‘Sita’s Sister’ (Book Excerpt) by Kavita Kane

Kavita Kane

Kavita Kane, a senior journalist with a career of over two decades, which includes working for Magna publication and DNA, she quit her job as Assistant Editor of Times of India to devote herself as a full time author. A self-styled aficionado of cinema and theatre and sufficiently armed with a post-graduate degree in English Literature and Mass Communication from the University of Poona, the only skill she knows, she candidly confesses, is writing.

Karna’s Wife  is her debut novel, released in 2013 which was a bestseller the credit to which she gives entirely to the protagonist Karna – the most enigmatic, popular and the most tragic character in Indian mythology.

The second novel – Sita’s Sister –  out in December 2014, also deals with another enigmatic personality – Urmila, Sita’s sister and Lakshman’s wife who silently braved tears and tragedy those fourteen years of separation, living her own private exile.  She is probably the most overlooked character in the Ramayan.

Born in Mumbai, a childhood spent largely in Patna and Delhi , she currently lives in Pune with her mariner husband, two teen daughters, Dude, the friendly Rottweiler and Babe, the unfriendly cat. Read her interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from her novel, Sita’s Sister. Courtesy: Kavita Kane.


It was not yet dawn, the sky still dark and cloudless, but from the palace windows high above, Urmila could see that the streets of Ayodhya were illuminated, with people starting to throng the city, the narrow lanes filling up fast. Like her and all the others they were waiting for the ceremony to begin—they were waiting for their king. He had not yet stepped out from his chambers.

Everything was ready—the holy water in jars, the curd, honey and clarified butter in golden bowls, the aromatic fried rice, the sacred grass and flowers arranged neatly in filigreed gold plates and silver trays. Outside, there was a procession of horses, bulls, elephants and chariots with white flags accompanied by cheerful crowds walking alongside; the music of drums, cymbals and trumpets renting the early hours in erupted merriment. The palace was festooned with gaily coloured floral garlands. Flickering oil lamps, adorning every corridor and arch, added a luminous brightness to the gaiety. Hand-drawn rangolis marked each step and hallway of the palace. How she and the senior queens had managed to plan out each detail and decoration, Urmila wondered tiredly, running her hands over her burning eyes. She had not slept through the night and neither had the others.

Everyone was ready. Ram was dressed in white silk robes, looking regal and solemn. In her rich, deep turmeric silk sari, complementing the heavy gold jewellery which initially she was averse to wearing, Sita looked every inch the golden queen. Urmila looked down at herself—she had bundled herself in an onion pink embroidered silk thanks to Sumitra, who had forced her to leave Sita’s side and ordered her to dress up for the occasion.

Vasishtha had reached the palace with his procession of disciples for the maha puja, bringing with him the holy waters of all the holy rivers in golden vessels. So were the generals, ministers and noblemen of the court. Kausalya, bursting with fiery pride and unsuppressed joy, and Sumitra, sedate as always, were sitting at the yagna, waiting for the king. Both the queens were in ceremonial sparkling white and dull gold…but where was the third queen? Urmila felt a coil of uneasiness stirring within her.

Kaikeyi had not yet appeared on the scene nor was Manthara to be seen anywhere. She glanced at her husband. Lakshman had barely managed to get ready but in his royal blue, he was the very prince she had fallen in love with—handsome, frowning and smiling. He, too, was worried as she could see. Why were the king and queen taking such a long time to make their appearance?

Ram and Sita were ready for the coronation. Kausalya was pouring ghee into the sacrificial fire, invoking blessings for her son. Vasishtha called Sumantra, the royal minister, and said,

‘The preparations are all done. The holy fire has been started. Please go and call the king. The people are waiting for him.’ Urmila and the others were surprised to see a white-faced Sumantra return quickly without the king. Instead, he had a message from the king for Ram. He had been summoned to the king’s chambers.

There was a still silence as Ram, alongside a grim-faced Lakshman, hastened after Sumantra. Everyone was wondering what was happening but none dared to voice their doubts. Sita slipped her hand into Urmila’s and they held each other tightly; both anxiously awaiting an ambiguous, unfavourable outcome. The knot of fear was getting bigger, billowing deep inside her. Urmila saw Kausalya looking worried. Sumitra was already beside her, calmly chanting the mantras.

The thickening crowd outside was also getting impatient and restless, wondering about the unusual delay. Were the rites taking longer than usual? Was the ceremony to be more elaborate than otherwise? Little did they know what was happening in the inner chambers of the palace.

Ram returned almost half an hour later. Urmila noticed immediately that he was without any of his royal insignias. The white umbrella and the retinue reserved for the yuvaraj were missing. There was a calm resoluteness on Ram’s face but his eyes looked uncharacteristically sad. Her husband, in contrast, looked white with fury. Her heart sank—the worst had happened.

Kausalya got up with unrestrained relief and led him to the seat meant for the yuvraj. He stopped short and said, his tone clear and soft, ‘That seat is too high and unmerited for me, mother. I have come back with my father’s commands that he wishes Bharat to be given the throne and that I should leave immediately for the Dandaka forest for fourteen years. I am not a crown prince, mother, but soon shall be a hermit living in exile in a forest,’ he said. ‘I came here to tell you this. Give me your blessings, mother.’

Kausalya looked dumbstruck, her face ashen. She would have crumpled in a heap had not Lakshman and Ram held her steadily. Sumitra rushed to her side as did Sita and Urmila. Lakshman politely requested the others to leave, citing a change of plan, the announcement of which would be made later.

‘What are you saying, son?’ she said weakly. ‘What is happening? How can you leave us? How shall I live without you?’

‘These are my father’s wishes, I have to obey them,’ said Ram quietly, his face stoic and expressionless. ‘And I believe that it is my dharma, my duty. How can I break my father’s word?’

Urmila could see that Ram was deliberately impassive in his manner, keeping his emotions in check. Was it to protect his mother from further anguish? He was leaving behind a mother who was old and weak and who had been living in a world of darkness for as long as Ram could recall. Her heart full of pain, frustration, fury and vengeance, she was surviving on the single hope that one day she would be the queen mother when Ram would be king. And even as Lakshman exploded in naked fury, Urmila saw Ram containing his pain and masking it with a smile.

‘A fourteen-year exile!’ exclaimed Lakshman furiously. ‘What crime have you committed that you have been given such an extreme punishment reserved for the most vile offence? Or is it to have you out of the way for Bharat to take the crown?’

Ram simply shook his head and tried to pacify his angry brother. But he refused to be appeased. ‘My old father has lost his head over his young wife! And only a weak-willed man could do what he has done!’ he seethed contemptuously. He turned to his mother. ‘Do you know why he has made this sudden pronouncement? Because he was forced to acquiesce to the two boons he had given to Kaikeyi when she had rescued him during the battle against Sambarasura!’

Urmila was numb. Her brain, stunned at the sudden turn of events, could scarcely unscramble the episode Lakshman was referring to. King Dashrath had offered Queen Kaikeyi two boons when she had saved his life so impressively in the aforementioned battle. She declared she would keep them for a later day. That day was today. She had asked for the impossible— a throne for her son and exile for Ram.

Lakshman was beyond seeing reason. ‘How can my father forget his dharma as a king and be just a husband listening to his wife in matters of the court? His personal decision can’t influence royal affairs of the state.’ he lashed. ‘Ram, you say you are doing your filial duty but I am questioning his role, his status and his right as a king, not as a father or a husband. On what grounds is he sending you away? You have not committed any crime; he has, by denying you your right to be crown prince and convicting an innocent man—you—to be sent on exile for fourteen years! You have no reason to be bound by the promises made by our father to his wife. As the prince of Ayodhya and the kingdom of Kosala, as the prince loved by his subjects, as one who is brave, kind and fair, you have a duty towards them. You know you can revolt and will be supported by everyone—the nobles, the ministers, the army, the people. Say it brother, and I shall do it!’

Lakshman paused, his fury unabated but his voice calm. ‘You can. But you won’t, dear brother, will you?’ he said savagely. ‘You would rather accept the injustice and go for that exile because, for you, filial obedience is above all. You would never disregard your father’s promise. It is our family tradition, right?’ he countered bitterly. ‘And they both—Kaikeyi and Bharat—know that you would not dream of disobeying Father’s wishes. That was the clever plan; and they won!’

Ram had kept silent during Lakshman’s tirade, allowing him to vent his pain and the fire raging within him. ‘You would not have been half angry or hurt if this had happened to you. Why, if I know you well, dear brother, you, too, would have quietly obeyed our father’s orders.’ asked Ram quietly. ‘This anger stems from your deep love for me. You don’t want me to suffer. Lakshman, you are my other self, my very soul in another body— how can you react differently from me? Why this senseless anger and indignation on my behalf? I have no desire for the throne or for power. I take his decision as a new opportunity for myself. If not as king, as a hermit, I shall get a chance to go to the forest and serve there.’

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