Who says Santa Claus doesn’t exist? I haven’t met him but I know he is there. And yes yes, it’s a He and his name is Solomon Manoj :). Couple of weeks back, I sighed on someone’s terrific review of Sita’s Sister that I will be getting this one on my next haul and since I have taken a vow of not buying books at least till July, this will have to wait. Bang on!! Three days later a courier arrives at my place with the brand new book inside and no sender’s details 🙂 can you believe that? I tried harder to guess who may have sent this but no answer comes to my mind and I couldn’t even find the review where I commented. 24 hrs later Santa himself comes to my rescue and says “Remember? I told you to be ready for a surprise?”. How kool is that. Thank you so much Solomon, you just rock! And just like her last book that I read and so much loved (Karna’s Wife), this one is no different but what an amazing retelling of epic, it works only if you could ignore its misleading title and that it is from the point of view of Urmila (Sita’s Sister and Lakshman’s wife). Palace of Illusions still remains my favorite mytho fiction even now and Karna’s wife comes a super second but this one even after my wishes couldn’t come any closer to the third spot nonetheless remains a superb one time read no doubts on that.
The biggest challenge I guess the new generation of Authors face must be how to re-tell a story which is already beaten to death by so many in the past. We the readers, keep expecting magic in all the upcoming books with a keen eye and when we see the same story is told in almost the same way but just a little different point of view, it just fails. In my personal opinion that is exactly what happened (with me) with this book. I just couldn’t identify with Urmila at all as she was always the second lead and even the treatment offered by Author here is the same, so much limelight is taken away by the happenings more than how she was taking it all and what was her reaction to it. Barring one outburst that she had while the entire clan visits Ram, Lakshman and Sita after the death of King Dashrath is the high point of the book after that it totally derails and never comes up to the mark and my expectations. The only good thing this book did was that it made me love Lakshman big time, you just can’t help but fall in love with the man who is totally devoted to his brother. Ram and Lakshman are like one soul in two bodies, his dedication to Ram and Sita is just unparalleled. Also the character of Bharat gets some due which was over due, his reaction to his mother’s decision and the way that scene unfolds in Chitrakoot is the high point of the story as I said and simply mind-blowing. But the unfortunate thing is that the book just doesn’t do justice to the title and the main protagonist which it should have done. Ironically to the half point of the book the lead pair isnt even separated to take the story any forward.
Coming back to retelling of the epic of Ramayan and Mahabharat in our part of the world, we have a barrage of books and Authors doing the duty of churning out books non stop at a break neck pace in today’s time. What I expected from this one and what it turns out in the end was like totally poles apart. After reading a lot of books in last couple of years and fortunately interacting with some superb writers myself, I have learned that what they want, rather try to do with their books is to “Show and don’t tell” here Ms. Kane to my shock, surprise and heartbreak has totally depended on telling rather than showing the reader anything of the era from a different point of view and that is where it failed for me. I kept expecting so much from it but that was not to be. The limelight keeps going away from Urmila to Lakshman to other important characters of epic and keeps going out of her hands. I wish the narrator of the story was actually Urmila against how Kavita decided to tell the story through a third person narration. One another thing which actually made me cringe throughout the book, again to my shock was everyone calling each other by their first names. Which unfortunately even in Fictionalized account of these much loved epic(s) is totally unacceptable to me. Think of Lakshman calling Ram as “Ram” and not “Ram Bhaiya” even Sita calling Ram as Ram or Lakshman calling Kaikeyi by her first name and not “Maa Kaikeyi”, C’mon, it was little too much. Also, Sita’s own younger sister Urmila full time calls her by her first name and even their other two cousins keep calling Urmila and Sita by their first name. I just couldn’t digest it and that one thing kept spoiling it big time for me throughout the story. And please, do not tell me that the book is written for an International audience and they wont know the titles, they can very well Google them if they want to as we do all the time when it comes to throwing Latin, French and German phrases by so many foreign Authors. On top of that she has used so many Hindi words without any issues.
Yes, originally the epic of Ramayan is an amazing story which we all are told by our own parents and grand parents to no count. This is no different yet it gave me some new pointers like “Shanta”, I didn’t know much about (Ram’s elder sister). And I am not even going to do any research on the Historical accuracy of the story as that is totally futile. But yes, the way she has written or shall I say re-written is totally amazing, it did grip me to an extent and making me go forward plus it did made me emotional at so many points, even after knowing what is going to come next, I had tears in my eyes specially the way she explained the scene. Total credit to her writing prowess where due but this was a over-stretch from imagination point of view. The book becomes quite challenging once you cross the 200 page mark (309 total) as she actually ran out of data on Urmila and had to actually stoop to the level of Urmila trying to pacify the cat fights her two mother-in-laws were having in the palace as Ram struggled to free Sita from the clutches of dreaded Ravan. Or the regular story of Ramayan will go on but every three or four pages later she will mention Urmila just like that. Unnecessarily everyone turning to Urmila and dragging her in conversation became so boring that for once I thought of abandoning it and moving to the next book in waiting. But somehow, as I never do that to a book, I kept going forward and finished it. This is the shortest of the book that I have taken the longest to finish (almost 7 days). Such a heart-break and let down for me.
At the most it just works like an average love story of Lakshman and Urmila, nothing special.
If you have read “Sita’s Sister”, do let me know if you like it.