To understand where the girls' questions arose, and the need for Chitrangada's story, it's important to know that the Indian/Hindu epic mythological tales Ramayana, The Story of Rama and the Mahabharata are always told to children as male-centred stories. The prince is the hero and the story begins and ends with him. The princess is merely a natural aspect of the story—a prince finds and protects and loves one or more women along the way.
We don't spend much time on how Princess Sita felt or what Queen Draupadi thought. We don't start the stories with the women, nor do we end the stories with them. I suspect it's because the very stories themselves have changed as patriarchy grew stronger over the ages.
I wondered what the Story of Rama would sound like to little Indian kids if it didn't begin with Rama. What if it began with his wife, Princess Sita? I read several versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to re-tell the stories of the princess in each. This is what I learned:
A true princess can live the plainest life possible because the gown and slippers don't matter.
Being a princess as the Disney consumer product definition goes meant nothing to Sita. Sita loved her husband Rama so deeply that when he was exiled from his kingdom, she chose to stick by him, leaving the wealth, the luxury, the princess status behind and living the harsh life of an ascetic woman in the forest. No beauty products, no rose and milk baths, no maids attending, no crystal-ware. For 14 years she washed her own clothes, grew her own food, cleaned her own hut, and slept on a mud floor happily, because she loved Rama, not his title. Sita was in a unique position: According to the rule of the exile she was not bound to leave the palace. But she chose to—that was the strength of her love.
A princess is a queen in the making. And a queen knows how to say 'no.'
After two exiles, one with Rama and one alone as a pregnant mother, and after bringing up their twins alone, Sita grieved at her husband's inability to trust her. When he refused to stand up for her and humiliated her by doubting her virtue in public twice, Sita said, 'Enough!' Perhaps the first feminist story ever, the Ramayana does not end 'happily ever after.' Sita walked away without looking back. Your 'no' is a valid choice. Make it when you need to.
A princess never relies on advertisements. She knows she is beautiful.
Watch Indian television for 30 minutes and you'll witness the frightening number of advertisements that bombard young Indian girls with fairness skin products. Being milky white as a means to a job, a date, a husband is promoted heavily in print and televised media. I have met eight year olds who felt ugly because they are dark-skinned. I have spoken to girls in Delhi schools about Princess Draupadi who was dark-skinned yet was perhaps the most coveted woman in Indian mythology. 'Princess Draupadi was miles from fair, but did that diminish her beauty? I have brown skin, and I'm proud of it. You should be too,' is what I tell them.