Excerpt from Sita's Sister

Urmila's first instinctive reaction had been a flood of hurt for being rejected by both her husband and sister, followed by a deep and bitter anger. They had not considered her at all, each intent on getting what they wanted. She felt betrayed, left out and let down. Her grievance was more against Lakshman than Sita. For Sita, there was reserved an envy - another unfamiliar feeling that she could accompany her husband to the forest; Urmila could not. Her husband had rejected the option outright.

There was the guilt of harboring such disagreeable skepticism towards the people she treasured the most; why was she thinking such terrible molten lava, exploding and scalding each sense, every thought on how she would be wrenched away from the man she loved for fourteen years. A man who did not love her enough, who could betray and forsake her yet again. He did not need her, her heart wept.

'Mila, don't!' she heard him say hoarsely. 'please don't hate me so!'

She turned instinctively on hearing his beloved voice, unable to mask the stark despair in her eyes. He winced.

'Don't hate me for what I have done.' He repeated. 'Forgive me, if you can. I know I have failed you!'

There was a lump in her throat; she could not speak. She did not want to speak; she did not trust herself. The sight of him was so precious. Soon it was going to be rare, no, absent-she would not see him for years now. She was drinking in the sight of him inhibitedly, without anger or pride. She timidly stretched out her hand to touch him, scared he would soon disappear. She felt his smooth skin under her trembling fingers, looking straight into his eyes. They were as anguished as hers - tormented, tortured and torn between the two loves of his life. It struck her that they did not have too much time. He would be leaving soon. There was no time for anger and rancor, for pain and regret, for hatred or forgiveness. All she could do was love him.

'I love you', she breathed softly. 'go'.

'Yes, I have to. But not with you thinking the worst of me. Mila, I love you. But you think I don't', he said, his fingers unconsciously loosening her bun at her nape, he hairpin dropping at her feet. 'Never, Mila, never think that. I cannot prove what I feel for you but don't condemn me. Can you feel how you fill my heart, my being, my very soul?' he swallowed convulsively. 'you are in me. And that's what I shall have when I am without you for the next fourteen years.'

'Then why can't you take me with you?' she asked sadly.

She said it before she could stop herself as she knew the answer. It was a futile request. Lakshman was going out of his own violation with Ram, he had not been banished. He was going with his brother as his soldier, his bodyguard, and a soldier does not take his wife to the battlefield. Urmila knew she had to harden her heart for herself - and for him. She looked at the darkening sky from her window, black and bleak, refusing to break into light, ushering the dawn of a new day.

'I cannot take you with me because I love you too much…not too less as you think,' he was saying tenderly, holding her hands and turning her wrists out to stroke them absently with his thumb. 'It's not easy in the forest. Ram is taking Sita because he knows he will be able to protect her. I am going as his guard, so how will I be able to look after you or protect you? And more importantly, you are safer here in the palace. The forest is not a safe place, and it's not just the physical hardship I am talking about. I know you can suffer that gladly. Dandaka is now especially dangerous with the demons, having captured it, throwing out or murdering the rishis, disrupting their penance. And you have seen how treacherous they can be Mila! Don't you remember how they entered the Mithila Palace and took the form of Sita? Everyone was fooled. Even you! Then how can I take you with me to such a place and expose you to danger? He said violently.  'I would go mad with worry just imagining you coming to any harm! No, Mila, I would rather part with you for these many years than endanger you even for a moment! Possibly, as Ram said, that's what we are destined for - to fight the evil there and not sit easy on the throne of Ayodhya. '

His face was tortured, his eyes glistened with pain. He looked at her. She looked lovely and forlorn. Her silence drove him crazy. He did not miss the plea in her heart, her silent, softly despairing appeal, breaking his heart, almost killing his resolve. 'I can never forget how Ravan and the other princes looked at you at the swayamvar and I would have killed each of them for their temerity! And in the forest, if nor protected, a woman is anyone's for the taking - it's an animal's world with no rules, morals or societal restrictions. How can I ever take you there?'

Urmila clutched at his hand and said tremendously, 'Go, Lakshman. I shall not stop you..'she choked.

'You won't be alone here, Mila', he continued gently, reassuring her and himself. 'Mandavi and Kirti will soon join you. And you are so strong - the strongest woman I have ever known. You are Urmila, one where the hearts meet.'he said softly. 'It is you who binds all the sisters together with your patience and wisdom. Please do it for me now. Look after my broken family', he implored. 'And let me go to the forest for I am not sure if I would be able to protect you as your husband. My work and goal would be to safeguard my brother  - the king of Ayodhya and his queen. My duty is to protect the future of Ayodhya. That's what I have been born for….

(See interviews: Sita's Sister: a most unusual theme )