#Books

Sita: Now You Know Me- A Novel by Sini Panicker: An Excerpt

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SITA: NOW YOU KNOW ME by Sini Panicker: A book set in the Vedic times of ancient India, Sita narrates the story of her turbulent life intimately, detailing her deepest despairs, grief and horrors, and her profound love for Ram. An excerpt:

Tomorrow.

My judgement day. I have been ordered to appear before the king and his court in Ayodhya.

A part of me still loathes everything that city is…and I am very hesitant to make a journey there. I wish I could continue to live in this ashram, until my time comes. Let me be a wild flower…a white jasmine, on the top branch of a tall, twisting vine. At the end of its life, it will slowly succumb to the earth’s pull in the caress of an evening breeze, without making a single sound in this world. I need to be that flower; Ayodhya and its King Ram shall not notice its departure, its demise. It is only fair that I get to exit from this world…in whatever way I choose, considering my entrance into it. And after what I have endured in it.

But fairness evades human life like a master illusionist in the most singularly fragmented moments of one’s existence. Afterwards, a broken life is reflected back from the hundreds of shattered shards, in anguish that is so pure and holy, any judgement or chastisement will be just another ritual to sanctify it.

It has been the story of my life. Look at me even now. When the king summons, I have no choice but to appear. A chariot will arrive from the palace. Perhaps, Sage Valmiki himself might return to take me there. He is my rescuer, my protector, my guru and a father. He is also a teacher and a grandfather to my twins.

It is ironic that he is all this. Because, Valmiki is an ascetic. He is someone who had denounced worldly affairs, who had discarded society to be a yogi, but became all this to me and my sons.

Life is funny that way.

Life. The science of the land, the Rig Veda, says life is the pursuit of the ultimate truth. One has to suffer through life to find it; to be eternally enlightened. I have always wondered why truth and salvation are excruciatingly linked to miseries in life. I remember thinking about this even as a teenager. Whatever secrets and truth the heavenly realms are holding, why cannot they be revealed to a happy person? Why are the gods very much against a happy life?

Despite the hundreds of hymns I have studied, I do not think of my life as a pursuit of the truth. My life stands in front of me like a grand jester from my father’s elegant court, hidden behind an artfully and royally designed mask. My life has deceived me several times, like a master manipulator. It is toying with me again, even now.

I hear my sensible voice at this moment, asking me to remain prudent and to tone down these assessments. Because I have been living like an ascetic in this ashram, my observations on life, along with my judgement and opinions, had been skillfully buried in the deep netherworlds of my mind. My outward appearance is that of a forty-nine-year-old yogini with a slender body and long, black hair, graying now. I am always wrapped in a maroon cotton sari.

My life stands in front of me like a grand jester from my father’s elegant court, hidden behind an artfully and royally designed mask. My life has deceived me several times, like a master manipulator.

The maroon shades the sunrises and sunsets in the background. Trapped infinitely between the encounters of days and nights, dawn and dusk suffer and sulk in maroon, in the colour of detachment. They show no loyalty to the day or to the night. Caught between the cycle of births and deaths, the mystics wear maroon to pass through the wheels of lives, until their ultimate salvation.

I wear maroon too, but just superficially. I love Ram. I am not detached.

My heart still beats with a secret yearning when I think of him. It is exasperating that I still love him this much, after all these years. Seventeen years to be exact. Sometimes I raise my right hand absentmindedly in the air, trying to trace his handsome face. My fingers caress his cheeks, his lips, that small dent in his chin. I press with my right thumb there. He smiles at me with longing. That smile of his that is exclusively mine. A smile that carried just the two of us into the heavens.

‘It is not healthy for you, Sita, to continue to love him like this!’ The old yoginis and Sage Valmiki used to advise me. But I could not help it. Every fibre in my body and soul belongs to Ram. It craves Ram, only Ram, every moment, day and night. Still.

Finally, the ascetics gave up on me. I was lost to them.

I was a lost life from the very beginning. I just did not know how lost. And because of it, I was hopeful from the first moment I could remember. I was a believer in good, positive things. Always an optimist. I smiled at my life and wished and prayed not to be lost. Lost is the most terrifying word to me, a simple word that carries an insufferable hell that lives in me, ever since my childhood.

I had hoped that I could escape life’s torture by wishing it away. How wrong I was! And, where did all my wishing and hoping lead me?

Excerpted with permission from SITA: NOW YOU KNOW ME- A Novel by Sini Panicker published by Rupa Books.

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