Two Heroines

It is not often that one gets to read on the two heroines of the Indian epics side-by-side.

"Sita : An Illustrated Retelling Of The Ramayana" by Devdutt Pattanaik, tells the story of Ramayana from Sita's perspective. The story starts with the birth of Sita and ends with her entering Mother Earth and leaving this world. There were large foot notes in the form of boxes on almost every other page, referring to the different ramayanas and how every situation was handled in each of these.

"To Sleep" a translation of the Malayalam novel "Ini njan urangatte" by P.K.Balakrishnan starts at the end of the eighteen days of war in Mahabharatha. Draupadi, emerging victorious and satisfied in her revenge, lies down to a good sleep. Her peace is shattered when Aswatama kills her sons, thinking them to be the Pandavas. In the aftermath, Kunti reveals to Yudhistar to do the proper cremation for their elder brother, Karna. This devastates Yudhistar and brings forth a reminiscence of the story of Karna. Both lose sleep over the perceived justice and injustice of what has transpired.

There cannot be two more contrasting personalities than Sita and Draupadi. And more than the individual merits of these books, it is what was going on in my mind. I was trying to look at the responses of these ladies to the misfortunes of their life. It is easy to put it as a docile Sita vs a vengeful Draupadi comparison, but it is not so.

Devdutt approaches Ramayana with a clinical precision and it is full of information that you need to read and process while reading the story in between. This kind of distracts the focus from Sita and the tidbits seem to be more interesting. But given that this is how his book is structured, the book is more interesting on the variations of Ramayana in depicting Sita and the other dramatis personae of Ramayana and somewhere, the story of Sita takes a back seat. This is sad because as much as the research he has done, he has woven a more interesting story on Sita with slight variations on the narrative.

Devdutt's Sita comes out as a intelligent girl with a complete balance of  emotions and controlling not just Rama but also Ravana towards the logical conclusion of the tale. She narrates, guides and take the story forward. There are places where she loses her emotional balance, like when she goads Lakshman to go search for the golden-deer chasing Rama. But these come out as a means to take the story forward. She never gets afraid of Ravana but builds rapport with her captors and advises Ravana to surrender whenever she gets a chance. She waits for Rama with a confidence that is beyond a normal person and when Hanuman reaches Lanka, she reacts very matter-of-factually to that.

Sita even teaches the Lankan ladies on the recipes from 'Sita ki Rasoi' and Ravana has to shut it down to send his soldiers to the battlefront. This way, she indulges in a little subversion herself. She takes to the fire looking at Rama's ordeal in accepting her after the captivity and goes to the forest when Rama cannot let her continue as the queen. She reforms Valmiki, raises her children and finally goes into Mother Earth, after handing over the kids to Rama.

Draupadi is quite the opposite. May be she is not a 'God on Earth' and that might be the reason. She is full of doubts. At the moment of victory, it tastes bitter. The elusive sleep she has been searching for years remains elusive. She is not sure of her decision to leave her kids and wander the forests with her husbands. Not sure of the love of her husbands, who in their righteous ways, let her be disrobed. Karna's story evokes in her emotions (not romantic) which makes her wonder about Yudhistar's guilt in the killing of him.

Draupadi comes out as much more human in her quest to find peace in life and Sita's quest seems to be following her Husband's righteous ways. Draupadi questions them. For all the complexities of Sita, I've always wondered why she didn't talk back when asked to get into fire the second time (at least). But in the overall narration of her story, it comes out that it was not in her nature to do so. As the 'patni' of the 'Maryada Purushothaman' she is not supposed to. That ideal is hard to emulate.

Whereas Draupadi strikes a cord when after all the struggles and a horrible war, she tries to re-think her decisions and questioning them altogether. She is not sure which is right. The greyness of life terrifies her. Unable to see life as a black and white reality, she loses her sleep. Haven't we all done that? Life's path is the which is full of doubts about the decisions you've made and many of us lose sleep over it. 

Book Name - 'To Sleep' 
Author - P.K. Balakrishnan
Publisher DC Books
Buy it here or here

Book Name - 'Sita : An illustrated retelling of Ramayana'
Author - Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher - Penguin
Buy it here or here

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