The Forest of Enchantments
The Forest of Enchantments, a book on Sita written by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was one of the most awaited reads of 2019. I have read a few books on Ramayana, including Ramcharitmanas by Tulsidas. And even used to have occasional discourse on the Ramayana with my grandfather. Yet The Forest of Enchantments has been new to read. This was probably because it was Sitayan, not Ramayan.
Creative Juices Flowing Like Never Before
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni follows more or less the original story line. No deviation there, but yes she has generously and liberally used her creativity and imagination to create scenes, to build scenarios, adding some of her incredible touch and treatment to the already known characters and plot which did wonders to the story line.
I can’t help but compare Chitra’s Sita with Amish Tripathi’s Sita in his Ram Chandra series from the book Sita Warrior of Mithila. Both the authors have modernized the character of Sita. Their Sita is intelligent, a warrior, speaks her mind, fearless and feminist.
Yet, as a woman, I could identify only with Chitra’s Sita. She was shown as a warrior, but Chitra’s Sita was also a nurturer, a healer and a nourisher.
How much a woman becomes modern, running a household and child rearing is primarily a woman’s task. Chitra’s Sita doesn’t shy away from it and was also efficient in handling court politics as well as politics in relationship.
Chitra’s Sita was an endurer, but she knows exactly when and where to draw the line. She loves with all her heart, but she was not a puppet of someone’s else will. She knows how to sacrifice and she also knows how to live her life with a free will.
Sita as portrayed in The Forest of Enchantment was ideal yet flawed, that’s why believable and relatable. You can laugh with her, marvel at her skills, cry with her and at the end of the day her feminism is more adaptable in our real world.
She was also fashion conscious. She longed to return to the comforts of Ayodhya after completing the exile of fourteen years.
Amish’s Sita seems to be far fetched, Marvel’s Wonder Woman, like a superwoman. I can’t identify with her. All her extraordinary fighting skills, manipulative and diplomatic tactics, she was an alien to me.
The author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has done a remarkable job in giving a human touch to the story. The transition from the comfort zone of birth house to the uncomfort zone of husband’s house after marriage has been realistically narrated by the author.
If you are married, then will instantly connect with the post-wedding blues of a bride in a new place surrounded by strangers, which Sita also goes through. There are many similar things in the book, which you as a woman will instantly connect with.
Like Sita coming back from exile and immediately started taking care of the household chores like cleaning and putting palace in order. It is very woman’s thing and I think women readers will easily connect with it. We all do it immediately after coming back from a holiday or so.
Best in Business
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has a wonderful writing style. I can see you nodding your head in consent. But the way she keeps improvising and renovating her narrative style is commendable.
Many a times it happens, author’s keep churning out books written in the same voice and style. So much so the novelty factor goes for a toss.
Not in the case of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She keeps innovating her style by using various writing techniques. As a consequence, all her books appear to be fresh and unique. The scenes and episodes in which Sita was originally not present comes to her as dreams and vision. I loved this thinking of the author.
Love in Various Shade
I am sure while writing the Forest of Enchantment, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni must be in her most reflective and perceptive mood. Through Sita, she had observed various shades and forms of love. Love could kill (Dasharatha died instantly after his separation from Ram). Love could make you a destroyer (Lakshman was ready to kill anyone for Ram), love makes us do things which we may not believe in (Sita’s mother Sunaina doesn’t believe in superstition but was not ready to take chances when it comes to her children).
And there are many, but my favorite is “It is not enough to merely love someone. We must understand and respect the values that drive them. We must want what they want, not what we want for them.”
Other Women in The Epic
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has also breathed life into other female characters like Urmila, Kaikeyi, Ahalya, Shabari, Mandodari, Surpanakha, Sunaina and Kaushalya.
Among all of them, I loved Ahalya’s story. The author has taken her story forward after Ram liberated her from the curse. Ahalya was shown giving the silent treatment to Sage Gautam for the mistrust and suffering she went through in spite of her innocence. But there seems to be no apparent results.
Sita raised questions about the kind of injustice meted out to both Ahalya and Surpanakha.
Missing Collective Voice
I felt a rage brewing within myself. Just because Sage Gautam was a revered rishi and Ram was a king, so there morality cannot be questioned. What kind of ideal society Ram was establishing where men could easily get away with any kind of transgression against women without even showing remorse, while women were held guilty and punished till they prove their innocence. There was no real confrontation for Sage Gautam, Ram or Lakshman in the book.
The author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni told the story of other female characters, but didn’t lend them voice to raise when Sita was asked to again go through purity test. Luv and Kush conveniently stood by their father’s side. I expected the last scene to be of high voltage, but it was lukewarm with only Sita speaking with no real effect on Ram or others. Maybe this is what patriarchal mindset is all about.
The author didn’t give that thundering and powerful voice to Sita which she gave to Draupadi in The Palace of Illusion. Sita’s voice was not loud and aggressive. Sita had soft and quiet strength with which she says “NO MORE”. Somehow, I identify with that strength. We all have it.
What I missed in the book was the bondage of the four sisters. It would have been great if the author’s magical pen created a couple of scenes showing the unity and love between these four sisters. Mandavi and Shrutakirti merely finds mention in the story. Kavita Kane’s Urmila in the book Sita’s Sister is so perfectly etched in my memory that no other version of Urmila now appears to be satisfactory.
Sita and Urmila have always intrigued me. I am always hungry to read and hear more about them. To understand them better.
They were vulnerable yet strong; emotionally intelligent and full of compassion. With their quiet strength and endurance, both stood taller than the men of the epic.
Chitra’s Sita in The Forest of Enchantment will remain in my heart forever. I just loved Sita as a healer, blowing the breath of life in every living being.
I loved Chitra’s Sita, who was a devoted wife, but defied the male chauvinism with her logic and reasoning.
The book gave me a lot of food for thought. Now I am curious to know more about Ahalya and Mandodari.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Books
Her fiction work include
- Arranged Marriage: Stories (1995)
- The Mistress of Spices (1997)
- Sister of My Heart (1999)
- The Unknown Errors of our Lives (2001)
- The Vine of Desire (2002)
- Queen of Dreams (2004)
- The Lives of Strangers (2005)
- The Palace of Illusions: A Novel (2008)
- One Amazing Thing (2010)
- Oleander Girl (2013)
- Before We Visit the Goddess (2016)
- The Forest Of Enchantments (2019)
List has been taken from wikipedia site. You can visit the link to know more about her literary work.