SITA | Lakshmi Mitra

i. janaka loves me the way one loves a goddess, but not the way one loves a child. he says my hair is like a clear sky on a moonless night, my eyes are blooming with starfire, my skin is the bottled radiance of a setting sun. but i want him to say that he loves the creases in my roughened palms where he can see how tightly i held the ropes as i swung up to the pink post-dawn sky – only to fall headfirst into the hard earth. i want him to say he loves the grass-and-mud spotches on my knees and the cuts on my arms which i bear with a primal pride, with the same joy with which he wears his headdress. i want him to say he loves my unending jargon, and the stumbling syllables of the lisp that has not yet worn out its welcome. he leaves plates of sweets outside my room, infused with nuts and raisins, marinated in sugary syrup, sticky with jaggery. in the morning i wake to a room embroidered with flowers – jasmine from far madurai in early autumn, newborn lotuses lustrous with dew in summer, frail orchids from the queenly himalayas which droop just a day in. he buys me talking parrots and clay fruits, hand-carved dolls with rosy faces, but he does not sit with me to play. when i call him father, he does not look at me with gentle affection, but with the awe of a lesser being, who is honoured by the gift of my love.

i want him to say he loves my unending jargon, and the stumbling syllables of the lisp that has not yet worn out its welcome. he leaves plates of sweets outside my room, infused with nuts and raisins, marinated in sugary syrup, sticky with jaggery.

ii. ram loves me the way one loves a devotee, but not the way one loves a wife. when he comes to my swayamvar and breaks shiva’s bow, i know that he is not a man but a god. a woman can give herself to a god, but she cannot be his lover. and so, as we barter our gold circlets and silver coins for lily-crowns and copper pieces, i learn to accept the small blessings he bestows upon me. we make our home in the womb of the panchavati forest, and with lakshman’s aid he builds a frugal house with a rustic sweetness, and my room they embellish with pretty trinkets and small statues of gods for my evening prayers. ram brings me petty jewels and patterned shawls from the nearest village, and flowers of the earth for me to wreath into my hair and distill into perfume when he goes hunting. but when my blood comes he disappears, as if i cannot pollute him with my presence, and it is lakshman who brings me my favourite seared fish and grinds herbs into paste for me to swallow, to allay my cramps. when ram kisses me, i taste not passion or lust but the satisfaction of a duty fulfilled. i am, in accordance with my sacred vows, the consort of a god. i am the ideal. but in truth, i cannot be his equal. when i ask him for the golden doe that leaps past our vision like a craven wanderer, he is reluctant. but i press him, to see how far i can go. i challenge him. he accepts. but deer can be demonesses. molten gold can make a cage.

iii. ravana loves me the way one loves a prize, but not the way one loves a lover. he captures me and brings me to his kingdom of lanka. he is tireless in his courting, preening before me as a peacock does after a rainstorm, and polishing me like a porcelain marionette. he lathers me in gold-dipped necklaces from the south, and anklets and bracelets that catch the thin light. he drowns me in richly-spun fabrics and hordes of jewels – rubies, emeralds, lapis lazuli, carnelian. he watches me always, in his paradise garden. his maidservants dress me and his apsaras dance for me, but i am tired. he asks me to be his wife, to allow him to secure the only line he has not crossed, (for he watches me eat, watches me dress, watches me bathe, watches me sleep) but he grows impatient as i spurn him again and again. he wants to have me for a trophy, like the boars’ heads in his halls, like his other wives, polished and pristine as they are. i lose sleep and i lose hair. i abhor the smell of flowers, the smell of grass, the weight of riches and of misery. but the admission of defeat, the death knell of a renouncement, does not come easily. i cling despondently to a wisp of a wish, like the candy they spin at village fairs like airy cotton, melting fast on my tongue. i plan my escape. when hanuman, the magnificent monkey god, comes to me to tell me that he can carry me to safety, i tell him i will wait for my husband. but i am only buying time for myself. i am only buying hope. i am thinking – maybe there is a way for me to run.

maybe there is a way for me to run.

iv. i do not want to be rescued. i want to be freed. from stronghold, to palace, to forest, to garden. from daughter, to wife, to peasant, to prisoner. who is sita? i inhabit her, but i do not know. when ram makes me walk through the fire to prove my purity, i think – finally. i will burn and be reunited with my mother earth. my soul will be free. i will have done my duty, i will be cleansed of sin. but i do not burn. we return to ayodhya but they spurn me again and again. ram exiles me, and i am reunited with the illusory paths of the forest once more, a pregnant peasant who has no beginnings, and has no end. i raise my sons not as a queen, but as a mother. every single day i pray in the temple at the hermitage, for my mother to reclaim me. i wait for anything – any sign, but i receive nothing – nothing from the sky, nothing from the ground. everyday i scatter wildflowers before the statue of lakshmi, i leave offerings of fruit before the temple doorstep. every spare moment i have, i think of my mother. she is all i have now, for my sons grow older and they yearn to be men – to be princes. i fade into the shadows of the forest. i was never a person. i was always a crutch.

v. my boys become legends in the forest and beyond, and i think, it is not long now. they do not need me. i surrender my days to the company of lovers who are ardent and loveless, men and women who are children of the forest. our bonds are simple, we do not try to meet on unearthly planes or explore anything higher than the basest of a human passion. but it is this that places a sliver of freedom in my dry mouth. for in the eyes of the world i am already a sinner. i am determined to take advantage of it. as the seasons run and the leaves turn, winter winds bring a rawness to my aging body. my hair begins to fall out in clumps. my teeth stain yellow with the juice of wild fruits. my skin becomes duller and my bones become wearier but sometimes i feel wiser. i am no longer a daughter of the gods now. i am a human creature of bone, of blood, of head, of heart. of soul. i am a creature of lust, of passion, of secrets and lies. but still, like that golden doe in the forest that was not, sita evades me, her bangles clinking and anklets going jhum. jhum. jhum.she runs in circles, her shadow echoing like a ringing bell between the darkness of the trees. try as i might, i cannot catch her. i cannot even see her.

our bonds are simple, we do not try to meet on unearthly planes or explore anything higher than the basest of a human passion. but it is this that places a sliver of freedom in my dry mouth.

vi. the dawn of my fiftieth spring brings ram to my doorstep. his presence is a breath of pureness, harmonised by trumpets and birdsong. everyone loves him – although i cannot. a god cannot sin. the sin lies in me. and as he takes his sons into his arms, accepts them as his own holy flesh, he asks me if i will endeavour to prove myself again. for i have birthed princes now, and i am a queen mother. everything, every burden i have endured, every part of myself i have forsaken, seems to bolt into my heart like an expert-placed arrow. the head sinks into my flesh. i fall to the ground and i cry as i have not done since i was a child. and for the first and last time, i tell him, i tell them all – i am no sinner. i have never been a sinner.if i am an innocent, let mother earth take me into her arms and fly me home to freedom. like a ravenous mouth, the ground opens, and bhumi emerges, hair dusted with earth, tears, too, in her eyes. she takes me into her arms. i only waited for you to need me beyond anything. it is only once you are ready to cast away life that you can return to the earth, my daughter. her skin is soft, her voice lilting, like in my dreams. you can learn to be happy again. her magic is my poultice. as we surge into the earth and the material world closes above us, i feel the scars of my past evanesce – humiliation, loss, sorrow. her hands wipe my tears before they dry. i know that she will love me, like a mother loves a daughter. she says my name, over and over and over again. she sings it and i feel loved. sita. i feel secure. sita. i am home. sita.

—–
Lakshmi Mitra is a 19 year old college student living in Calcutta who occasionally frustrates herself into a bout of writing. When not doing so, she can be found reading, studying, craving sleep, and complaining. She is mostly polite, a lousy conversationalist, and doesn’t like sudden movements. Therefore, it comes as a great surprise to her that her cats still don’t like her. She blogs at sightsinunderland.wordpress.com and anotherwinterheart.tumblr.com.

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Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.

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