I have read, seen and heard a dozen odd versions of the Ramayan. But the simplicity with which Chitra Banerjee’s latest “The Forest of Enchantments” lays it out, completely won me over. The book is by far one of the best versions of the Ramayan I have some across. This retelling portrays not only elements of honor, love and duty, but it also brings out the inherent sexism that has prevailed in our culture since the times of the great epics. The Ramayan is surely no new story. We all know every bit of it- the marriage of Ram and Sita, their banishment to the forest, Surpanakha’s infatuation with Ram, the battle that followed and the final victory of good over evil. Yet, reading the book evokes an element of interest, keeping you hooked page after page.
In the voice of Sita
She is considered to be the immortal one. Abandoned at birth and found and raised by King Janak, Sita the Princess of Mithila is blessed with powers to heal. Thus, she is revered as the Goddess, though she considers herself a mere mortal like the others. The story told in her own voice charts the course of her life- her love at first sight with Ram, their subsequent marriage, her life in her new home in Ayodhya, her feelings and desire for motherhood, her anguish in captivity, and finally the sorrow that arises out of Ram’s suspicion on her character.
Gods when they descend on earth acquire a human form- a form that is characterized by human feelings and emotions of jealousy, suspicion and betrayal. Sita mirrors the women in society who often remain in the shadows of a man. She speaks of her own feelings, her love for her man, the sense of duty and most importantly her self-respect.
When does a woman say enough?
“…society will use my action forever after to judge other women. Even when they aren’t guilty, the burden of proving their innocence will fall on them. And society will say, why not? Even Queen Sita went through it.”
The Forest of Enchantments, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The book raises pertinent questions- What do women go through when a man is suspicious about her? What is the need for her to prove her innocence? How far must she go, before she stands up to say enough- daring to walk out of the whole relationship?
Sita undergoes an ordeal of fire to prove her chastity before she is accepted by Ram. But as a woman seduced by love, and unwilling to question the man, she forgives it all. Yet, when the man whom she trusted, the man she loved and forgave, banishes her away when suspicion grows stronger within him again, she must take a stand to say – “No more”.
From book cover to book length- Perfectly put
The Forest of Enchantments is a love story of sorts. It is Sita’s love, her courage to forgive and forget, and to stand up for herself. The book is enchanting in every way, with an almost lyrical prose that’s a pleasure to read. Blending in with the story are other characters we often hear less about- Urmila the doting sister, Kaikeyi misguided yet pulled by maternal love, Mandodri and the secrets she holds within and Surpanakha the woman who becomes the main cause of the destruction of Ravan. With the right momentum in the chapters the book ends on a perfect note. The last few lines tore me apart.
For those who loved Palace of Illusions, this book is a must read. For all others, well what can I say, but- Just read it!!!!
The book is available on Amazon in hardbound and e-book format.
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