Uttarakaanda

Title: Uttarakaanda (Kannada)
Writers : S L Bhyrappa
Published: 2017
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 3 on 5

Reading has been going good this year so far. I have read quite a couple of books (and well ahead of my yearly goals), but not all of them were review worthy so did not get a mention on this blog. I am also consciously trying more local writing and this book was part of that attempt.

S L Bhyrappa is no stranger to Kannada people. He has many popular books under his belt and he is best known for his fluid writing and the subject he chooses which make you ponder. Compared to his other books, Uttarakaanda is touching a more common topic but is no less thought provoking.

Uttarakaanda is the story of Ramayana from the perspective of Sita. Bhyrappa has kept the story as is – no manipulations, no deviations (except for the part of Ahalya) but still manages to make you look at the often-told story in a completely different light. The book is written in Sita’s POV in first person narrative. It begins at the time Rama throws out Sita from his kingdom and abandons her at Valmiki’s ashram. It then goes back and forth into past and present – meandering between Sita’s birth (or discovery), her childhood and her eventual marriage and her exile period.

While Sita is narrating her story, one cannot miss the importance Bhyrappa has given to highlight her relationship with the people around her. Owing to her unknown origins, she did not have a rosy childhood. While her father treated her like his own, she did not get the same treatment from her mother. She develops a very close bonding with her sister and cousins and eventually is respected and admired by the people in the entire kingdom. After her wedding, her narrative focus continues to be on her bitter-sweet relationship with her husband. While she is happy and proud that she gets to be the wife such a well respected man, she also finds Rama aloof and unemotional. She expects him to emote and express but finds him still and stagnant, no matter the situation.

The story continues through their exile and her eventual kidnapping by Ravana and the rest and then culminates in Sita’s death. All through the journey, Sita’s pain and suffering is so eloquently expressed that one feels angry and sad on Sita’s behalf. Her undoubted dedication to her husband but being doubted by the same person and finally being thrown away – Sita’s love turns into hatred for Rama. Her moment of triumph comes when Rama asks her to come back during his yagna but she flatly refuses. We will never know what Rama went through, but Sita is in a state of moral victory.

Sita ends up being in Lanka, in the midst of hundreds of enemies and a lustful king for many years. She continues to stand her ground, keep up her fight and never lets her resolve waiver and this is what is considered as the greatest victory of Sita. Any other woman in her place might have weakened and accepted death as a welcome alternative. I was hoping to see this as the main focus of the book, but it isn’t as elaborate as I had hoped it would be.

There is no surprise either in the story or the characters. But to see the same saga being retold from Sita’s eyes and to read it in Bhyrappa’s words make this book a very engaging read. If you are looking for answers for some age old questions, you will not find them here. If anything, it will only increase your list of questions.