Thirty decades after her translation of Valmiki’s Ramayan, Arshia Sattar retells this epic for children. The Ramayan obviously never gets old. This past weekend, when I took the sumptuously illustrated book of many rakshasas home, my eight-year-old’s eyes gleamed; it was then beyond argument who would have first dibs on it.

Sattar, according to the publisher’s description, remains true to Valmiki’s version of this variously interpreted text. It’s interesting then that Lakshmana is shown in a much better light in the story than his elder brother. While Rama has always been revered as the just and noble king, there are two occasions when his actions were beyond justification: the sneaky way in which he kills the monkey king Vali, and particularly the unforgivable manner in which he abandons his wife Sita. Lakshmana, always, is brave and considered in his actions, loyal to the core and, most heartwarmingly, horrified at his brother’s injustice towards Sita.

Ramayana For Children: By Arshia Sattar, Illustrated by Sonali Zohra, Juggernaut, 218 pages, Rs499.
Ramayana For Children: By Arshia Sattar, Illustrated by Sonali Zohra, Juggernaut, 218 pages, Rs499.

If Sita’s subsequent rejection of Rama can be seen as a feminist act, then Valmiki also shows a world where a woman’s place in society is dependent on that of her men. A speech by queen Kaushalya on hearing of her son’s exile is thus touching: “I waited so long for this moment—the moment my son would be king. I suffered slights and insults for years because your father did not love me enough. But I held my peace because I knew you were the eldest, that one day you would rule and I would be respected and honoured as your mother, the mother of the king."

This is a particularly patriarchal world, not the kind we want our daughters to either live in or succumb to. And for that reason, this story not only needs to be retold, it needs to be reimagined again and again, especially for children.

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