Sita An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I am utterly disappointed with this book. Let me make it clear at the start that I’m disappointed because of my expectations of the author, based on past books, and not because the book itself has major flaws.
After reading and enjoying ‘The Pregnant King’ and ‘Jaya’ by Devdutt Pattanaik, I had high expectations from this book. Dr.Pattanaik’s story-telling, I thought had a marvelous way of constructing the narrative, devoid of the over devout tone that one finds in all religious stories across India. With ‘Jaya’, it allowed me to discern larger lessons, more intricate realizations from the nuances of Mahabharata, since it did not stick to the formula of the Pandavas as starkly good and the Kauravas as big villians. ‘The Pregnant King’ had a similarly objective tone, while also telling a great story.
Sita, I’m afraid is a cop out. It is a narration of the Ramayan, exactly the way I’ve heard from every single religious person I’ve know. The title appears to be picked to throw you off, give the impression that this is another point of view of the Ramayan. But truly, Sita is a cardboard character at best, in this narrative and appears in very few chapters.
Ram is the starring superhero who can do evil. All his violent acts and decisions are miraculously vanished away by the victims claiming to be a curse that they are liberated from, by being slaughtered by Ram.
From a fiction point of view, Lakshman is the classic sidekick character, created only to glorify and showcase the protagonist’s superiority. The only thing he does is pitch fits at every given opportunity, giving Ram a chance to say something profound.
Ravana is the worst depicted of the lot. Unlike Jaya, where character nuances were explored, in this tale, Ravana is depicted as an excessive supervillian. His wisdom and kingdom sovereignity (that have been talked about by historians) are brushed away with flimsy explanations, painting him out to be a bad guy, simply because he is BAD.
‘Jaya’ referenced several local legends and religious myths to add detail and colour to a complex story. ‘Sita’ in contrast, consistently refers to 4 or 5 other tellings of the Ramayan and in this book, just attempts to collate all of them in one narrative. Since, none of them really vary in any significant manner except for the most minor of details, this barely adds anything to the story.
If you have never read or heard the Ramayana, this is one narrative that’s decently written. That said, it paints a very one-sided stark view of a narrative that is much more complex and thus, is incomplete and superficial.
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