The Ramayana, one of the world’s greatest epics, is also a tragic love story. In this brilliant retelling, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni places Sita at the centre of the novel: this is Sita’s version.
The Forest of Enchantments is also a very human story of some of the other women in the epic, often misunderstood and relegated to the margins: Kaikeyi, Surpanakha, Mandodari. A powerful comment on duty, betrayal, infidelity and honour, it is also about women’s struggle to retain autonomy in a world that privileges men, as Chitra transforms an ancient story into a gripping, contemporary battle of wills.
While the Ramayana resonates even today, she makes it more relevant than ever, in the underlying questions in the novel: How should women be treated by their loved ones? What are their rights in a relationship? When does a woman need to stand up and say, ‘Enough!’
Disclaimer: I was provided with a Physical copy of the book by Harper Collins India in exchange for an honest review. However, all the thoughts, feelings and opinions expressed in this review are my own.
I was in Sri Lanka for my honeymoon; and as a curious Indian tourist who grew up with epic Ramayana and Mahabharata; I was of course curious about Ravaan’s abode in Lanka – and I was surprised to know that there has been no discovery of any castle or forts per say in Lanka to suggest the veracity of Lanka described in Ramayana is the same as the current country Sri Lanka. (I could be wrong, but *shrugs*).
But what has actually stayed with me is what our driver – cum – guide said –
“I do not know whether Ramayana is true or not; that is not for me to decide. What I would like is for you to think about virtues stated in Ramayana – what kind of man would you want? A man like Raavan, who went to war for the disrespect caused to his sister? Granted he kidnapped Sita; but never once did he treat her with anything less than respect and never touched her, for he didn’t have her permission?
Or would you want a man like Ram – a ruler whose trust in his wife was shaken by a simple comment by a layman; who never, once tried to understand the trails and tribulations that Sita went through as his wife, who valued the society’s opinions over his own marriage?”
And I have to tell you; this statement has colored my perception of my own society and my traditions.
“I wrote what the divine showed me.” He said.
“It must have been a God that brought it you then, not a Goddess. For you haven’t understood a woman’s life, the heartbreak at the core of her joys, her unexpected alliances and desires, her negotiation where in the hope of keeping one treasure safe, she must give up another.” She said.
The Forest of Enchantments is the first Sitayana I have read – and it’s a beautiful yet painful rendition of Ramayana, an epic every Indian grows up hearing about, in Sita’s words – the writing style of the author is what had me invested in the book beyond the plot.
A retelling, The Forest of Enchantments is a compassionate mediation of the sorrow and suffering of a woman living under the shadow of a man, who is considered to be a God, because of his virtuous attitude.
“Write our story, too. For always we’ve been pushed into corners, trivialized, misunderstood, blamed, forgotten – or maligned and used as a cautionary tales.”
Sita, here, is a woman who personifies the word “endure” – a standard that, till date, is thrust upon the women in the Indian society; to be considered virtuous or rather “perfect” female. Yet the strength that Sita showcases in this retelling, isn’t overt; but more of integrity and honor in face of the obstacles put in her path.
“Anything that makes us forget our true selves is a trap, princess – even something we love or define as beautiful.”
It is the writing style of the author that gives a strong credence to this retelling – the emotions felt by Sita is visceral, real and physically impossible to ignore – and while the promise of the author to also focus on the other women of Ramayana was not exactly fulfilled – this is one book I understand to be quite powerful and lyrical in putting forward it’s viewpoint.
“Love is the spade with which we bury deep inside our being, the things that we cannot bear to remember, cannot bear anyone else to know. But some of them remain. And they rise to the surface when we least expect them”