The Forest of Enchantments

The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is not a new story; it’s a retelling of Hindu mythology Ramayana in the voice of Sita. When we think of Ramayana, we think of Sita as a woman who suffered in silence. Therefore, her reflections, thoughts, and emotions regarding the many injustices that were imposed on her remain concealed. Finally, through The Forest of Enchantments, Chitra Banerjee has given voice to the woman who walked beside her husband only to be discarded by him in the end. Chitra Banerjee’s Sita raised questions without losing her calm and dignity. While the history remembers Sita as a devoted wife and companion of Ram, Chitra Banerjee has unfolded many attributes that make this woman much more than just a life-partner.

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In her pursuit to give a voice to Sita’s innermost ponderations and frustrations, the author did not change her personality. Chitra Banerjee merely stepped into this incredible woman’s shoes and attempted to breathe life into her deep thoughts. Her transition from an innocent young girl, who often wondered about her biological parents, to a married woman, who fell madly in love with her husband from the moment she laid eyes on him, could not have been written any better. From the moment Sita stepped into the House of Raghu, she brushed aside the memories of Mithila, her parents’ house, and surrendered her body and soul to her new home.

‘You’re a king, not a god!’ I exclaimed. ‘No one expects you to be perfect. WHy, even our gods do questionable things sometimes. A little gossip can’t destroy a kingdom. There was plenty of gossip about your father, but he was still a fine king.’

But Ram only said, with that stubborn tilt to his chin, ‘That may be so, but it’s not my vision of kingship.’

I didn’t argue. It had been a long, stressful day for us all, and I didn’t have the heart to disagree further with my husband, to tell him that he was creating standards impossible to live by.

– The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

As she wondered about the many mysteries of love, she realized it was not perfect. As much as Sita loved her husband, she often found herself second-guessing his high — and sometimes too idealistic — notions impractical. Yet, she did not voice such contradictions because she loved Ram above everything else. The lines of fiction and facts of the mythology are quite blurry in several scenes. Nevertheless, these scenes have been penned down with such a conviction that those merge well with the whole mythology. In fact, several tidbits would force the readers to take a good look at the original text to separate facts from fiction. The benchmark that Chitra Banerjee had set for herself from The Palace of Illusions, she managed to reach there with her brilliant writing and visionary imagination.

‘You who care so much about the citizen of Ayodhya, did you think of the impact your actions would have on the women of the city? That men would punish their wives harshly or even discard them for the smallest refractions, saying King Ram did so. Then why shouldn’t I?

– The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The author’s penchant for highlighting deep-rooted prejudices in the society and women’s plight shines through in The Forest of Enchantments as well. Chitra Banerjee’s Sita is a healer who could cure many ailments of plants, animals, and humans. She is a sensible and dignified woman who neither raises her volume nor crosses the lines set by society. And remarkably, she is the same woman who remains courageous even in front of the scariest Asuras, Rakshasas, and Ravan himself. Chitra Banerjee’s The Forest of Enchantments forces the audience to take a second look at the misdeeds that the great men of the mythology directed toward women. The final speech of Sita is a tour de force, emanating wisdom, power, and magic from each word. Truly, a masterpiece!

The beloved who abandoned me when I needed him most. My greatest joy and my greatest despair.

– The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Love Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni? Read another book review of her book: Sister of my Heart.

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