“Your life draws to an end. Should you not look to heal your open wounds?” asked Vishwamitra.
I was not offended that the sage thought my life was coming to its close. When I was young, I would have been aghast at the ill portents of such a statement. I would have pleaded with him to take back his words, lest they come true. Now, I knew it to be true. I knew it before he came. Was the smell of the earth my mother calling out to me?
I was silent for a moment. I had loved Rama once. At this moment though, all I felt was a sense of both bitterness and betrayal. I had given him all the love I had possessed in every fibre of my being. I had followed him, been the pillar against which he leant when he had no hope, the rock on which he stepped when he needed to see further into the world, the soft, inviting mud in which he collapsed and cooled off when he despaired.
And he let me go without a second thought because it suited some greater ideal that he believed in. I was reduced to sand in his fist. To be held close when it suited him and then, the moment it was convenient, to let the wind carry it away from his open palm.
Of course he would never look at it that way. He had, over the years, trained himself to see the world in a dichotomy of good and evil. Right and wrong. Light and darkness. And, to his credit, he always strived to do what was right according to him. No matter how difficult the choice was. It was not easy to leave a palace and go into exile for fourteen years, but he did so because he believed it was the right thing to do.
I insisted that I would follow him, since I too, back then, believed in those ideals – his ideals. We had been married only a little while, and perhaps it was the idealism of youth that had seduced me. I believed we were one entity now, floating in a single raft through life. It was my duty not only to negotiate calm waters but also to weather every storm alongside him. I wanted him to be happy. And, more selfishly, I wanted to be the one to make him happy and to hold his family together.
“What makes you unhappy, child?”
The sage’s voice shook me out of my reverie.
“Nothing at all,” I said without conviction.
“Something troubles you, though?” he persisted.
I was quiet for a moment and then I spoke, faltering a little. It was difficult for me to express these thoughts. “I just wonder if things would have been better had I not loved. Had I not expected love and had I not invested myself completely in the pursuit of that love.”
I didn’t mention Rama”s name. But he understood. “Do you wish your life had been different?”
I looked at him without saying anything. I could not articulate what I felt. I had spent much time suppressing these thoughts. I felt that if I did say something, I would feel worse than ever. I was scared.
He said the words I couldn”t bring myself to say out loud.
“Do you wish you had never met Rama? You had never married him?”
We did not speak after that, and he left my hut after finishing his water. I had all but forgotten our conversation the next day, when he came into my hut unannounced.
“There is a way,” he started abruptly. “A technique Vishwamitra has learnt. It is possible for Vishwamitra to use his yogic energy to show you how your life would have been had certain events never happened. To see, albeit briefly, a reality that never was.”
“What do you mean, Guruji?”
“Vishwamitra can show you what your life would have been if you had not married Rama.”
He waited for me to respond, but his words had taken me by surprise. I could not say anything. He continued.
“Imagine life as a stage. We play a role in the grand scheme of things. But there are other roles we could have played had our choices been different. What if, Sita, you had made other choices or, perhaps not been presented with certain choices? You would have become someone entirely different. Vishwamitra can show you how your life would have been had your choices been different.”
I was quiet. Had he really read my thoughts? And more importantly, could he really show me how my life would have been if I had not met Rama? I was filled with a sudden dread. What if I saw that my future would have been better had I not chosen to marry Rama? Would I live in regret for the rest of my life?
“Guruji, I cannot bring myself to do this. I feel it is a betrayal to my life, the way I have led it. It is also a betrayal to Rama. As you said, the future is a palace of a thousand doors. I have chosen mine and I should be happy with my choices. Nothing more can be done.”
He nodded. “As you wish,” he said. “Hindsight can be unpleasant. And the decision to compare your life with a glimpse of a life without Rama should be entirely yours. It may make you bitter about a life you could have lived but didn’t. On the other hand, it could release you from the need to look at the past with resentment.”
He smiled as he said this, and once again I got the feeling he was reading my thoughts.
“Guruji, thank you for your offer. But it is not a decision I can make in haste. Could you grant me a few hours?”
The sage smiled sadly at me. “Unfortunately, I have to leave within the hour. I want to cross the forest before it gets dark. I am not sure when I will be coming here again.”
He paused after the last line, a little awkwardly. We were both old. Maybe it was his way of saying he would not see me again. Was this gift of foresight his way of saying goodbye?
It was clear this was not an opportunity that would ever come again. I quickly decided I could face the consequences later. I nodded at the sage and he asked me to sit in front of him.
“You will see the world through the eyes of the woman you could have been had you not met Rama. And she will narrate her story to you, but you will be a stranger to her. Some of it might be similar to your own story, but much will be unknown to you. If, at any point, the experience becomes overwhelming, draw away from me, and I will end it and begin again only when you tell me to.”
This said, he took his thumb and pressed it in the area between my eyebrows and said a mantra.
Sita opened her eyes. She was inside the palace of Mithila.
Vishwamitra’s voice spoke to her.
“You are an audience watching the story of someone else”s life. You will hover like a ghost, seeing the scenes of her life from afar and hearing her voice narrating it to you, but will not be able to influence anything. You will not see her entire story, but only the parts that she sees fit, in her wisdom, to narrate. Vishwamitra lets her take the reins of her story now.”
Excerpted with permission from Bhumika, Aditya Iyengar, Hachette India.