The launch of new book by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni made a huge splash on Twitter towards the end of last year or may be it caught my eye because I follow many authors and book publishers to get the book references to read in future.
But I had not read any of her books till then and decided to read one of her earlier book The Palace of Illusions as part of my year-end book reading binge. The book came recommended by many readers from my circle of both online and offline friends. Based on Mahābhārata, the story was narrated from Draupadi’s perspective. This book sets the tone of for all of Divakaruni’s future book – the story of a woman living in a largely patriarchal society.
The author’s new book promised to be her best till date. Based on one of the most popular epics of India Ramayana, it assured to tell Sita’s story Sitāyana and through her the stories of other women protagonists in the saga – bring a new meaning and definition to the character of Sitā to the readers.
This promise intrigued me enough to order the book, although there is another reason that would have made me read The Forest of Enchantments sooner or later. Over the last few years, I have been drawn to the influence Rāmāyana or Rāmā Kātha has had over the fabric of life in this country, and have been trying to read about its many dimensions.
Both the books left me quite unsatisfied as a reader – the book delves into the supposed feelings of the leading female character, their thoughts and how they adapt themselves into the palace politics but lacked the depth in defining their characters and how their actions or non-actions could have lead to a different course. It did not answer the basic question that how women, strong women at that, let themselves be used as a pawn in the scheme of things, why their needs have to be second place to the needs of men in their lives. How their upbringing, the education and values imparted in the growing years lead to the inhibitions that become part of one’s DNA and therefore, the way of life. They start questioning their feelings and motives of their actions in the larger context of protecting the feelings and emotions of other members of the family and sometimes, of the society at large.
The story of Rāmā is also currently being explored by another famous author Amish Tripathi through his multi-volume retelling of the epic – he has published two volumes till date, telling the story of the two main characters Rāmā-Sitā and releasing the story of its third main character Rāvāna shortly, before he delves into the combined narrative of all the characters. So far it is too early to rate the series in whether it attempts to answer the age-old questions for the readers of Rāmāyana and we will have to wait before declaring the verdict.
Meanwhile, I am starting on another retelling of the epic by another master Indian storyteller R. K. Narayan – based on the Tamil version of Kamban’s Ramayana. Maybe it will help answer some of the questions raised above or at least give a different perspective to the narrative.