Thursday, 13 July 2017

Book Review: The Liberation of Sita by Volga.



Book: The Liberation of Sita

Author: Volga

Translator: T. Vijaykumar

Pages: 132 (the stories are only 72 pages long)

Publisher: Harper Collins India

Read On: Paperback

How Long it Took Me To Read: 1 day

Plot Summary: Valmiki's Ramayana is the story of Rama's exile and return to Ayodhya, a triumphant king who will always do right by his subjects. 

In Volga s retelling, it is Sita who, after being abandoned by Purushottam Rama, embarks on an arduous journey to self-realization. Along the way, she meets extraordinary women who have broken free from all that held them back: husbands, sons, and their notions of desire, beauty and chastity. The minor women characters of the epic as we know it Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila and Ahalya steer Sita towards an unexpected resolution. Meanwhile, Rama too must reconsider and weigh out his roles as the king of Ayodhya and as a man deeply in love with his wife. 

A powerful subversion of India s most popular tale of morality, choice and sacrifice, The Liberation of Sita opens up new spaces within the old discourse, enabling women to review their lives and experiences afresh. This is Volga at her feminist best.




General Thoughts: This book had been on my radar for a while. I had heard nothing but great things and had been meaning to give it a read for ages before I picked it up.

This was such a slim little book. A quick read for most part but full of deep philosophical musings. I read it in pretty much sitting on a rainy Sunday afternoon!

Things I Liked: 

1. I really enjoyed the writing style and the subtle but strong story telling voice. I loved Volga's view and her interpretation of the epic and especially of it's many women characters.

2. I have to be honest, the Ramayana is not my favourite epic. Not by a long shot. The Mahabharata has my heart and my mind. I find that as both an epic and a timeless tale, The Mahabharata is a more evolved and more relatable and a more robust story. I keep going back to it time and again and have read several re-tellings and re-imaginaing of it. I LOVE it. It is in some ways my favourite book.

The Ramayana never had a similar impact on me.
In some ways from a young age itself, the Ramayana rubbed me the wrong way.
While Krishna and his leelas and his charm and wit had me enthralled, Rama seemed at all times more human and less God. And a flawed human at that! He always seemed to me a little too weak and a little unjust, especially in his dealings with his wife.
So I haven't really read that much about the Ramayana. Because it was of very little interest to me.

This book however, I've enjoyed immensely, partly because it echoed similar sentiments I've harboured for year. The ill-treatment of Sita and her fate in the epic. This book not only focusses on Sita but also brings to forte several other women in the epic who met a not-so-happy ending.

3. The book charts Sita's liberation. Her change from a loved but naive princess to a woman who sees the world and those around her in their true light. Her journey and her enlightenment are shown so well and so gradually and realistically in this book.

4. While I did know of most of the other women in the book, I hadn't given them more than a passing thought, well apart for Surpanakha. It was really nice to delve into their hearts and minds and see Sita interact with them and learn valuable life lessons from them.

5. Surpanakha- the princess of Lanka. The woman who in some ways (some might say) started the great war between Ram and Ravan. But a woman who I've always found intriguing. When I was first told the story of the Ramayana and later when I saw the epic on TV, I always wondered why Surpanakha irked Ram and Lakshman so much? Why did they hate her so much? All she did was profess her love to Lakshman, was that so wrong? So abhorrent to the brothers that they had to cruelly disfigure her? Insult her and humiliate her and maim her for life. I always felt like that was a gross over-reaction.

I loved seeing Surpanakha in this book, in the very first chapter itself and it made me happy to see how she lived the rest of her days out.

6. The other women in the book, Ahalya and Renuka were people I only vaguely knew about. I knew a little more about Ahalya and her fate made me so mad. Why should a woman be punished for a wrong doing that wasn't even her fault? I liked that we got more into her story and saw things from her perspective.

Similarly, Renuka was an enlightening character to get to know, it also interesting that the man who had wronged her was her own son. A man she had given birth to and raised!

7. The chapter on Urmila was one of my favourites too. She is too a woman terribly wronged in the Ramayana. Left alone by her husband, so soon after their grand wedding, so he could follow his brother into Vanvaas always seemed quite cruel to me.

8. The book ends with Ram. A chapter dedicated to him and how he is someone who can never be liberated from his world. He is tied to the throne, to politics and his kingdom and how he can never do what he wants to do, his life is tied to his dharma as a king and a ruler of his people. His personal happiness and joys take a back seat and he is thus deeply trapped. And perhaps the biggest tragedy in the entire epic.

9. Apart from the women in the book and seeing their stories with a modern lens, the writer also looks at Aryans and their need to spread their way of life, by any means possible. And that the war in Lanka was just an excuse to capture a prosperous state and take it over.

10. These short stories though pretty concise and short were incredibly though provoking and philosophical and enlightening.

Rating: 4/5

I highly recommend this book and I am so glad to be reading more translated fiction!

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