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Review – “Shanta (The story of Rama’s sister)” by Anand Neelakantan

What is better than buying books? Buying books for free, right!? So when I got some cash-back for the purchases that I had made a month ago, I didn’t stop to even think and splurged them all into buying a few ebooks that would last me a month or so given that my reading speed which was riding on the accelerator since the last 3 months has now gone into the first gear.
Shanta (The story of Rama’s sister) by Anand Neelakantan is a short story about the title protagonist, how she became a catalyst for the birthing of the Maryada Purshottama and his brothers from an ignored child of her parents Dhashratha and Kaushalya.

Shanta was never loved. An unwanted child in the royal family of Ayodhya, ignored by her father, her only console is her stepmother Kaikeyi, who wishes only good for her. But when she is given away for adoption to the king of Anga, she loses the affectionate yet firm Kaikeyi too. In a new land, amongst new parents and citizens, Shanta finds herself torn between her duty to her new kingdom and her self-respect. What she does will go down in history, and she will be seen either as a savior or as a selfish snob.

It did not matter that Kaushalya had given birth to Shanta. She did not count. She was just a girl.

Whenever I read about women characters, I feel them so deeply that I often forget my own issues, because theirs always seem greater. Shanta is one of the lesser, or we can safely say, the least of the known characters from the mythical Ramayana and yet, she plays such an important role in the arrival of Rama and his brothers. If you read my reviews, you must be aware that I don’t particularly consider these stories anything more than folk tales because I don’t believe that the supreme power is so haughty to consider the female folk as lesser mortals (or immortals in such cases), so considering this as a work which may or may not be true, I’ll write down what I feel.
In a world where we talk about gender equality, it’s no less than blasphemous to yearn for a male child, more so when one already has a child, albeit female. A lot of people have this thought process of not being able to keep their bloodline in this world if they don’t have a male child and it couldn’t get more foolish. Is it a matter of education? No, it is a matter of being enlightened. Entire races take birth from a woman’s womb, yet when a girl is born, she is destined to suffer, given that she lives beyond the first few hours or for that matter, the first few months of her being conceived. I wouldn’t go deep into the much done and dusted man vs. woman but I will definitely say this, our Earth is called Mother for a reason.
Written plainly, Shanta’s character is unloved all her life, till the time she stays in her birth kingdom. It is only when she is adopted and has a use that she finds respect in the eyes of her family. Her saving grace is her ability to entice a sage, to have coitus with him, and bring him down from his place of meditation to alleviate the suffering of the people. Although I found her character to be highly submissive, I found her the most patient and forgiving in the entire Ramayana. Even when she does all that she does for those who never treated her with love, she has no qualms about it. Like her husband, she truly becomes one with his mind and attains what should be life’s purpose, peace. With no fancy words or subplots to push the reader off track, her story is laid as bare as the hypocrisy of her royal family. 
I would recommend this short story for a quick read, a lesson in human nature and woman power.

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