Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Palace of Illusions : Mahabharat through Draupadi's eyes

A book by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni that I just finished over the weekend.

Let me rephrase - I just could not put it down. I finished the entire book in 2-3 days (including Saturday when I read in between the match.. can you imagine!!!!).

Scarlett had messaged me about this book and when I saw it at Crossword, I couldn't resist after I read the backflap.

It is a wonderful book. It is about the age old epic we have all been brought up with - stories we listened to, watched on TV .. who can forget BR Chopra's Mahabharat aired every Sunday!! The magnificent sets , the glittering jewellery, the handsome men (yes yes, about 15 yrs back, there really was a glut of handsome men on TV.. Alok Nath was all we had :( , the beautiful jewellery.. ah..  Now though when I see the rerun, I gawk at it!! Why did I like it again? Never mind.. back to the topic at hand.

We are talking about Palace of Illusions. Mahabharat through Draupadi's eyes - one of the most powerful characters in the epic story. What a wonderful concept - it could have gone wrong completely. It could have been the same old Mahabharat we all know. And I am happy to report - it is NOT!

It brings to light a different world, with the same events.. but a completely different world. It is as if you are wearing a different pair of lens when seeing the same set of instances.

The book starts with her birth. All the events unfold around her.

I thought the author would not be able to bring in the events from before her marriage to the Pandavas that do not involve in her.  But she does. And weaves each of those incidents in, so nicely.

There is no chronology that is followed. That was refreshing. Sikhandi is introduced in one of the initial chapters itself without a context as to who she is. There was no introduction to Pandu and Kunti.. But do not despair - she does manage to give the story about each and every character.

So in a way, the complete epic is encapsulated in this narrative.

The focus of course is on Draupadi - what she feels, thinks as all this is happening around her. Every facet to her personality is explored - the initially insecure woman blooming into a full blown confident woman, her patience, her arrogance, her envy, the struggle for power, how she feels about being married to 5 men.. everything. 

For a change, her character is drawn out to be a bit grey portraying a dark side to her personality as well , very unlike any other mythology serials on TV - fter all she is a goddess. But through this book, she just like any other woman like you or me.. with her doubts and fears and insecurities.

She is shown to be an extremely forward thinking woman who has her opinions and does'nt hesitate to tell anyone. When reading this, you wish she had been born in the world. She would have been an awesome person for anyone to contend with.

There are many things I came to know about her too - I didn't know she had a soft spot for Karna, or that she was dark in colour (like Krishna), or that Krishna used to refer to her as Krishnaa, or that she had a power struggle with Kunti, or that she did not bother with her children too much.

I liked it for the aspects of this grand epic it opened my eyes to. I loved it being a woman - a book about a powerful woman like Draupadi and her fears and joy. The nuances she brought in to Draupadi's personality was breath taking.

The only thing I was left wondering is if it was all fact or was some of it fiction. I presume especially the ones where her emotions are described would be fiction. But its so nicely done.

I was really racing through the book - to know how she felt when Duryodhan fell into the water, was she really so arrogant.. what about the time when Dushasan tries to remove her sari.

I just completely loved it. It is a must read for everyone. I, for one have been recommending it to all the women I know!


mêlée said...

Something very similar I read years back...its an oriya book, "Jagyanseni" (1985) by Prative Roy. Mahabharat is re-told from Draupadi's perspective. I dint understand half of it as I was some 11 yrs old...but developed a huge crush on Arjun ;) my first crush!
I think I should read this book you have recommended to fully appreciate the subject.

Gobri said...

Nice! Will try and lay my hands on it.
When you ask whether it is all fact(or fiction), I hope you mean facts from the fiction that Vyasa wrote.

Scarlett said...

A friend of mine lent me this book and insisted I read it. I read 10 pages and returned the book. Maybe it's my bias against Indian writers writing in English...I just don't enjoy most of them.

Having said that, the aspects of Draupadi you didn't know...like her having a soft corner for Karna etc. are all fiction. That's what this book is about. The author has tried to imagine The Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective.

Moonshine said...

@melee I just came to know today there are these books in tamil too.. from shakuni's perspective etc. It is too interesting a subject to not read!! :)

@Gobri You can borrow from me sometime!! I presume some parts to Vyasa's story would be based on some facts.. may not be totally fiction too

@Scarlett I got hooked on it after I had read 1/3rd!! Just take it back and try .. its very easy reading. I googled on all these things to check if fact or fiction. The bit on her colour, her name is all there.. and on Draupadi and Karna, I just googled it.. there is apaprently a lot of conjecture on it.. must be the interpretation.

Shruti said...

I finished this one last week too. And I agree with you - It is very nicely done... Looking at things from Draupadi's perspective brings a newness to the whole story that we already know!

Moonshine said...

@Shruti Isnt it!!!Been desperately wanting at least one more person to read it :)) Miss our discussions!!!!

Shruti said...

I miss those discussions too :( Do you guys still play the Harry Potter quiz?!

the-mommie said...

Sounds interesting. Also, interesting is the bit you bring up about Draupadi being a goddess and hence of pure mind etc. I've always thought of Draupadi as an extremely arrogant and headstrong character in the story. Infact, it stems in large part from Roopa Ganguli's portrayal of the character on TV.

Krishna's name for her is well documented I think but I don't know if the story has any details on her and Karna's interactions. And if it does, then I'm not aware of it.

I love these kind of books! :)

Moonshine said...

@Mommie agreed.. largely stems from the portrayal by Roopa Ganguly!! Perfect fit she was. It also has a lot of these small nuggets of information that I did notknow about. Like I didnt know she wasnt fair!!!!! It is quite interesting.. puts a different spin on things!!!