A story retold differently 
Reviewed by Chandni S. Chandel
Sita's Ascent
by Vayu Naidu.
Penguin. Pages 186. Rs 299 

Weaving fiction into sacred texts without hurting the undercurrent of religious sensibilities is a difficult task, the writer seems to have successfully weathered that.

She has retold important eventful episodes of Ramayana and has portrayed godly characters like Ram, Sita, Lakshmana as one amongst common people. A storyteller that she is, Naidu's book has a deep philosophy with a cue taken from our daily lives but set in rooms of legendary individuals who lived in the past.

Through stories that Valmiki and Lakshmana's wife Urmilla narrated to Lava about Sita's birth, the story of Ahilya turning into a stone told through Mandodri; the swayamvar story through the mouth of Soorpanakka, episodes involving Lakshmana through his own character, the author has added a different feel to epic storytelling.

Her subtle and unassuming usage of analogies, phrases, metaphors is a literary delight. Read this: inner courtyard of girlhood familiarity, urn of thinking, adolescent tantrum, mental trap, scaffolds of daily rituals, emotional geography, fine crystals of poison. Talking about Sita's pregnancy, the author says, “The foetus was the desire for life swimming in a limitless ocean within the universe of the womb”.

When Rama overheard the washerman questioning Sita's chastity, this is the expression the author uses: Rama's legs were like stone pillars, his arms heavy boulders and his tongue a frozen river.

There are morsels of food for thought in the book like a conversation between Sita and Lakshmana's wife Urmila: We associate somebody as a foreigner, when he behaves or acts differently, when we feel threatened by difference, we call it evil. Difference is not evil.

Coming from Sita, these views appear as coming from an ordinary Indian woman — Women have to change things around, our husbands's homes do not adopt us, we adopt them and create homes and families around them.

When Sita is telling a story to Rama about some domestic issue, Rama says “Stories must be told and shared so everyone can try to understand the experience of life from another point of view”.

Talking of reason of Sita's banishment from Ayodhya, Rama explained to Lakshmana, “It is not a rumour, but about challenging power with principle. If I don't put myself through this test how will people know that we are all subject to the principle”.

Effects of the global influence on the author's persona and work speaks in the way of her story telling, which is unusual of Indian writers writing on spiritualism or epics. In the notes at the end, the author sends an important message —“Endurance in women is interpreted as attribute of a 'victim', but Sita's life is a story of fortitude, resourcefulness despite being in circumstances not of her choosing”.