Stories from the Ramayana have a special place within the storehouse of my childhood memories where Papama, my grandmother, used to narrate with great passion the escapades of King Ram. I remember asking her to introduce the characters every time she narrated a story and she very patiently used to oblige. After Ram and Sita, came Lakshman and Urmila. I remember asking her at that young age why Urmila didn’t go with Lakshman (when he followed Ram during ‘Vanvaas’ for 14 years) and she would say in my native language Konkani, “Tee ghaara baslii, takka raktachi” (She sat at home, waiting for him). That explanation to my child self was sufficient but as I grew up watching Ramayana on television, the question continued to bother me. How could Lakshman not take Urmila along with him; rather, why did she not go along? Urmila by Pervin Saket wonderfully captures Urmila’s state of mind albeit set in modern day Mumbai. The story therefore is inspired by the Ramayana.
Pervin Saket’s writing is evocative and soulful. The manner in which her protagonist Urmila Karmarkar develops through the course of the story is poignant to say the least. Urmila’s husband follows his older brother and sister in law to Dubai leaving Urmila behind to look after his aging parents and so the story begins…
The story delves in and out of the past which lends meaning to the present. You begin to understand Urmila’s hopes, frustrations, longing and most of all, patience. As an example, in one scene, Urmila accompanies her in laws on a pilgrimage where she stands by the seashore and reflects “I prayed for them (the sand, water, birds, breeze and the setting sun that would soon rise in the other half of the world) to carry my message across to the land that was his mistress”. Urmila’s longing for her husband also takes the form of art where she lets loose her longing for him through paint on canvas.
Another unique aspect of the story is that the 7 steps/vows of marriage or ‘Saptapadi’ are cleverly woven through each chapter and provide the unfolding events with greater meaning e.g. the 5th step “Om Prajabhaya Santu jaradastayaha” [(We) Pray for the happiness and wellbeing of our family; May we have righteous and obedient children] comes to fore when Urmila longs for children of her own and her inner dialogue whereby she tries to calm the proverbial storm.
The relationship that she shares with her in laws and parents is portrayed in a realistic manner and the depiction of a strict middle class life in Mumbai is spot on e.g. family sleeping in one room to save on electricity bills, washing milk packets to reuse them at a later date etc. Urmila’s relationship with Vanita her childhood friend (almost sister) who then goes on to marry her brother in law is also hearteningly portrayed.
I have truly enjoyed reading this book and it has made by favourites list.I must say that this book is one of few from the genre of Mythology recreations that truly engages the reader without over dramatizing its characters or losing the plot. A great debut novel and a fantastic read. I am already keeping an eye out for more work by the author!