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Lifestyle Books and Art 16 Jul 2017 Book Review 'Si ...
Kulbir Kaur teaches sociology at Shyama Prasad Mukherji College, Delhi University

Book Review 'Sita– Warrior of Mithila: In Sita we trust, in Ram we’re not sure'

Published Jul 16, 2017, 5:39 am IST
Updated Jul 16, 2017, 5:39 am IST
This book is recommended only for kids below the age of 12, but still if you fail to cure yourself of the fever of “mytho fiction”.
Sita: Warrior of Mithila, by Amish Tripathi  Westland, Rs 350
 Sita: Warrior of Mithila, by Amish Tripathi Westland, Rs 350

In the present dark ages, when seven per cent of Americans think that chocolate milk is given directly by brown cows, and in the land of yogis, our national bird peacock turns out to be a celibate, it is but natural that “when logic fails… ” one picks up a book like Sita: Warrior of Mithila.

Why did the Amish Tripathi’s Shiva series rock but the Ram Chandra series proved to be a complete dud? The core reason is of mystery. Most people were unaware of Lord Shiva’s life history — a familiar yet a mysterious figure. What else we know about Lord Shiva except the Amarnath yatra and the kanwarias blocking Delhi traffic? People loved the “New Age poster boy”, but on the other extreme is the story of Sita that has been a part and parcel of everyone’s childhood. With no surprise elements involved, the book turns out to be a subtle bomb, with a lot of explosive promises but after a few initial sparks, refuses to take off — taien taien phis. The utterly disappointing book is a bad example of “chronicles of Ramayana foretold”.

 

Sage Valmiki composed the Ramayana in 24,000 stanzas and Amish presents the story as a multilinear narrative, where there are many characters with a common connection. Set in 3400 BCE, near the Godavari river, the book revolves around the powerful personality of Sita. In this topsy-turvy, twisted version of the Ramayana, she is five years younger than Ram, and instead of an “ideal shy, obedient wife”, Sita is a warrior, an archer and a perfect administrator. 

Why would we have any problem with an assertive female role model? The major discomforting figure is that of Ram. Instead of a balanced image of Ram and Sita, the author prefers to follow the “reversal of roles” where Ram is not only timid and mute spectator but also lacks intelligence. He is incapable of taking any initiative without Sita’s advice. Ram is only a dot in this matriarchal painting of Ramayana.

 

Amish, it seems, is on a mission to revive old, bitter memories of Katherine Mayo’s Mother India where she describes Indian men as characterised by “inertia, helplessness, lack of initiative and originality and sterility of enthusiasm”. Throughout the book, men are in the background, as shown in popular television soap operas. Only women are active and even trying to woo men — be it Surasa, Surpanakha or even Sita. Just imagine Sita checking out Ram and saying: “Not bad. Not bad at all”, “Wow… This man is special”, “He’s so awkward… and cute” and “He’s blushing again”.

 

In the vast sea of difficult names like Malayputras, Vayuputras, Arishtanemi, Samichi, Shvetaketu, your yawns turn into guffaws when you encounter words and expressions like “Hanu Bhaiya” (for Hanuman), “Sita cursing hard” and also saying “yuck”, Detective Vyomkesh. The list is endless. 

Guru Amish not only takes the viewers to slum-tourism, jallikattu fights and Nirbhaya case but also questions the existence of certain social systems, habits and practices with his limited wisdom and knowledge, and then offers solutions. The most hilarious one is regarding the caste system. Although the author is in favour of a society based on merit and instead of arguing for an open class system he argues that birth parents should surrender their children to the State. “The State would feed, educate and nurture the in-born talents of these children. Then at the age of 15, they would appear for an examination to test their physical, psychological and mental abilities. Based on the results, appropriate castes would be allocated to them… The children would not know their birth parents, only their adoptive caste parents. The birth parents too would not know the fate of their birth children”. 

 

And what is this warrior code — the right reason to kill! Moreover, before drinking somras, which tastes worse than horse’s piss, you should have read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and watched the movie In Time to visualise the consequences of staying forever young.

The opening scene of the book is so childish that it can give our brainless television serials a superiority complex. But the saddest part is the description of the scenes, taken straight from the movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It literally makes you sad because marvellous works written in regional languages remain unheard and unsung, and we celebrate a bad thing like this only because it is written in English. No wonder, in Kalyug, “mediocrity is the king”.

 

This book is recommended only for kids below the age of 12, but still if you fail to cure yourself of the fever of “mytho fiction”, I suggest you pick up some old editions of Chandamama magazine. Though even to mention, let alone compare, the Shiva trilogy with classic masterpieces like Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and Three Hundred Ramayanas by Ramanujan would be a sin, still Amish-bhakts can start with Romila Thapar’s Indian Tales (specifically written for kids) and R.K. Narayan’s Gods, Demons and Others.

 

Now we understand why at the outset itself, the author, in full knowledge of the quality of his work, declares, “Thank you for picking up this book and giving me the most important thing you can share: your time”. And you bet, what a sheer wastage of time! Not surprisingly,  Mast Mast Girl Raveena Tandon released the cover of the book.

In recent times, when the universe has been blessed by a new word, “coufefe”, and the whole world knows why Kattappa killed Baahubali, I am still struggling with the question, “Why Amish?” 

 

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