This letter is to the beloved consort of Mithila’s Lord Janaka from Sita Devi of Ayodhya.
I, SITA, prostrate prayerfully before Amma with a submission.
All is well here, and hope it is so with you too. The people and the chariot you sent have arrived. The messengers told us that you have instructed us to come to Mithila for Deepavali. Considering the state of affairs here, I am sure you will understand that it will be difficult for us to visit you now. My father-in-law is always at Mandavi’s mother-in-law, Kaikeyi’s house. My mother-in-law is furious. She conceals it well though, and is engrossed in prayer and serving food to Brahmins. I have to get up early in the morning, bathe and help her with chores. Work fills the day. There is not a moment’s rest.
As soon as the wedding ceremonies were over, my brother-in-law Bharathan was taken away by his uncle. You know Shatrugnan, he always tails his elder-brother. Only after they return, can we seek permission for the journey, and after all that, I don’t know if we will be able to reach Mithila before Deepavali. I have great doubts about the whole thing.
After thinking it over, your son-in-law has decided that it is best we spend Deepavali in Ayodhya itself. Father will soon receive a letter about this from my father-in-law.
Do send the gift of silks to us. Your son-in-law likes only yellow silk. So, buy only that for him. Here, for Deepavali, a new design in gold bracelets is being fashioned for the son-in-law of the house, Rishyasringan. It is lovely! Do make a similar one for your elder son-in-law and send it. Along with the people who bring this letter to you, I am sending a goldsmith who excels in that kind of workmanship. No one need know that I have written to you about this matter.
You wrote that a sindhur-coloured sari is being woven for me. Here in Ayodhya, people are very fastidious about the way they dress. I believe that their silks are brought by traders from foreign lands; those narrow borders look so elegant. My sister-in-law Shantha wore one such in blue. I long to have one like it! All the saris that you bought for my wedding have broad borders. I feel so embarrassed to wear them now. Everyone makes fun of me. Don’t send me any more of that kind.
Salutations to my esteemed Father.
Ever your humble,
* * *
PRAYERFUL submission to mother.
All well here. After writing to you, I met my sister-in-law Shantha. It seems the blue colour is not fast. Fades soon. So, I don’t want a silk of that colour. Send the sindhur-coloured silk as planned earlier. Or else, if you can find a copper-coloured one which is guaranteed to be fast, send that. It is boring to wear the same colour over and over again. Anyway, do what you feel is most convenient. I don’t want to trouble you much. However, don’t buy the blue shade.
* * * PRAYERFUL submission to mother.
All well here. Quite suddenly Father-in-law has had an idea. A plan to perform the coronation of your son-in-law! This means a sari — with your blessings — in the pandal! What kind of sari do you plan to send? Do you think the navamallikacolour will be nice? Since it is going to be displayed in the pandal, it has to be a grand one. How quickly will you be able to get one with spots like a deer’s worked all over it? Or will it be possible only if ordered well in advance? My mother-in-law does not like cuckoo- or peacock-colour. Tiger-stripes will look as if I’m in puli-vesham. I really don’t know what you are going to do. My head is spinning thinking continuously about these saris. I simply cannot decide. Do as you think best.
Your loving Sita
Or else, buy a very grand sari for both Deepavali and the Coronation Function combined.
* * *
No need to send any sari. All is over. We are going away to the forest. The coronation — will now be for Bharatan. The person who is bringing this letter will tell you everything. I have only one dress made of bark-skin. If it rains in the forest and I get wet, I will have nothing else to wear. Therefore, if possible, send a bark-skin. Your son-in-law says that only your appalams taste heavenly. We are going to Chitrakoot. Nobody need know this.
Yours in haste.
There is no need to worry any more about the colour of saris. Peace of mind is now mine. How helpful it would be if all women were to go to the forest! Half the worries would disappear.
* * *
Ahana Lakshmi is a PhD in Environmental Science from Anna University, Chennai and works in the area of environment and coastal management. She has been writing essays and stories for children with a science/environment theme in various magazines including Gokulam (English) and Rashtra Deepika’s Children’s Digest. She has translated from Tamil to English, stories and essays by Kumudini (Ranganayaki Thatham), and has published an anthology of Kumudini’s writings titled From the Inner Palace. She has also translated stories by Prema Nandakumar, some of which have been published by Prathiba India, Muse India and other journals. She lives in Chennai. Sita’s Letters by Kumudini (Smt Ranganayaki Thatham) has been translated by Ahana Lakshmi.
This appeared first in The Hindu on 3rd April 2005. It is included in From the Inner Palace, A Kumudini Anthology, published by Srirangam Srinivasa Thathachariar Trust, March 2009; subsequently included in In Search of Sita, published by Penguin, 2009.
Read the original in Tamil here!