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Urmila walked back and forth in the huge meeting hall, her perfect brows knitted in deep worry. Sitting all around her were her mothers and brothers in law, and standing beside them were her sisters, Mandavi and Kirti. The expressions of each face echoed her deep feeling of unrest and confusion. Where were the other 3? It was almost noon time now, but there was no sign of her elder sisiter Sita anywhere in the palace. Neither had she attended the morning venerations, nor had she been present at the breakfast table. This was most unnatural, for no matter how ill she was, or how important any problem, she never just disappeared without informing anyone. To make matters worse, Lakshman too couldn’t be found anywhere. Ram, the illustrious, beloved king of Ayodhya and her favorite brother-in-law, was locked up in his room, the doors of which he refused to open even at the calls of his mothers and Guru Vashishtha. Although no one else agreed to her claim, Urmila was dead sure she had heard muffled sounds of crying from within, which had only increased her worries exponentially. Something terrible had happened, and no one seemed to have any idea about what was going on. The first ray on relief had been the news that the last guard on night duty had seen Lakshman drive Sita towards the forests in his chariot from the back door.
“He must have taken her to visit the pious ascetics”, Kaushalya had informed them, sounding much glad. “she had told me about her desire to seek their blessings.” This visibly eased the concerns of the other, but not hers. Why would they go without informing her, any other sister, brother, either of the mothers or even a servant? And why such an odd hour? They could have gone at daybreak, and all knew about Kaushalya’s sudden turn towards spirituality. She would have loved to accompany them, and Sita was well aware of the fact. Why leave her behind? And the most important of all questions, why had Ram locked himself up, and why was he crying? The announcement of Lakshman’s arrival washed her heart with calmness. Maybe now Ram would show up, and let everyone know what was happening, and why had he summoned them in the hall. Moreover, she was going to have a word with her sister. In her condition, why was she taking such night time escapades without anybody’s knowledge?
Lakshman entered the hall, his rugged face drained, his eyes bloodshot. He dragged his unwilling feet with much effort, and suddenly, he seemed to have aged over ten years. At his sight, the motehrs and brothers rushed to his side to satisfy their queries, but not a word dropped from his sealed lips. One look at his shattered form was enough to confirm Urmila’s worst fears. “Where is Didi?” she whispered, finding no sign of her sister coming in. all eyes turned towards Lakshman, then the door, and back at him, but he stood unmoving, unanswering, lost and lifeless like a statute. Urmila felt herself break into cold sweat. What was all this about?
The announcement of Ram’s entrance made everyone turn their heads in his direction. One look at him, and Urmila physically recoiled. His lotus shaped eyes, always a source of deep serenity and peace, where swollen and rufescent, his high cheekbones tear stained. His impeccably perfect hair were deshelved, like he had been running his hands through them in mad despair. His trademark smile was wiped from his lips, which were pressed in a hard line, and he clenches his fists so hard beside him, his knuckles had gone white. He walked towards the center of the hall and stood in front of Lakshman, noticing no one else. “Lakshman?” he called in a thick, uncharacteristic tone. “Have you done what was asked of you?” urmila heard him choke at the last bit, but he soon composed himself. Her husband shook his head softly and a tear dropped from his eyes, which he caught before anyone could notice. He strided towards his brother and kneeled in front of him. She watched him unwrap an object from his angvastra and place it at his feet. He stood up and stepped back. Urmila heard horror gasps all around when they all saw what was there. Sita’s sparkling diadem, the mark of her royal marriage, sat at Ram’s feet, its shine disappearing with every passing moment. “I have left her in the forest, just as His Highness ordered.” Lakshman spoke for the very first time. All eyes turned towards him, and a shrill cry resonated off the high ceilings, which she recognised to be Kaushlaya’s. “Left whom in the forest Lakshman?!! where is Sita?!! What exactly is going on and why are you addressing your brother as king outside the court?!!!” “Because he is talking to the king, Queen Mother.” Rang Ram’s voice, loud and clear, back to its steady self, though in his eyes still raged an unfathomable tempest.
He took a deep breath and began. “I have taken a decision, about which you all must be informed. As you are aware, in our final year of exile, my queen was abducted by Ravan. We succeeded in rescuing her, and she proved her chastity by giving the fire ordeal. But the people of Ayodhya remained unconvinced of her purity. The royal family sets an example for the people to follow, and as the Scion of the great Raghukul, and the King of Ayodhya, I could not have had a spouse whom my people refused to follow and saw as a mark of the royal family’s dishonor and failure. Thus, I have taken a decision best suited in my people’s interests and wishes. I have abandoned my Queen, Sita.”
A ghastly silence filled the hall, which split Urmila’s ears. Her breath knocked out of her lungs, she crumpled in a heap on one of the huge chairs, her eyes threatening to bulge out of her sockets as if someone was suffocating her. She heard Kaushalya drop on the ground, and the two queens cry out in concern as she held her head in her hands. Her sister had been abandoned, forced into the forest in her pregnancy with no one to care for her, or her unborn child, all for a crime she had never even dreamt of committing. Slowly, she raised her head to look around herself. Her eyes met her husband’s, and a wave of deep resentment and betrayel surged through her veins. In her despair and red hot anger, she charged at him. “HOW COULD YOU?!!” she screamed, her hands hitting his hard chest, pushing him behind. “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO HER? TO ALL OF US? TO ME??!!!” she demanded, relentlessly hitting him, her sharp nails clawing at his skin, leaving red welts on his fair complexion. “You, of all the people, knew she was innocent. Then WHY?!!!” she asked, looking directly in his eyes, which he dropped as soon as they met hers.
“Why?” she whispered as she sank to the floor, her pulse pounding in her ears. She drew shallow breaths as she pooled at his feet, unable to cry, or speak. In one instant, all was lost. Her sisters hurried to her side, and a traumatized Kirti wept bitterly, throwing her arms around Urmila’s neck. “Sita didi!!” was all the poor girl could wail. “why Ram?!” Kaushalya shouted, springing to her feet. “Why did you do this to your wife, the mother of your child, my daughter-in-law? Why did you forsake our responsibility, Raghukul’s honor, to wander in the forests? Is this how I raised you, to punish people on the basis of mere rumors and suspicions? Is this what you learnt from Brahmarishi Vashishtha and Vishvamitra?!! This is how you uphold the great name of your ancestors, your father?!!” she challenged her son, her eyes furious. This was the harshest anyone had ever heard her speak. Her words had been milder when Kaikeyi had treacherously usurped the throne of Ayodhya and forced her son into exile. They had been milder still when she had accused her of her widowhood. “Enough, Didi,” Kaikeyi
spoke, rushing to support her shaking frame. “Calm down. We must not accuse him until we understand.” “Thank you for your faith in me mother”, Ram acknowledged her support with utmost sincerity. He quietly bent to pick up the diadem at his feet at looked at it for a long moment. He then ran his fingers softly over it, and for the very first time, a smile broke on his lips. Urmila looked at him while he was thus occupied. She wanted to feel strong, livid hatered towards his as well. The decision was his after all. If he had wanted, he could have avoided all this pain, or could he? She asked herself. Was there any other way he could have handled the situation. She felt strangely pitiful and empathetic towards him. He had forsaken his wife, for whom he had slain the entire Asur clan eyes
His love and respect for her was no secret, and somehow, she found herself unable to truly understand the depth and complexity of his feelings. In exiling her, he had forced himself into a lifelong suffering as well. As much as she wanted to, her heart could not give consent to hate him, and she knew not what to feel as she saw a tear escape his lotus eyes as he caressed her sister’s former crown.
A sharp smack pulled her out of her thoughts, and she turned to find Sumitra standing in front of Lakshman. she awkwardly scrambled up to her feet, pulling Kirti and Mandavi along. Now standing, she saw the bright red imprints of fingers on her husband’s cheek and realized his mother had hit him. “You ungrateful human!” she seethed. “You used to swear to always make sure of your brother and Sita’s happiness, but look what you have done! Ram did what he did in an overwhelming wave of emotional confusion, but you! you very well realized what he was signing up for, what would be the repercussuions of this decision, but you did not inform anyone! We could have talked his out of it, thought of a solution. But you! what have you done Lakshman!!!” she cried as she hit him one more, and stumbled back, his face paler than ever. “Mother!” Ram called out. “Please don’t blame any of this on him. It is all my fault. I made him vow to not utter a word about this until it was all done. He came to know of this yesterday at night. He could’nt have done anything.”
“He couldn’t have, but I can,” Urmila spoke out. “What do you mean, Sister?” Bharat asked, voicing everyone’s question. but instead of answering him straight away, Urmila turned to face Ram. “Your Grace has a problem with the former queen staying in or anywhere near Ayodhya,” she spoke. Ram slowly shook his head. “But I am sure that if she was to go somewhere far off, where no one would know her as your queen and she would be well looked after, for she is in a delicate condition, Your Excellency would not mind.” Ram looked directly at her for the very first time, his eyes full of new hope. He still cared, she concluded, and it made her heart ache even more. “But where? Where is such a place?” Shatughan inquired. “Mithila,” Mandavi answered, speaking for the very first time. Urmila smiled very softly.
As expected, she had caught on. “Mithila? But everyone there knows she is Ram’s wife. How would this serve the purpose? Besides, what image would I create of Ayodhya? What would the people, especially your parents think?” Kaikeyi asked. “For the people of Mithila, Sita didi is their Maithli, their Vaidehi, their princess. They will always accept her with open arms and warm herats, and give her more respect than the entire Bharatvarsh can. Moreover, neither do our people, nor do our parents believe in playing the blame game. You honor is perfectly secure there,” a now composed Kirti said.”Also, the king has banished his queen, but a husband has not banished his wife. I’m sure he will have no problem to this settlement,” Urmila said, her words clearing any of her leftover doubts. He still loved her, and one grateful look from him confirmed her belief.
“I think that would be the best. Oh Urmila, hurry with your sisters, for only you three can face Sita. I would die of shame before meeting even her shadow”, Kaushalya wailed, gripping Urmila’s shoulders. She nodded quickly, and rushed out, she sisters in tow as she heard Shatrughan call out orderd to prepare their chariots. At the palace gate, she heard the distinctive voice of Ram. “Thank you for giving new hope to all of us. Though I have my doubts whether your sister would accept this proposal, but I still wish you luck. No one would be as happy as me if she is out of that forest, and it would greatly reduce my guilt if she is at a place where she is well looked after.” Urmila looked directly into his eyes, and saw unmistakable sincerity in their depths. Urmila knew her sister would not agree to going to Mithila, and would come up with undeniable logic to support her like always, but she still had to try. “I believe you, Jijashree. I will try my best, I promise.” He nodded in sincere gratitude, and left. She mounted the chariot, joining her waiting sisters, and together, they left.
It was late in the afternoon now, with the sunset only a few hours away. They had been searching all this while, calling out her name like crazy. But no one had found any sign of Sita. The soldiers were all spread out, and Urmila, after sitting for hours at end decided she could take it no longer. She jumped out of the chariot, and her sisters followed suit. She walked deeper into the thick wilderness, determined not to give up without finding Sita. Their royal finery made it hard for them to walk on the uneven path, and they kept upright with much trouble. The hard, parched pre monsoon earth was spitting fire, and the sun was no more merciful. Sweating, panting and nearly tripping over every second thing, they moved on, looking for Sita, finally realizing what actually she might be going through. Somewhere in the distance, a lion roared, and Urmila’s blood froze. The jungle was full of many horrors, countless beasts lurked in it. Although her sister was well trained in self defence, yet, she had no weapons. With such a brute roaming open, and in her condition, she would be absolutely defensless…..
“Sita Didi!!!!!!” she screamed as she broke into a frenzied run. Her heavy jewels and long drapes weighed her down, but she wouldn’t stop. She knew not where she was going, but she couldn’t stop. She had to find her. Suddenly, her foot hit hard against a tree’s root, and she fell, crashing her head on a huge rock. “Urmi!!!” Mandavi called out, and she heard them rushing towards her. Kirti pulled her up, and she felt blood trickle to the side of her face, which mixed with her tears of despair before falling. In her utter hopelessness, she cried out to her sister. “DIDI!!!!”…….