row of carved chairs on either side, along the column of pillars. Urmila was staring far ahead. At the far end of the room was a throne, perched high over a long flight of steps. At the end of the steps and just in front of the throne was a lowlying long table on which was a huge iron box and peering into it was…Sita! ‘Sita!’ Joy and sheer relief gurgled out as a squeal from Urmila’s throat. She ran towards her sister, wanting to hug her fiercely. But she stopped. The sight before her was too much to behold. Were it not for the solemnity of the occasion, Urmila would have laughed aloud; it seemed that ludicrous. Sita was holding an enormous bow in her hand—it was gigantic, considering Sita’s elfin frame, towering high above her. But she was holding it effortlessly in one hand; peeking inside the massive casket in which the bow must have been previously placed. She was obviously searching for something. ‘I can’t find my play ball,’ cried Sita, looking distressed. ‘It must have fallen in here when I climbed into this box to hide. Oh there! I found it!’ She almost swooped on the ball, which lay in the inner niche of the armoury box, the huge bow in her small hand swaying dangerously. ‘Be careful,’ Urmila shouted instinctively. As an answer, Sita carefully placed the tall bow back into the confines of the strong box with one hand and, skilfully scooped out the ball with the other. Noticing that the table—which was actually an elongated cart—was slightly askew, the meticulous girl that she was, Sita promptly straightened it with a nudge of her knees. ‘How did you do that?’ blurted Mandavi, her eyes shining in wonderment. ‘It looks sooooo heavy…it must weigh a tonne!’ She was gazing at Sita with newfound awe.
Sita shrugged lightly and said, ‘Let’s go…we are getting late. Ma will get worried!’
Suddenly realizing the reason of their presence in the hall, the series of events came rushing back to Urmila and flooded her with trepidation. She was about to retort tartly when her angry words were silenced by the sight of her parents and her uncle at the bottom of the steps. Her heart sank—now for the collective reprimands, she thought in dismay. But the harsh words were not uttered. Instead, all three adults seemed thunderstruck, carrying the same frozen expression on their faces which Mandavi had had a few moments ago. That of sheer awe.
Her father walked slowly up the steps, his eyes filled with a strange expression. It was more than amazement; Urmila could not figure out what, or possibly she did not know the right word to describe that emotion. She saw him folding his hands and bowing his head in…reverence. Her mother and uncle followed suit, folding their hands in veneration as well. But why, Urmila looked puzzled. Why did they have that look they reserved for the deity of Goddess Gouri in their beautiful temple in the garden?
Urmila did not have an answer. But she was more thankful that she had escaped the stern rebuke from her parents. She sighed happily and ran to her sisters.
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- Publisher : Rupa Publications India; First edition (10 December 2014)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 8129134845
- ISBN-13 : 978-8129134844
- Item Weight : 336 g
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 2.03 x 19.81 cm
- Country of Origin : India
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If I had to use a Jim Gordon reference from Batman, The Dark Knight, “Urmila is the hero Ramayan deserved, but not the one it needed at the time. So they let her endure. Because she could take it. Because she wasn’t their hero. She was a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.”
Sita’s sister is a fresh take on Urmila’s life. Urmila comes across as a free willed, spirited individual who valued knowledge and saw life in its right light. This version of the story appealed to me far better than the popular one where it is said that Urmila had gone into a deep slumber for 14 long years so her husband and young prince Lakshmana could fulfill his purpose of serving his righteous elder brother, Ram.
In Ramayana, “Duty” plays the biggest part. Duty towards your parents, your teacher, and your society. Fierce and ever protective of her sister Sita, Urmila goes that extra mile and questions Ram about his duty towards Sita. This for some reason satisfied me simply because I had the same questions when the age-old myth was told a million times through a variety of perspectives and no one ever bothered asking the simple question, “If it was worth it all?”
I had often wondered what had happened on the other side of the story, in the palace once Sita, Ram and Lakshmana had gone off into exile. What did the other two brothers go through? How did the mothers of the four princes manage anything at all with their King long dead and their sons gone? This book has given me a look into the other side of the story and for that, I’m grateful.
What worked for me in the book was Kavita’s way of keeping things simple and not going the long way glorifying the legends. She treats each of her characters as simple humans that had to deal with human struggles and emotions.
I absolutely loved how Urmila or Mila as Lakshmana called her had the courage to deal with her situation with so much grace. Sita may be the ideal wife and the ideal daughter but Urmila is shown as the lioness who is ever so protective of her family. One cannot overlook the way in which the author has managed to let her readers get a deeper glimpse into the various emotions of Lakshmana which are often overlooked. Kavita portrays Lakshman as not just the dutiful brother but also a simple human who is vulnerable.
Another aspect that truly appealed was how Kavita had managed to give us a meaningful glimpse into the lives of the characters like Kaikeyi, Sumitra, Kousalya, Sunaina and Mandavi. These characters like that of Urmila are often neglected and very little is known of the kind of people they were. Kavita has shown how each of these women had constantly tried to stay dutiful and stood by their dharma in spite of their circumstances.
The book could have done with a more attractive cover and maybe some structuring. The time frames in the book revolve extremely fast for a few important events. I understand that this is a work of fiction and not much is said in the traditional works of Ramayana about Urmila which makes it difficult to portray. I was left wanting for more in a few parts of the book especially in the parts where the epic war between Ram and Ravan was happening. Very little has been spoken of the kind of turmoil that the family or Urmila in particular must have been subject to at the time. Also, the ending could have been better and when I say this, I wasn’t expecting a happily ever after. Maybe, I just wanted an ending that genuinely satisfied me, good or bad. The ending was too abrupt for me to realize I was done with the book.
Ramayana is one of those stories that is re told in numerous ways and from innumerable perspectives. You cannot expect a different narrative or any major twist from the traditional tale. This book however, gives you a convincing new perspective. It is a good read and will not disappoint you.
Final Verdict: I have 3 words for the book and the lead character “Bold and Beautiful”
mythology is a critical subject and more critical is it’s retelling as if you do not know the tale properly and cannot narrate it in a gripping way then the reader would not find it interesting. I feel it is just a cup of tea for Kavita Kane for retelling mythology.
the book is the story of Urmila and along-side Lakshmana-maybe somehow, he is also given some more importance- told in a new twisted and poetic way. the book focuses on lesser-known characters like Manthara- the woman who conspired against rama, Aswapati- the father of kaikeyi, Bharata and Mandvi- the son and daughter-in-law of kaikeyi, Kaikeyi- the second and favourite wife of Dasaratha and finally the most beautiful of all Urmila, herself.
the best part of the book is its beauty in language and gripping narrative. I felt that the beauty of the language and strong vocabulary of Kavita mam makes the book, truly a “masterpiece”. one cannot put down the book if you have started once. although the book is of 300 pages, you would at least two days if you are a fast reader- for completing the book, for you need to understand each line along with its difficult words.
for the narration, it is just mind-boggling. the way she captures each character and emotions in her pen would leave you enthralled.
the book is a fiction and it totally stands for its genre. you would read new tales like the secret of Kaikeyi and how she makes rama go into the forest just for killing Ravana, the story of Urmila not sleeping for 14 years but rather acting as an uniter of the family and the one who handles the situation and turmoil very well.
another perk of the book is its philosophy. you would see a lot of beautiful ideas of philosophy hidden within tales. the way the fights are metaphorised- the most beautiful of which is when Ravana is unable to pick up the Shiva Dhanush, and the other scenes are explained truly captures the full attention of the reader.
the ending is just mesmerising, the way the author makes it a conclusive one by explaining how Urmila had faced the fiercest pangs of separation unlike sita- who had her husband with her and unlike the twins Mandvi and Kirti who had their husbands with them may be far but still close makes it hit the right note.
the book shows two phases of Urmila, the first as a daughter and scholar- the scenes are when she goes to the brahmayagna of her father as an independent scholar and even as a daughter when she laughs, giggles and cracks some jokes. the second is the rebellious part, in which she debates with Kashyap for her rights to speak in front of men and others. the book totally is a worth reading. and if you have not read it, it is totally your huge loss.
overall the book is in simple words a “masterpiece”. a perfect tapestry of myth and imagination.
imaginative. intrigue. intense.
I would recommend the book to all the mythology lovers and to everyone who loves fiction and I am sure they would love the gripping story.
This time around the author brings to life the character of URMILA-Laxman's wife and Sita's sister. One of the best books in mythology in terms of writing style, language and content. We just flow with the character and are able to connect with her at every step and yes! It makes for a truly fascinating and memorable journey!