Monday, January 12, 2015

Urmila’s Resolve: a review of Sita’s Sister





This book was reviewed by Trisha Ray.

The Ramayana is one of the oldest and oft reinterpreted stories in the world. Author Kavita Kane shifts the focus to Sita’s sister, King Janak’s firstborn Urmila. Urmila is feisty, fights for what she wants and fiercely protective of her elder sister. She is a complete contrast to the demure Sita. Sita’s Sister is a glimpse into her struggles to keep her family together circumstances split them apart and their loyalties are tested.

Urmila (or Mila as the sexy serious Lakshman calls her) has long been deemed the forgotten heroine of the Ramayana. She stayed behind as the man she loved left to protect his brother in exile. In some versions, the Goddess Nidra grants her wish and put her into a deep slumber in Lakshman’s stead. I, however, prefer Kane’s interpretation. Rather than simply falling asleep for 14 years (which honestly sound like the best thing in the world), Urmila helps Shatrugana with affairs of the state and prevents Ayodhya from falling into anarchy.

One of the biggest issues I have had with Ramayana is the uni-dimensional portrayal of the women- they are either pure and virtuous or evil and scheming. Sita’s Sister doesn’t abide by these character tropes. Instead the reader gets a nuanced and complex reading, especially of the often ignored women. We see Kaikeyi, Sumitra, Urmila and Mandavi in a new light. These are all women trying to be good, dutiful wives but they are betrayed repeatedly by those they love. Kane also doesn’t fail to emphasise that they were all accomplished individuals in their own right, learned and brave.

“Does the man have no duty toward his wife and mother? You may be the best of princes, the perfect sons, the ideal brothers, probably the ideal king too, but never the good husband!”

The structuring of the story is a bit uneven, where the two month courtship covers half the book but the 14 year exile is covered in a few chapters, but I can’t really blame the author for that since complete accounts of Urmila’s life would’ve been hard to come by. I am also not overly fond of the lengthy descriptions of Urmila’s curvaceous body and Lakshman’s dark brooding looks (and the slightly clichéd descriptions of love-making) but again, Sita’s Sister isn’t meant to be a romance.


What I truly did enjoy were those moments when Urmila would get pissed off with the status quo. She is portrayed not only as stunningly beautiful, but fiercely intelligent. She salvages Sita’s Swayamvar after Parashurama threatens Ram for breaking the bow, she manages to get the scheming Manthara exposed and justly punished and slowly brings the broken family together.

Sita’s Sister is a good read, with many great moments for feminism. It is a scathing critique of the subservient role women were expected to play, even in royal families. It is also, above all, a reminder that these people, elevated to the role of Gods and Goddesses, were ultimately human. They were far from perfect, they also doubted themselves, and they too struggled with their inner demons. Ram, for all his perfection, sent his wife unwittingly to her death. The great King Dashrath was torn by paranoia, the regal Kausalya was resentful, Queen Kaikeyi insecure. 



Sita's Sister is a Rupa publication, 2014
[This review was commissioned by Rupa Publications. Views are Trisha Ray's own.]


40 comments:

  1. I've read an earlier book by Kane 'karna's Wife' and enjoyed it. This seems in the same league. Thanks for the review. Will go get it.

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  2. Thats a really good review :-) Will try to get this book.

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  3. I have read Karna's wife and for some reason enjoyed it even more than Sita's Sister. I do like the fact that Kavita Kane does not treat her characters as Gods and Goddesses but like mere mortals with emotions. Liek Trisha said I like the way teh writer portrays Urmilla with not only a lot of intelligence but also as someone who has the gumption to stand up and speak her mind !
    Thanks Trisha for the lovely review !

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    Replies
    1. I haven't read her previous book, but if her treatment of characters is just as good as it was in this one, I may go get it :)

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  4. With all the events around, honestly, I have no appetite for books that have anything to do with religion.
    Regardless, you have a sharp eye and a nuanced pen Trisha. Always a pleasure reading you.

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    Replies
    1. No no, this book isn't about the religion but about her reading of the characters. You may still like it :)

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    2. Okay, will try it after I finish Gone Girl. And I feel the same way about unidimensional portrayal. Our tele serials still do it unlike other international sitcoms.

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  5. did not enjoy Karnas wife. This seems to be similar

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    Replies
    1. Can't comment on her previous work, but I quite enjoyed this one.

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  6. you know i had no clue even of SIta having a sister, so this is very interesting. Also I find a lot of stories are written for the sake of it .

    Most of the stories are of men.. but one needs to also know what happened ot the women, who were left behind, I think they did some amazing work and yet no one knows ..

    seems to be a good read

    Bikram's

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    Replies
    1. Exactly! It gives readers a new perspective on the well know characters, plus it sheds light on the often-ignored ones.

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  7. It sounds interesting, though not very surprising. After all, the flaws in Rama was a discussion for many decades and the rest of the characters definitely have shades of grey! Nevertheless, picking up a lesser known character and making her the central character certainly makes it worth a read!

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    Replies
    1. True. I do appreciate her focus on the female characters though, especially emphasising on the fact that they were all learned people with their own long list of achievements.

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  8. Good review.. motivates one to read the book.Thanks!

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  9. Sounds interesting ! Thanks for the review. Wasn't aware of Sita's sister.

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    Replies
    1. Welcome! And do read it- though not a mind-shattering one, it was a pleasant read.

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  10. "Sita's Sister" sounds like an interesting read. Knowing Urmila would be great. Will try to get a copy :-)

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    Replies
    1. The problem is that a lot of people aren't aware of Urmila or her importance. The title was probably chosen to catch the casual browser's attention.

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  11. You are welcome to view my tribute to you at
    http://matheikal.blogspot.in/2015/01/thanks-rekha.html

    ReplyDelete
  12. It is through solving problems correctly that we grow spiritually. We are never given a burden unless we have the capacity to overcome it. If a great problem is set before you, this merely indicates that you have the great inner strength to solve a great problem. There is never really anything to be discouraged about, because difficulties are opportunities for inner growth, and the greater the difficulty the greater the opportunity for growth…

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  13. In this article at the end some said ram sent his wife to exile this decision is not ram's it's king ram's decision and by doing this he swiftly shifts the blame on sita to towards him as a cruel man and break free sitas blame please understand

    ReplyDelete
  14. In this article at the end some said ram sent his wife to exile this decision is not ram's it's king ram's decision and by doing this he swiftly shifts the blame on sita to towards him as a cruel man and break free sitas blame please understand

    ReplyDelete
  15. Got to pick up one of kane's book and it was so awesome. Love his work!!!

    ReplyDelete
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