Monday, January 21, 2019

#630 : The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni : Review

An epic with countless versions, narrated in hundred of different ways to suit the reader - it is indeed a mammoth of a task to narrate it in yet another perspective. 

The version of Ramayana I read as a child was conspicuously devoid of certain emotions and events like the Agni Pariksha or banishment of Sita. It was a simple narration of a complicated story, narrated to ensure that a 10 year old understands the perils of stealing. As I grew up, I "heard" various versions of the same story narrated by my own mother and grandmother as a bed time story or mostly as a lesson to learn patience. However, none of the narrations bother on focusing the women of the story and their feelings. Sita was epitome of patience and virtue they said, while one not ought to be like Kaikeyi they said. That was the maximum attention they got. Kaikeyi did what a mother would do, yet she was vilified. Sita is portrayed to be meek when she agreed for the Agni Pariksha, but she did really wish to die in the fire. People conveniently  focus just on one person - Lord Ram.Time and again, one fact seems to have escaped from most of the narrators focus - If it weren't for Sita, there would be no Ramayana, if it weren't for Draupadi, there would be no Mahabaratha. 

With the high standards that 'The Palace of Illusions' set, it is natural of a reader to expect a work of such magnitude from this book as well.  She almost lives up to her own standards with "almost" being the key there. How do you narrate a story that's already widely popular, yet keep the reader hooked to the book? How do you ensure that you don't bring in shades of a very strong character from your previous book because that was a benchmark hit. You do it by sticking to the basics and keeping it simple. That's precisely the crux of this narration. 

Sita, as a character, is commonly described to be mellow but a strong person. Being mellow often translates to boring and weak. It is hard not to draw parallel to Draupadi who is portrayed to be feisty. The fundamental difference that is often used to justify this portrayal is that, Sita, is the daughter of Mother Earth, while Draupadi was the Daughter of Lord Fire. What one fails to realize is that, Sita was probably as fiery as Draupdi but in a different way. The writer has exploited this line of thought to the maximum.  But then, this isn't really a first attempt at writing a Sitayan. 

What particularly stands out is the who construct which feels mellifluous. While the writer has done abundant justice in making the women of the story heard, it all feels slightly single dimensional. Agreed that it was of paramount of importance to ensure Sita had all layers portrayed, but few characters could have been given those extra layers. For example, the bond between Sita and her sister Urmila, seems superficial as Sita feels over bearing whenever there is Urmila around. While it was interesting to read about Sita's mother, again, the angle on the bond that she shares with Urmila wasn't taken into account much. While it might not be very crucial to the story as such, it could possibly add to the very pleasure of understanding the women of Ramayana better. The surprise however was Mandodhari - Ravana's wife. That part was possibly the highlight of the book. The writer ensured to portray her beautifully.

One passage particularly made a realistic impression about Sita's mother when she sees her daughters off to Ayodhya,

"Draw on you inner strength. Remember, you can be your worst enemy- or your best friend.It's up to you. And also this : what you can't change, you must endure" 

The whole narration hangs on this very word - Endure. Time and again, Sita seems to be a personification of the word - the personification of every woman who endures all injustice meted out to her. While we have often looked upon Ram and Sita as divine beings, it was refreshing to read the human side of them - the one that I could personally relate to. Two particular passages I could connect with was (the first set in Lanka, while the latter set in Panchavati or Panchabati as the writer prefers - The Bengali version may be?!), 

"Once mistrust has wounded it mortally, love can't be fully healed again"

"How entangled love is with expectation, that poison vine! The stronger the expectation, the more the anger towards the beloved if he doesn't fulfill it - and the less the control over ourselves."

Sita's pain felt real, her struggle in the Lanka felt real, the torrent of emotions felt real - the writing was such. In spite of the minor qualms I have as reasoned above, the book was every bit a great read, with such vivid narration and complex emotions all centered around the biggest emotion of all - love. 

In times of such harshness, reading about truthful love feels heartwarming.  



  1. Very nice review , can you write review on my book ''QUOTATIONS & STORIES'' on amazon & flip kart.