Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Palace of Illusions

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakarunni. I had heard a lot about this book and was lucky to have been gifted a copy by a dear friend. I could read (and re-read certain portions) it at my own pace.
Now, it is the same story of the Mahabharata but becomes very interesting because it is told from Draupadi's point of view. Some look at her as a hero and some as a selfish go-getter - both of which are true. But what the book also conveys is that whoever you are, ultimately there is this thing called Destiny that controls our lives, right from the way we are born to whom we marry, right up to the way we die. Its all pre-written.

I loved the book for its honest and bold approach. It goes where normal Indian writing doesn't dare to. The Krishna-Draupadi friendship makes for a very interesting read. Their exchanges are full of humour, wit, philosophy and there is also a touch-and-go spiritual angle. It sometimes even makes the reader envious to see that Draupadi has this wonderful relationship, that too with a man like Krishna! And Karna. I think enough has been spoken and written about this brave warrior for him to secure a warm place in our hearts. My heart really went out to him. Probably hundreds have shed tears at his tragedy but I never thought I would. My reasons were more than one. For those who don't know already, it might be spoiler if I talk about it here but the Karna angle to this book is extremely moving and touching. Very beautifully written.
I must mention here about Chitra Banerjee's use of language. Though her story is based on mythology, the language she has used is almost contemporary. This makes the characters strike a chord with the reader. The characters are suddenly not alien or from a different time. They become someone who talks the same language as you do and feel the same feelings that you do. A very clever technique I must say. Notice particularly Draupadi's and Krishna's dialogues from the beginning right up to the end. They are sure to make you smile.

Draupadi herself according to the book is not a regular woman but she goes through the thoughts and feelings of a normal woman, only perhaps in epic proportions (pardon the pun). She dares to be different. She acts in haste. She has a bundle of regrets. She loves. She cares. She is often confused.
She dressing up and doing up her home. She even nags like a regular woman would do. It becomes very easy to identify with the character and feel everything she feels through out the book.

The story of the Mahabharata is a heavy one and so this book does drag in places. Parts of the exile get  slightly dull and repetitive. Also as can be the risk with any story spoken in the first person, one almost gets tired of how self-absorbed the protagonist can get. The pace gets faster once the exile is over, just like how the life of Draupadi and the Pandavas catches momentum at that stage. And you can't put the book down from this point on. The last portion of the story is extremely soulful and creatively executed.

I wondered why so little is being spoken of the Pandavas themselves, especially Arjuna, but I understood only later, the aim of the author in doing so. A lot is conveyed about things that are not spoken about.

I would recommend this book those who enjoy emotional-sentimental drama and for those who would like to understand the role of the women characters in the Mahabharata (the author talks of each one of them in quite a detail). But for those who are not familiar with the epic, this is definitely not a good point to start off at. There are many casual references to sub-plots which need a basic familiarity with the story. Read up elsewhere, understand the story and pick this one up. It was very thoughtful of the editor/author to start off the book with a family tree which I found myself referring to, quite often.

I recently came across an article that mentioned this story told from Bhima's point of view, by a Malayalam writer. I must look it up. I am keen especially after reading The Palace of Illusions.

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