The book starts off with a 7 year old Urmila playing hide and seek with her sibling Sita and their cousins. She’s searching for Sita and finds her in a big assembly hall where the children have been specifically told not to go by their father, the king of Mithila. She goes in to chide her but instead witnesses her parents walk in and bow down to an 8 year old Sita who is holding up a gigantic bow. A 7 year old Urmila doesn’t understand this but it shows their acceptance of a Sita who is the adoptive eldest child in the family.
We see them again as they are married off to brothers as teenagers and watch as they arrive at their new kingdom, Ayodhya where equality is a foreign concept. Where in Mithila women were considered equal here women are considered child bearing machines. Where earlier their words had a say now they were expected to stay quiet as the men folk do all the thinking and talking. After this one bit it is all about Urmila, her marriage, her relationships with her sisters, her parents and her in laws and how she, a young 17 year old, navigates the sudden horror that befalls her a mere 2 months after her marriage to Lakshmana.
Urmila as a character is usually ignored by us. We read about Sita, Rama, even about Hanuman but never about Urmila, the loving sister left behind as the older siblings go off into exile. For those that don’t know Ramayana is about an Avatar of Lord Vishnu, as Rama and his wife, Goddess Sita and what happens to them after they are exiled from their kingdom by an evil stepmother who wants her son, the second child, to be king instead of the firstborn. Rama, a dutiful son who refuses to go against his weak father’s command dresses in peasant’s garb and gets ready to set out and is promptly joined by Sita who is similarly dressed and insists that her place is by his side. They are joined by Lakshmana who refuses to leave his elder brother but he leaves behind his new bride because she will distract him from his duties towards his elders.
For those not Indian this may seem odd to you but India at that time was raised on a “Duty to Elders, Guru and God” philosophy. And many stories are based on corrupt elders who take advantage of this blind worship. As is this. And the story only gets sadder as it goes. Sita, as commonly known, is kidnapped by Ravana and Rama and lakshmana set out after them to save her.
The book is more character based and women centric than it is of the events that happened. It is the Ramayanam as seen through the eyes of the completely ignored Urmila as she suffers through fourteen years for her duty bound husband to come back home to her. During the time she does her best to make a Mithilan mark here, indulging her intelligence over her culinary skills and using her brains over looking beautiful and this was what made this book particularly enjoyable. While the pacing does go off at times and the writing does drag, the character study makes it all worth it at the end.
Urmila is a feminist in ways that modern feminists will love, ignoring Gurus who refuse to teach her because she is a woman and working hard to prove that she is equal to, nay, better than any male student. And this is what I love about Kavita Kane’s books. As in Karna’s wife, she focuses on the female characters we so love that are completely ignored by the male writers of yore. This is so necessary at this point when women are struggling for a right to do something as basic as worship at a temple and I cannot wait to read more books by this wonderful feminist author.
From the bestselling author of Karna’s Wife, comes this book about Urmila, Sita’s sister and the neglected wife of Lakshman, and one of the most overlooked characters in the Ramayana.
As Sita prepares to go into exile, her younger sisters stay back at the doomed palace of Ayodhya, their smiles, hope and joy wiped away in a single stroke. And through the tears and the tragedy one woman of immense strength and conviction stands apart—Urmila, whose husband, Lakshman, has chosen to accompany his brother Ram to the forest rather than stay with his bride. She could have insisted on joining Lakshman, as did Sita with Ram. But she did not. Why did she agree to be left behind in the palace, waiting for her husband for fourteen painfully long years?
*Review as told to me by my mother who read this book and loved it. She gives it four stars.