Zubaan Books, the press which expressly supports feminist writing in English and translations, among other things, has come up with an innovative collection, titled ‘Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction inspired by the Ramayana’, edited by Anil Menon and Vandana Singh. I was informed about it by my friend Sucharita, who has a story in the collection. Brava!
As I was pondering over the beautiful cover, designed by Pinaki De, and the flap describing the book, I remembered a Bangla story I had read a long time ago. Unlike the stories in this collection, it was a more realistic story, speculating upon a reason why Ram decided to banish a pregnant Sita after their return to Ayodhya; the Just Prince’s own Othello moment! I don’t remember the details of the story, its title or even the author. But, the gist is clear in my mind.
After the war in Lanka and killing of Ravan, Ram returns to his kingdom and takes over his role as a king. So, he’s busy to give much time to his wife. Sita, pregnant since her arrival to the city, has also decided to spend most of her time inside the palace, resting, taken care of her friends and ‘dasis’. All those women from the city are still curious to know what exactly happened in Lanka, and though Sita has narrated the stories time and again, it has failed to satiate the curiosity of her friends. They want to know more, in detail. They too want to live the adventure. Among other things, the centre of their attraction is the demon king of ten heads, Ravan. Sita has described what Ravan looked like several times to her friends, but they are never satisfied. Then, one of her friends suggested, “Vaidehi, you are such a good portrait artist. Why don’t you draw a picture of the demon king, so that we quench our curiosity for once and all?”
Sita happily took up the challenge. Since no drawing material was readily available in the women’s quarters, Sita decided to draw the image on the earthen floor of her room, with a twig snapped out from a discarded broom. The picture turned out to be a fairly decent replica of the Lord of Lanka. He was a handsome man after all, and tall and dark too. The ladies swooned, and feigned terror and had much laughter and fun before they decided that it was time for them to go to their respective homes and cook for their husbands, even though they were not a patch upon the demon king.
By the time Sita, heavily pregnant with the twins, was also very tried. So, instead of getting up and going to the bed, she decided to take a short nap on the cool earthen floor next to the picture she had just drawn.
Unfortunately however, Sita fell into a deep sleep, and Ram, the king, was already in her chamber before she could get up or wipe out the portrait she had drawn. Ram walked into his love nest happily and what did he sees? His wife sleeping next to a drawing of his slain enemy! How would the ‘maryada purushottam’ react to this tell-tale sign? How would any man?
Sita paid an unimaginable price for displaying her rather marvellous drawing skills.