- Paperback: 136 pages
- Publisher: HarperPerennial; 1 edition (22 August 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9789351772484
- ISBN-13: 978-9351772484
- ASIN: 9351772489
- Package Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 1 cm
- Average Customer Review: 51 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #53,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Liberation of Sita Paperback – 22 Aug 2016
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About the Author
Volga (Popuri Lalitha Kumari) is a noted feminist writer in Telugu. Her nearly-fifty publications include Svechcha (Freedom, 1987; novel), Rajakeeya Kathalu (Political Stories, 1992; short story collection), Neeli Meghalu (Blue Clouds, 1993; edited anthology of feminist poetry), Charitra Swaralu (Voices of History, 2001; play), and Maaku Godalu Levu (We Have No Walls, 1989; feminist essays). She has translated Agnes Smedley's Daughter of Earth (1929), Nawal El Saadawi's Woman at Point Zero (1975), Oriana Fallaci's Letter to a Child Never Born (1975), and also the script of Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982) into Telugu. Among the many awards she received are the Nandi Award for the Best Story Writer (the Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1998), the Best Woman Writer Award (Telugu University, 1999), the Suseela Narayana Reddy Award (2009), Kandukuri Veerasalingam Literary Award (2013), the Lok Nayak Foundation Award (2014), and the Sahitya Akademi Award (2015). She is currently the Executive Chairperson of Asmita Resource Centre for Women, Hyderabad. T. Vijay Kumar is Professor of English at Osmania University, Hyderabad. His research interests include postcolonial literatures, the Indian literary diaspora, translation and educational television. His has co-edited Globalisation: Australian-Asian Perspectives (2014) and Focus India: Postcolonial Narratives of the Nation (2007). He has translated into English (with C. Vijayasree; 2002) Kanyasulkam, an early 20th century Telugu classic by Gurajada Venkata Appa Rao. He is one of the founder editors of Muse India: the literary e-journal and a director of the annual Hyderabad Literary Festival. C. Vijayasree (1953-2012) was Professor of English at Osmania University, Hyderabad and Director, Osmania University Centre for International Programmes (OUCIP). Author of nearly twenty books and fifty research papers, she was well-known in the field of postcolonial studies. Her publications include Suniti Namjoshi: The Artful Transgressor (2001), Mulk Raj Anand: The Writer and the Raj (1998), Writing the West: Representation of the West in Indian Literatures (2004; editor), Nation in Imagination: Essays on Nationalism, Sub-Nationalisms and Narration (2007; coeditor).
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When I had bought this book, I thought it would be a re-telling of Sita’s life after her abandonment by Rama. But what I found in it was something very different - a collection of 5 stories, with 5 different female central characters, who had minor roles in the Ramayana, retold from the point of view of Sita, and the impact it has on her as she tries to make peace with the life she has been given.
The first narration is “The Reunion” centering on Sita’s chance encounter with none other than Shurpanakha. When Luva and Kusha first tell Sita about a beautiful garden maintained by a mutilated woman, a woman with holes in the place of her nose and ears, Sita instantly knows that it must be Shurpanakha. Asking her sons to take her to the garden, Sita comes face to face with the former princess of Lanka and discovers the woman she is now, mature and wise for her age. Sita is surprised to learn that the woman, who was a victim of the patriarchal rivalry between two kingdoms, has come to forgive them both and accepted what fate has given her. Of course the maimed one has had her share of struggles, the hard truth of looking at herself in the mirror and finding a reflection that is disfigured, from being the envy of other women to a hideous one, from having lovers to finding herself all alone, but she wins over her negatives to emerge a stronger and beautiful person from within. Despite the fact that her beauty is no longer with her, she meets her soulmate in Sudhir, who respects her for what is under her skin instead of what is on it. Having conquered her humiliation and rage over it, Sita finds Shurpanakha to be at peace with what she has created, focusing her energy on creating a beautiful garden which she considers her child. It is her that makes Sita think about her sons and realize that the non-dependent joy which Shurpanakha has is much more satisfying than what she herself has.
Sita first meets Ahalya during her exile in the forest with Rama. “The Music of the Earth” retells the story of this accused woman, a woman who is found guilty of infidelity and cursed by her husband, when the imposter Indra, ever so lusting after her takes his place and has her. Though we have been told that the woman pleads with her husband to take pity on her and soften the punishment, this version throws light on Ahalya’s self-respect. Throwing caution to the notions of female chastity, Ahalya tells Sita that a woman’s loyalty is not the issue, but what is, is that a man’s ability to question and put it to test, be it for any reason. Advising the exiled woman to not bow down to any such demands ever in future, Ahalya leaves Sita bewildered. It is only after her fire trial and later the abandonment by Rama that Sita understands the truth behind the words Ahalya spoke to her years ago. Now, crying in the older woman’s lap in the ashram of Sage Valmiki, Sita knows better than to grieve over spilled milk.
After her son Parasurama beheads her at the orders of his father, her husband, Renuka takes to the forest where she is saved by a group of people. Now years later, when Sita comes to her shrine, she finds herself fascinated with her. “The Sand Pot” is the encounter between Renuka and Sita with the former giving an important lesson to the latter, that of self-identity. One fleeting moment of temptation for another man led to Renuka’s character being questioned, years of her loyalty to her husband and her love for her son, all lost in that single moment. Wiser from the experience, she advises Sita to free herself of any boundations to another person, anchoring herself will only mean heartache. Although Sita doesn’t like her advice, she does understand and find it useful when she gives her sons to their father and is called upon to claim her position in front of the entire court, which she refuses saying that it isn’t necessary. Cutting off all ties with them and she goes back into the embrace of her mother.
The namesake story of the title of the book, “The Liberated” speaks of the meeting between Sita and Urmila after the elder one returns from exile. On knowing that her beloved younger sister has not been in touch with anyone since the day her husband left her to accompany his brother and herself, Sita is devastated and immediately rushes to meet her. What transpires leaves Sita to astound. Having isolated herself in rage over her husband’s behavior, Urmila soon realizes that she can’t do anything for what has happened, but only change the way she looks at it. Her feeling of anger, jealousy, sadness - all relates to being dependent on her husband, which she ultimately breaks free off by meditating for the past 14 years and finding solace within. When Rama does the Aswamegha Yagya, Sita worries herself over the fact that the said ritual needs both husband and wife to be together to be able to perform. It is then that Urmila asks her to let herself go off the shackles that are still binding her to Rama, whether or not Rama has taken another wife should not be a concern to her. This meeting with Urmila ultimately allows Sita to liberate herself from Rama and establish her own identity independent of any man in her life.
“The Shackled” is the last story to be told, however, it doesn’t include Sita in its active form. Having handed over their sons to Rama, Sita refuses to come back and goes back to where she came from, to her mother Earth, liberating herself. On the other hand, Rama, who has always been bound by dharma since birth, leaving the years when he was in banishment with his beloved Sita, finds himself yet again bound to their sons for the sake of the kingdom, to rear and bring them up as worthy rulers in future. Though Sita herself gains liberation, she sets the path for her Rama too, of breaking the bonds when the time comes to hand over the reins to Luva and Kusha. Who knew that Rama, who protects his kingdom, will have his protection from his wife?
While reading through the stories, I found a beauty in the language, as if I was reading some poetry. The flow was smooth and easy and I was floating with the words. The characters of this collection are interpreted in a way that is new to me. Leaving the conventional notions behind, the author sketches the women in a manner that is unheard of - strong-headed, independent and content with the way their lives have turned out to be. Repeating myself for the nth time now, I don’t know how much truth is held within the pages of our mythological epics, but what I know is that they do hold great wisdom. With numerous authors trying to interpret the characters in their own way, it does get a bit complicated to choose one’s own favorite, but this version, hands down is my best read till date. The concept resonates with me and is close to my heart, having become closer after this read.
All the stories, though speak about different incidences in Sita’s life are bound by one ultimate goal, that of steering the daughter of the Earth towards her liberation. Each holds a concept that is crucial in a woman’s journey, beauty, fidelity, chastity, motherhood, and independence, from the time of being born to the day she dies. The other females, all victims, and sufferers at the hands of the patriarchy, knowingly or unknowingly, make Sita realize the importance of self-realization and an identity independent of anyone else, be it her father, her husband or her sons.
Liberation of Sita is a fresh take on Sita's story. Picking up at different points in her life, the author creates a narrative between Sita and several other female characters from the epic Ramayana, treating these key moments in her life in a new light to help her understand the implications of the trials she has borne or will bear. There are many many layers in what is such a simply written no-frills narrative.
"Volga does not use re-visioning merely as a strategy to subvert patriarchal structures embedded in mythical texts but also as a means to forge a vision of life in which liberation is total, autonomous and complete."
What I loved about this book was the solidarity shown between Women, often books tend to show females as envious creatures who can never have true friendships or meaningful relationships with each other, here we see the opposite, and that in itself is much more realistic and beautiful. The book shows how women help each other and come together in times of need.
The only minor drawback I feel is the translation, it could have been a little better in places but it’s still a wonderful book, I'd still urge people to pick up this tiny book and give it a read. For those of you who are not familiar with Ramayana, Volga gives enough background to each character and events that it won't be an issue.
Years later, Sita tries to find her solace in bringing up her twin sons in the ashram of Rishi Valmiki. During this course, she meets four astonishing women who have freed themselves from the norms of society to grow intellectually and realize their lives truest meaning.
Sita’s encounter with each of these women teach her to embrace the flames of her past and dance in the ashes of every bridge she had ever burned only to rise above all to emerge as a phoenix.
In Surpanaka, she discovers a woman who has conquered her rage and revenge. Years after her humiliation and mutilation, Surpanaka recovers to create for herself a state of inexpressible joy by cultivating a beautiful garden. Through this experience, Sita learns that “Beauty is not a physical attribute but the truth of nature.”
Sita’s meeting with Ahalya enlightens her about the complexities of the society’s notion of female chastity. According to Ahalya, “the core issue is not that of female fidelity or the lack of it but of a man’s power to put it to test.” Sita realizes that she could only understand the true essence of these words when she was asked to face the trail by fire. From Ahalya, Sita understands the value of letting go of her past, observing the nature and evolution of life and most of all understanding that Sita belongs to the whole world and not just Rama.
From Renuka, Sita understands that it is futile to bulwark a woman’s identity in her marital status or in her motherhood. Years later, Sita realizes the implicit meaning of these words when Rama gives her the opportunity to return to the royal household only on the condition that she declares her innocence in the royal court. Sita however, does not feel the need to put in such an effort and instead to resigns to join mother earth.
In Urmila, Sita notices how the self-imposed penance for fourteen years have evolved Urmila to understand the depth of emotions, feelings and relationships. She recognizes that Love, hate, jealousy and respect are nothing but the shades of the same condition, which is dependence on others. Urmila advises Sita to meditate, look within herself and find the truth inside her.
In the end, we are also given a glimpse into Rama’s struggle, his vulnerability in bearing the crown of nobleness. His inability to break free from the norms and jurisdictions that are placed by the society. He realizes that his political power, his family and relationships have only chained him stronger to the Arya Dharma. Eventually, Sita hands over their children to Rama as the heirs of Ayodhya and liberates herself. But, Rama still remains shackled. He realizes that women are no longer means to serve someone else’s needs, nor are they prizes in men’s quest. They are instead questers seeking their own salvation. A few words from the book that elucidate this,
“Devoid of Sita’s support, Rama tasted defeat for the first time in his life. By refusing to bow down to external authority, Sita had fully experienced, for the first time, the inner power of self-authority.”
Volga’s idea of “Revisionist myth-making” is what caught on to my attention. Her ability to look back, critically examine and give a fresh perspective to an old text is truly commendable. While she does this, her objective is not to only to subvert the patriarchal structure that is embedded in the books of history but also to forge a vision of life that is liberated, autonomous and complete.
This is not the story of Lord Rama’s wife. This is not the story of the princess of Mithila either. This is the story one women journey’s inward to realize her truest potential. While some women fear the fire in this arduous journey, this is the story of how Sita chose to become the fire.
Final Verdict: Read this book to get an ultra-modern perspective of the various relationships we hold in life.