Harsimran kaur ON March 14, 2023, IN BOOK REVIEW, THE FOREST OF ENCHANTMENTS BY CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI-FICTION
Sita—the goddess to many, a beauty incarnate siphoned from the earthly crust and the glory of ‘Ram’ who dishonored her and banished her existence for the righteous kingship. She was the devilish charm of ‘Raavan’; she fought his intemperate cravings but could not entangle herself from the censorious beliefs that till today feed the priggish patriarchal structure.
Who is Sita after all?
- A banal woman who spartanly pinned herself to the idiosyncrasies of her husband, ‘Ram’—the ubiquitous preacher of righteousness and dharma.
Or a pig-tail of the insouciant societal rapines, never questioning the ‘decrees’ and ‘indictments’ that were like an arrow ricocheting off the ground.
Or a vandalized prisoner of the treacherous ‘Raavan’ where she lay ignominiously as a rattle-trap, imperceptibly fidgeting the retractable mind to be a solemn guardian of the impertinent holocaust around her.
This is what is perceived to be. But her entire story is a camouflage. What about her emotional ordeals? Less is expounded about her as a visionary who unequivocally harrumphed at the perfidy of the Universe. Her forest buccaneer shows her as a feeble, insipid and a subservient damsel who is entrusted with a life-long trajectory of being a fool to let two gallant men coil after the anthropomorphic deer to satisfy her invalid desire.
Chitra Banerjee, a passionate female writer, presents ‘Sita’ in all humility as a propagator of values and beliefs that are not inherent to social prejudices but an extravagant treat of inner truths and false assumptions that the society so innocuously gives a deaf ear.
The Forest of Enchantments is a reprise of the old epic tale ‘Ramayana’. It is told in the saccharine melody of ‘Sita’ who is regarded as the mute shadow of ‘Ram’. But the ‘Sitayan’ is a crisp tragedy of a woman’s life; a perfidy that boils from an excrescence of ‘Ram’s’ solipsism and a dictum that still holds true today—the pain of bearing in the womb is a woman’s trail of hardships to follow!
Chitra’s ‘Sita’ is intrepid and goes through recourse of emancipation every day. Ram’s banishment to forest for 14 years is not a recluse that is taken generously by her. She beats the drums infectiously for the sacrilege committed by ‘Queen Kekayi’, harrumphing that the arrest of human affections by pompous pejoratives conspires as a fall of trust and bonhomie. Though, she follows her husband to the forest as a call of duty and love but not without a clarion call to fight for injustice and aberrations.
Chitra’s ‘Sita’ is a vessel of forgiveness and a flagellum to swim through distress and dejection. She does so in the atavistic fragility of the forest not bereft of the Paleolithic simulacrum of the ‘man-gaiety’. Pillaging ‘Surpanakha’ off her nose and ears is a despicable act; she feels so and is virtuous to be true—a casus belli to the entire caravan of being abducted by ‘Raavan’, shadowed in the grimace ‘Ashok Vatika’ followed by the punctilious war of good over evil.
What about ‘Ram’s’ depredations to weigh her chastity in the fumes of his conflagrated ego and then ride her to the great sage Valmiki’s ashram for a repentance brusquely shoved off by her? Isn’t all this a misplacement of feminine emotions? Finally, Sita extrapolates her fragmented life and gives herself to Mother Earth signifying that no man ever in future should be a governing factor to malign a woman’s sanctity in favor of his questionable panjandrum.
Chitra’s ‘Sita’ and now our ‘powerful reflection’ is a smell of sweet flower that flourishes to scent the world with its love and magnanimity; audacious is the sanctimonious privilege of being a woman that questions the parsimonious roots of injustice and incommensurability.
Chitra’s Sita dreams for she likes to, to hold onto the future conversions that whip past her eyes. Even in the anguish procreated by the irreversible challenges, she dreams, a dream so serene of her longing to curve on the pristine bed of the castle, reluctantly acknowledging that the rough leaves in the forest don’t assemble as a great comfort to the body.
She dreams to be adorned and bejeweled as a Queen, not just for the material passions but to serve the people.
A woman—that what she is—though we have made her a goddess but her emotions live in her heart and mind, overwhelmed at one instance and retracted to a cornerstone in another.
She is ‘Sita’—indomitable and inspiring.