Compiled and Edited: Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal
Publisher: Penguin India
Publishing Date: 15 October 2009
We visited Hampi last year during the monsoons. While we were sight-seeing among the numerous temples and ruins there, our guide mentioned that there is a cave nearby where Sugriva, the Vanara King of Kishkindha had supposedly lived during his exile. Unfortunately due to time constraint, we couldn’t see it but it got me thinking of the Ramayana.
I imagined Sita being carried of by Ravana, his Pushpak Vimana hurtling across the blue sky. Her fury and agony at being aducted, Sita throwing her a jewelry in the hope that Ram finds it while searching for her, hoping against hope that he will find her and bring her home. Our Hampi trip was filled with long discussions of Ramayana and how it has shaped the Indian psyche. When we came back to Hyderabad I cam across Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal’s In Search of Sita.
In Search of Sita is a collection of essays, poems, interviews and various other creative interpretations of Sita. Some of you might think that isn’t it a little repetitive? Why are we still talking about a character from an ancient epic, someone who’s not even real? But Sita is an integral part of the Indian mass consciousness. Sita is the embodiment of womanhood in India. Since childhood, girls are taught to idolise Sita.
Sita has been the epitome of what an ideal Indian woman should be. Yet, there is no single version of her story. There are so many accounts in myths, legends, folktales and literature. Each connects her to the masses in different ways. The Sanskrit texts deify her, the regional variations portray her as human and the folk songs and ballads connect her sorrows with rural women. This has rooted Sita permanently in the Indian mass consciousness.
Submissive, sacrificing and unquestioning loyalty are some of the popular ideals associated with Sita. But what about the Maithili who could easily lift Shiva’s mighty bow? Where is that Janaki who courageously chose to accompany Ram in his exile? What about the Sita who refused to come back to Ram after her second trial? Why have we forgotten her? However we chose to present her, Sita has always exerted her powerful influence in all aspects of the Indian way of life.
In Search of Sita has a wonderful collection of essays and commentary on all aspects of Sita’s life. In the essay ‘Sita and Some Better Women in the Epics’ by Lord Meghnad Desai, we see a contrast between the women in Ramayan and The Mahabharata. In ‘The Day Of The Golden Deer’ Shashi Deshpande describes Sita’s emotions on her abduction. These are some of my favourite commentaries in this book.
All the works in the book present a different aspect of Sita’s life. An abducted goddess, a lonely wife, a single mother, alone and brooding but that spark of fire is always there. Her inner strength and determination is common in all the different versions of her life. In Search of Sita revisits mythology. It traces Sita’s journey and helps to gain an understanding into her inner world and her indelible impact on our everyday life. Reading In Search of Sita was an amazing experience for me. It is commendable how much research and hard work Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal have put in compiling and editing so many pieces of essays and commentaries.
To me, personally, In Search of Sita, served a different purpose. It made me think of female role models, gender roles and the subtle battle of women against patriarchy. In Search of Sita is the Indian idea of feminism, ground realities and Sita’s continuous relevance to Indian woman. This book has created a space where Sita can be understood, acknowledged, celebrated and even lamented.
In Search of Sita is for those who want to know and understand Sita and what she means for contemporary India. It’s for every woman and man who wants a deeper understanding of womanhood and femenism.