The context for this review- Alternate perspectives
The Puranas / mythologicals / epics have never been my favourite genre for reading – they tend to glorify our past, have a moralistic tone and are usually used to give justification for unjust practices, using the authority of religious and cultural sanction. For the very same reason I find re-tellings / alternate interpretations of this genre fascinating. The interpretations attempt to interpret the magic / fantasy in the stories in today’s real world terms; they demystify the supernatural powers of gods/goddesses and make them more human; they give voice to hitherto unheard voices. In the recent past there have been several such works that have been published and received well by the Indian public: the works of Devdutt Pattanaik (like The Pregnant King), Ashok Banker’s retellings of the Ramayana, Amish Tripathi’s “The Shiva Trilogy” and Anand Neelakantan’s Asura.
Similarly from a gender perspective there have been works that have looked at the female counterparts of the protagonists. In a recent article, Shaping Women Through Mythology: Women of the Ramayana, Sandhya Renukamba covers a lot of contemporary work that look at Seeta in a different light. “Seetayana – The Untold Journey” by Uma Sundaram is one such recent work.
Seetayana – storyline
There is nothing new in the story-line as such – the events and the story, I presume, are faithful to the original. The author draws from Rajaji’s Ramayana, Ashok Banker’s series on the Ramayana and a translation of the Valmiki Ramayana by Mamatha Nath Dutt. The opening chapter of the book has Seeta saying,
As is evident from above, Seetayana is a first person narrative of the story of Seeta and Ram as narrated by Seeta. Ms Sundaram takes us through the story through Bala kanda, Ayodhya kanda, Aaranya kanda, Vatika kanda, Yuddha kanda and Uttara Kanda. However we are treated to Seeta’s perception and thoughts as the different events of the Ramayana unfold, which may be in contrast to popular perception.
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- A version of Ramayana from Seeta’s perspective. Actually it is Ms Sundaram‘s perspective, which opens up the possibility that the epic is free to be interpreted as we deem fit. Ms Sundaram is successful in giving us an interpretation that is most suited to and reflective of the Indian society today.
- Both Ram and Seeta, despite their divine origin, come across as normal human beings.
- Surpanaka, Mandothari and Trijata are presented as strong women by their own right.
- I found the author at her best while capturing Seeta’s thoughts during the “Agnipariksha” and at the time the pregnant Seeta is abandoned in the forest.
- It gave me immense satisfaction to see Seeta emerging as a self-sufficient and successful single mother.
- The Kindle version with a bold font is pleasing to the eye.
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- I found the part from Bala kanda to Yudha kanda average and one had to plod through them – a tightly edited version would have been more readable.
- There were quite a few typos and errors – a round of editing would have removed the errors and also made the narrative more concise.
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- The author successfully creates numerous situations and conversations with which one is able to easily relate:
- Love at first sight when Seeta and Ram seeing each other for the first time.
- The anxiety of an in-love Seeta – whether Ram would be able to string the bow and win her at the swayamvar.
- Conversation between Kausalya and Seeta when Ram & Seeta are preparing to leave for the forest, reminds one of the uneasy relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.
- The anxieties of Seeta when she is captive in the Ashoka Vatika.
- Seeta’s anger and hurt at having to prove her fidelity/chastity.
- Seeta’s shock when she is abandoned in the forest.
- Her gradual coming to terms with the fact of being abandoned.
- The period of her confinement at Valmiki’s ashram before her delivery.
- Surpanaka’s straight-forward proposal to have a relationship with Ram and Lakshman. Rather than painting Surpanaka as an evil seductress, she is shown as coming from a society where this culture is accepted.
- Lanka being depicted as having a culture where women could also have multiple partners just like men. The author hints at the prevalence of a gender-equal society in Lanka.
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- Ms Sundaram lets off Ram easily despite his major “mis-deeds”, viz., putting Seeta through a metaphorical trial by fire to prove her chastity, and later abandoning her when she’s pregnant for a similar reason. Seeta doesn’t show resentment/anger towards Ram; I found this surprising, considering that Ram’s actions were directly responsible for her situations.
- On the contrary she misses him when the twins are growing up and feels sorry for him that he is unable to see their growing up.
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- The breadth of the canvas that Ms Sundaram has chosen to paint is huge; she has done justice to parts of it – those that may be relevant to a society in the throes of ideological change in gender equality. I am giving a must-read rating for this book, if only for the last 2 kandas.
Each has to live their own lives and find their own fulfillment – it is futile to expect somebody else to provide that.
Seetayana: The Untold Journey leaves one with a satisfied smile – after all the tears and heart-breaking moments of the past, being at peace with oneself is nirvana.
Amazon Kindle Edition
|Publisher||Self (Uma Sundaram)|