India Today - - LEISURE -

As the ti­tle sug­gests, Amish’s Sita: War­rior of Mithila, the sec­ond in his Ram Chan­dra se­ries, presents an en­tirely new Sita, one of his own mak­ing. Here, she is a woman trained to fight and to rule a king­dom, very dif­fer­ent from the per­son we en­counter in the more tra­di­tional ver­sions of the story. She is an equal part­ner to Ram in ev­ery way, al­most his su­pe­rior at some mo­ments. The back­drop of Sita’s growth into a dar­ing war­rior and an able ad­min­is­tra­tor are the trade wars be­ing forced upon the king­doms of the Sapt Sindhu by the Lankans. Sita uses all her skills, mar­tial as well as di­plo­matic, to pro­tect Mithila and those whom she loves. Along the way, she mar­ries Ram and a new ad­ven­ture be­gins, one that will place her in even greater dan­ger but also bring her to the zenith of her des­tiny.

Sita’s story is one strand in the larger nar­ra­tive Amish is cre­at­ing. He tells his read­ers that the se­ries has the struc­ture of a ‘hyper-link’ where mul­ti­ple nar­ra­tives col­lide in the fi­nal book. As Scion of Ik­sh­vaku gives us Ram’s back­story, so here, we have Sita’s. But the rea­son for this new char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion is a plot event that Amish is de­vel­op­ing—I would love to tell you what that is, but I fear that it would break a cer­tain ten­sion in the book.

Amish also pulls his ear­lier ef­forts at cre­at­ing a fan­tasy uni­verse in to the Ram Chan­dra se­ries. The Vayupu­tras and the Meluha­pu­tras loom large be­hind the avari­cious Lankans, the princes of Ay­o­d­hya and the daugh­ters of Mithila, al­most like pup­peteers. Charged with pro­tect­ing the ‘divine land of In­dia’, the Pu­tras are led by the great sages Vashistha and Vish­wami­tra, once deadly ri­vals but now bound to the same glo­ri­ous mission.

Amish’s book is an as­tound­ing mish-mash of mo­tifs, el­e­ments, char­ac­ters, in­ci­dents and re­la­tion­ships from an al­most un­think­able ar­ray of sources. There are bits and pieces from myth—for ex­am­ple, he trans­poses the story of shoot­ing through the eye of the re­volv­ing fish from Drau­padi’s swayam­var to Sita’s—but re­cent con­tro­ver­sies like jal­likattu make an ap­pear­ance, too. A ‘Nirb­haya’ like rape case colours the life of one of the minor char­ac­ters, and even­tu­ally, has enor­mous im­pli­ca­tions for what hap­pens to Ram. The story is punc­tu­ated by vi­sions of all that ‘In­dia’ could and should be—ideas from Plato’s Repub­lic are re­cast(e) as an ap­pro­pri­ate model for so­cial di­vi­sions and hi­er­ar­chy in In­dia. There’s very lit­tle in the story that is orig­i­nal (which hardly mat­ters), but what is ut­terly unique is the way it has all been put to­gether.

It is pre­cisely here, in th­ese un­ex­pected rewrit­ings of sto­ries that we all know, that Amish’s enor­mous suc­cess lies. There are mag­nif­i­cent and deadly weapons but they are parsed as chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal. Sita’s spo­ken id­iom in­cludes such phrases as “O wow!” and “Yeah, great!” Dharma ex­ists, as does the need to pro­tect it for the com­mon good. But the world where all this is hap­pen­ing is an imag­ined ‘In­dia’, un­der threat from within and with­out. Amish has found the pulse of a na­tion that is re­defin­ing it­self, that seeks its vi­sion of its real fu­ture in its myth­i­cal past.

by ARSHIA SATTAR who is a trans­la­tor and au­thor of sev­eral books, most re­cently Ut­tara: The Book of An­swers

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