As a young child,
I was obsessed with stories–
Those fabulous fables of rakshasas and monkey brigades
All those fantastical creatures who inhabited the space,
Sat atop precipices, climbed mountains,
Traversed all sorts of exciting terrains.
The larger-than-life ten-headed Ravana,
His fiendish ways,
Surpanakha’s raucous laughter would fill my days.
I bonded with the blue-bodied Rama
His lotus eyes would cast on me a gentle spell of calm
I would wait impatiently for the Ramlila to begin in its makeshift tent,
Come evening and the whole place would transform into a virtual forest.
Such was my interest, my engrossment
That I even managed to master its complex, nuanced argot.
Shiny, shimmery bows and arrows and deer’s skin,
That was the stuff dreams were made of
As I would wait for Dussehra to set in.

Times change as times are wont to,
I grew from a child towards the cusp of adulthood.
Raw imagination took a back seat,
My age touching double digits
Niggling doubts arose
All that was sugar, started tasting bittersweet.
Questioning began–
I started wondering why young girls were married off to much older men,
I would choke on sheer disbelief at little ones being traumatised every now and then.
I recall the slow sedimentation into my consciousness
Of the horror, of the inevitability of the female trauma
Of her tears and anxieties
Of her rejection and rage
At every age, every stage.
My heart cried for the gentle Ma Kaushalya,
Who though a queen, was only a fraction of a queen.
Caught in a polygamous union
Patriarchy’s noose around her neck,
The kitchen, from one end to the other, was her entire dominion.
I could feel her trauma, her trepidation
Her humiliation, her helplessness, her hopelessness.
It nagged my young mind that servitude was her sole chance at salvation
That desires and goals were not her domain
That it was her bane to suffer in silence, never complain.
As the story developed,
I lost interest in Kaushalya
For every woman was a Kaushalya
Sans agency, sans authority, sans autonomy.
As I grew along,
I realised that the story was a celebration of ‘Purushottam’–
Of male prowess,
Of male bonds – father and son, brother and brother, king and subjects;
That the story represented no investment in female bonds.
Slowly, the realisation dawned on me
That even Sita’s epic story,
Her sacrifice, her rejection, her exile,
Was all subsumed in Rama’s glory.
As a sister-in-sorrow,
I grieved for Sita.
As a sister-in-solidarity,
I said ‘enough’ and stopped reading the story.

Sangeeta Kampani, 62, worked with the IRS and retired as a Commissioner of Income Tax, Delhi.

Featured image: A still from Sita Sings the Blues/YouTube