BOOK REVIEW : ‘The forest of Enchantments’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

It’s a story everyone knows by heart, a tale as old as history itself. A tale of love, of sacrifice; of loyalty and betrayal; of longing and abandonment; of sorrow and joy; of luxury and hardships.

Sita is wed to Ram the young handsome prince of Ayodhya, son of King Dasratha. After the grand ceremonial wedding Ram takes Sita as his wife and vows to never take anyone else as his wife and pledges his heart to Sita and her alone. Sita arrives in Ayodhya as the bride of Ram along with her sister Urmila who is married to Laxman – brother of Ram. The newly wed couples are welcomed by the people of Ayodhya by lighting lamps and chanting “Ramsitaramsitaramsita”. When the time of Ram’s coronation as the king of Ayodhya comes, Kaikeyi- stepmother of Ram and wife of Dasratha tricks Dasratha into fulfilling the two promises made to her by King Dasratha when she saved his life, after he got wounded in the battle.

She asks King Dasratha to make her son Bharata the new king of Ayodhya instead of Ram and send Ram into an exile for fourteen years. Out of love and devotion towards Ram, Sita accompanies Ram into the forest where she gets abducted by Ravan the king of Lanka. She is then rescued by Ram and promptly abandoned questioning her chastity. Sita proves her innocence by taking agnipariksha. And is coroneted the queen of Ayodhya after completing the fourteen years of exile. She takes over her queenly duties in the palace. She prepares to welcome her children when she is banished from the kingdom. After having suffered such humiliations she gets depressed, and recovers enough to raise her twin sons as worthy human beings in the hermitage of Sage Valmiki.

Sita hears about Valmiki’s Ramayan a testament of Ram’s courage, valor and righteousness and is hurt by the one sided narrative and wants to narrate her side of the story to the world – “Sitayan”

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (born Chitralekha Banerjee, July 29, 1956 in Kolkata, West Bengal) is an award winning Indian-American author, poet and a teacher. Divakaruni published her bestseller in India titled ‘The Palace of Illusion’ which is a re-telling of Mahabharata in 2008.

The novel revolves around the theme of feminism and individuality. While the protagonist of the story is Sita, the novel tells the story of not just Sita but also of Sunaina, Queen of Mithila and mother of Sita, an acknowledged healer and an unmatched political advisor to the king of Mithila; Urmila, princess of Mithila, sister of Sita and wife of Laxman; Mandodari, Queen consort of Ravan, a devoted wife and an empathetic queen to her people; Suparnakha, young princess of Asuras; even Kaikeyi Ram’s stepmother almost always portrayed as villain gets her due interpretation as an accomplished healer and a charioteer.

“Write our story too” the women character in the novel tell Sita, “For always we’ve been pushed into corner, trivialized, misunderstood, blamed, forgotten or maligned..”

The novel is beautifully composed and is intricately woven so as to connect each chapters to one another. The use of natural elements in the story makes it even more interesting and keeps the reader hooked from the beginning to the end. The author has been successful in conveying Indian experience which has always been one of the themes of her classical works.

“The forest of Enchantment”- is a work of grace and kindness, of pluralities and possibilities. It is an experiment that makes us grateful to be living in the era of multiple truths and interpretations. This is the ‘Sitayan’ we will give to our daughters, that they may imbibe Sita’s strength and even more proudly to our sons, who will learn how a woman is to be treated, and how exactly not” – Richa Bhatlarai