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