What if Sita did not meet Rama!
Bhumika – one of the many names to Sita, the earth-given daughter of King Janaka of Mithila, and the queen of Ayodhya, who goes along with her husband Maryada Purush Ram to live in the wilderness for fourteen years, and comes back only to be banished from her family and city, left to live and give birth in the forests in a bid to create a utopia called Rama Rajya – is the title of this book by Aditya Iyengar.
The author inspired by Volga's book on Sita wrote the story with a little twist. Here is Sita, who is no longer young and lived for her children Lava and Kush, and then encouraged them to go with their father, but refuses to go herself. All her life she faced questions like – You had a chance to return to Rama – to Ayodhya - but you didn't? She says that agreeing to take the 'agnipareeksha' was the greatest mistake she ever made – The moment you are asked to prove that you belong to someone and no one else, you cease to truly belong to them. You will be made to prove it over and over again. The book 'Bhumika' manifests through her thoughts.
She carries with her the bitterness and betrayal but never lets it out. When she meets Sage Vishwamitra in Valmiki ashram – he asks her if she shouldn't look to heal her wounds, now that she is at the far end of her life. She wonders if life would have been different had she not loved Ram so much that she believed in his ideals and wanted to be the one to bring him happiness and hold the family together. After all, Ram had always been clear about his view of right and wrong. And, to bring her thoughts some clarity the Sage makes it possible for her to see the world through the eyes of the woman she could have been if she had never met him.
This opens a whole new set of possibilities, and leads to Bhumika ruling Mithila, bringing the freedom of choice to women, to newer roles, breaking gender stereotypes that leaves many men unhappy, but a lot of women happy and successful. She starts an army of women. And when she does get a case in her court of a washerman seeking Agnipareeksha of his wife without thinking about the danger to her life, she passes a judgement that the wife should leave him and come and stay in the palace.
'I often wondered, as a child, why the boys were being taught how to go out into the world, while the girls were being taught how to make the home their entire world – she reflects. With the help of Bhumika's thoughts author makes a very sensitive observation on the institution of marriage, and how in India, women are made to marry a stranger, and how a woman is expected to dedicate herself to her new family wholeheartedly. 'Ask a man whether he would relinquish house and property and sit and look after the home and children based on nothing but trust and the fragile promise of a marriage vow.'
Aditya's story weaving skills come to fore when fictionalising the mythological story and while doing so, in a very sensitive and provocative way he questions the society that is patriarchal and judgemental of those who wish to question the discriminatory ways. Towards the end, Sita, who watches Bhumika make her choices and live by them, comes to a realisation, and with it, peace.
It is an interesting read, and the book takes a completely new look at the otherwise often repeated theme. But one wonders if by, yet again, making Sita responsible for her life, Ram, the man is being given a clean chit, without any guilt attached to his decisions.