The Liberation of Sita by Volga
I am a very comfortable reader. In the sense that I like to stick to my comfort zone and happy place, which is romance. Unfortunately it meant that I was missing out on some real gems. Therefore, I made a resolution this year to read something out of my comfort zone. Being a fan of mythology and mythological fiction, I was excited when I first heard of Volga’s The Liberation of Sita. The book had the dual merit of being a mythological fiction from a feminist perspective as well as a book by an Indian author, which fit in really well with my 2018 reading goals.
The Liberation of Sita is divided into five chapters. The first four chapters are from Sita’s point of view and have her interacting with four different women from the epic Ramayana, women who have been wronged by their men in some manner. The final chapter is from the point of view of Ram, who is repenting the choices he made concerning his wife.
The first chapter titled, ‘The Reunion’ tells us the story of a chance meeting of Sita and Surpanakha after 18 years. The chapter aptly titled, is a reunion of sorts, of two women who directly or indirectly led to each other’s humiliation and exile from society.
Surpanakha, a woman who thought beauty was everything and prided herself on her beauty, became bitter after she was disfigured by Ram and Laxman. A woman who saw beauty everywhere, suddenly found herself hating everything that was beautiful in nature. It’s only with years of introspection and meditation that Surpanakha found acceptance within herself, for herself.
Given the history, one would think that on coming face to face, Surpanakha would be bitter towards Sita. However, she welcomes Sita with a smile and open arms. It’s quite surprising that by the end of the chapter Sita and Surpanakha end up like best friends, so much so that Surpanakha asks Sita to come back to her garden when Sita decides to go back to Mother Earth.
Every chapter reinforces the sense of individuality in the characters as well as the readers. When Sita first comes to Surpankha’s home, she starts to ask if Sita is Sri Ramachandra’s wife. Sita promptly stops her before she could complete her question and replies, “I am Sita. I am Janaka’s daughter, Janaki. I am the daughter of Mother Earth.” In another instance when Sita asks Surpanakha if she has made her life successful, she replies, “I’ve realized that the meaning of success for a woman does not lie in her relationship with a man.”
‘Music of the Earth‘ is one of the highly intriguing stories which dealt with Sita meeting Ahalya. This is one of my favorite chapters in the book, especially from a feminist perspective. This book, especially the story ‘Music of the Earth‘ is full of such innate understanding of the self and of the human nature. The years of self-reflection and meditation have led these women to uncovering the secret to attain peace in this world. There is something that Ahalya says to Sita that resounded with me. Ahalya says with respect to her husband, “Who gave you the right or authority to judge?… Society gave him that authority. I didn’t. Till I give it, no one can have that authority over me.” In another instance she says, “…Whatever gives you peace of mind, consider that the truth… Truth does not remain the same forever but keeps changing continuously- that is the wisdom I earned.”
‘The Sand Pot‘ deals with Sita’s meeting with Renuka. A woman who was beheaded by her son, on the command of his father, all because she dared look at another man. The act of her losing a second’s concentration from her work, led to her humiliation by the hands of the son she gave birth to. While telling Sita of the wisdom earned by sages like her husband Jamadagni, Renuka says, “No matter how much wisdom they earn through penance, they continue to have a dogmatic view on the paativratyam of their wives.”
Each encounter that Sita has with Ahalya and Renuka is prophetic in nature. They foreshadow her future. Be it Ahalya who warns Sita, “Never agree to a trial, Sita. Don’t bow down to authority” or Renuka who cautions her against living for the men in her life, be it her husband, or any sons she will bear. Renuka makes Sita aware that no matter what women do, it’s a man’s world and men are the ultimate decision makers.
One of the aspects of the book that felt was done brilliantly is the titles of the fourth and fifth chapters. The fourth chapter is titled ‘The Liberated’ and it is at the end of this chapter that Sita finally goes back into her Mother’s womb. The final chapter is titled ‘The Shackled’ which is from Ram’s point of view and talks about Ram’s guilt over his decisions with respect to Sita. It’s quite interesting that while the wife was able to attain peace and be liberated, the peace evaded the man and he was still shackled to the rules and boundaries of the society. It’s the truth indeed that Rama is still shackled to the throne, to the society, to they backward viewpoints. And it took Sita to pave a path for his liberation.
Volga talks of how a woman is powerful all by herself, and she proves this through Sita, when she says, “She had to withhold her own powers to let Rama fulfill his duty.” In an instance when Rama asked Sita to prove her chastity by undergoing trial by fire she says, “He is helpless. A weakling. But against whom? Not against Ravana but against society. Against its moral principles, its code of justice.” Volga further elucidates, “Rama has to be rescued. He has to be protected from this society. His tears have to be wiped. He has to be given strength. No one but she can do it.”
In The Liberation of Sita, Volga portrays women as a powerhouse figures who have a mind of their own, and can fight their own battles. They don’t need men, but rather they choose to have men. In fact, it is the women who have to show men the way towards their liberation. The Liberation of Sita does not just talk about Sita, but also about the liberation other women in Ramayana have achieved. It talks about how these women and their experiences helped Sita attain her liberation. The Liberation if Sita is by far one of the best books I have read. This book shows us the mirror to the society we live in and more importantly it empowers the women of the world, not just to take action, but also to be themselves.
The Liberation of Sita is one of the very rare forays of mine outside my comfort zone that has resulted in such joy and strength. It opens your mind and helps you think beyond the norms. This is one of those books where the reader will take a sigh after finishing it, think for a second, ‘Did I just read this?‘ and then go back for another re-read, because it’s that good. If someone were to ask me to recommend them just one book that they should read, then it’s this one, because it is so worth the time you will invest into it.