On the pedestal below Sita’s sat Trijata, their fingers entwined. Sita spoke about the Ram Rajya that she and her husband were to build together. It was their labour of love. This aspirational castle had laid its foundation over the last 13 years of their exile.

“What is this Ram Rajya you are so fascinated by?” Trijata crushed pomegranates between her palms and ran them through her open hair before tucking it into a bun. Thin red streaks peeked between the strands.

“It is a unique statesmanship to empower and unite the people of Ayodhya,” Sita’s voice was feeble but firm. “The subjects here would live without fear or hesitation, with dignity and education...”

Trijata was bewildered. “What are you saying, woman! You want your subjects to live without fear of their king? They will do anything they want and you wouldn’t know how to cast them off.”

Trijata’s concern was justified. Even my brows had furrowed. A mynah sang from above, hiding behind one of the branches. “I said without fear. Not without love,” Sita explained warmly. “If they love, they will respect.”

My gaze lifted above into the leaves, trying to locate the mynah. Everyone who heard the mynah could assume that the bird was eager to entertain its audience. But the mynah sings because singing is its character. Can anyone motivate the bird for a repeat performance? Impractical expectations lead to disappointments. However, Sita was willing to die protecting this illusive metaphor called Ram Rajya.

“You really believe in this word, love, no? Ram’s love for you. People’s love for Ram–Sita. The love and harmony among the people of Ram Rajya.” Trijata smiled.

“You don’t?” Sita’s question was simple, but Trijata was stumped.

“No, we don’t. We understand affection. The rest are principles and duties that no one is allowed to override. When discipline fails, there is a penalty. We believe that mutual affection lasts till neither the receiver nor the giver is threatened. Love is overrated.”

Trijata’s explanation silenced Sita. It got me thinking too. Everyone in this country was taught the laws from a very young age. Even casual conversations were laced with words lifted straight from the constitution. No one could violate it. The king amended the rulebook as per evolving preferences and morals. The subjects went back to memorise the amended rules. I would often watch her from my bedside window. Sita sat with her back against the base of the shimshapa tree. I seldom saw her resting.

All day long she remained preoccupied, obsessing over her ideology. Passion crumbles into shards of broken glass if one is not empirical enough to identify and revise the follies. Follies are many, in everything. Who would explain this to Sita? Her faith had been her only solace since Ravan had separated her from Ram. She was looking skywards, singing her poetry. Sita’s voice was not that of a trained vocalist. The rugged, oral composition burned and broke the surface of the earth. It quaked with her truth, shaking the foundations of the lavish palace that sprawled many floors below the ground, while majestic staircases spiralled towards the sky.

Ravan wanted his palace in Lanka to be as enormous as Mount Kailash, and his woman in its chambers to resemble a thousand goddesses. There was a vast difference between my worship and Ravan’s. I followed Shankar; Ravan was a devotee of Maheshwar. I submitted to the power, he competed with it.

Did Sita expect the winds of Lanka to carry her poetry to Ram? Unlikely. The rowdy winds had a roar of their own. They would drown her voice in the ocean rather than acting as her messenger. Everyone in Lanka reported to Ravan, even the winds. This captive woman was the only contradiction.

Why did she sing? To irk Ravan? Again, unlikely. She didn’t do anything for Ravan. It was another matter altogether that the king couldn’t stand her music. Fearlessness can unnerve the sharpest swords.

The lyrics painted a portrait of the forthcoming Ram Rajya. A delightful country with bounteous rivers, broad paddy fields beside them, well-grown husks waiting to be milled, cheerful people and healthy cattle. Abundance in thoughts and deeds. Where the king of Ayodhya would sit with the peasants on a level ground. Her eyes were filled with an unrealistic fantasy that didn’t consider the strategic estimation underlying enterprising programmes. Adversities must be predicted in advance. Else, innocence gets trapped within undue controversies.

Sita’s tune was replete with the joys of motherhood. In her mind, she had adopted Ayodhya as her child. The songs promised protection and sustenance to her subjects, envisioning alliances leading to employment and expansion. She included her brothers-in-law – Lakshman, Bharat, and Shatrughan – in her resource allocations. Wasn’t it Bharat’s mother who conspired their banishment so that her son could become king? Sita was quite oblivious to political choreographies. Poor woman! She was too forgiving, nice and naïve.

Excerpted with permission from Mandodari: The Sati Series IV, Koral Dasgupta, Pan MacMillan India.