Sunday, December 05, 2010

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Palace of llusions

The Mahabharata and Ramayana alike have continued to awe inspire and catch our imagination for years. As a child in India, at least my generation and the preceding generations grew up on a healthy dose of fabulous, fascinating stories of mythology. Everyday, the ritual between the mother or grandparents with the children continue, each delighting in their own roles as the story teller, much the magician wielding the magic wand over their audience held in rapture, completely hypnotized by the magical spell of words.

I had never really heard about the book until my sister-in-law strongly recommended it. She is a voracious reader and has a good taste for books. I knew right away, that this is one book I am never going to put down until I have consumed every word from start to finish.

The Palace of Ilusions, is the Mahabharata retold from Draupadi's point of view, a woman who is brought into this world to fulfill a certain destiny. She is a magical child, destiny's child who erupts from the fire, builds her reputation as a precursor to destruction over which she has no control, and a young woman who is trapped in a world of emotions as any young woman should be. There is also the familiar saas-bahu element, with Kunti stating her position and dominance in the household, and Draupadi, the new fire brand daughter-in-law, who seeks to establish her position among the husbands and mother-in-law.

The book has been beautifully written in first person, with Draupadi as the narrator, the story behind her birth, the twists and turns in her growing up years, culminating in death and destruction. The narration is interspersed with her mixed emotions, as an ordinary woman wondering about her own feelings for her husbands and vice-versa, caught in a strange marital arrangement, trapped by destiny with absolutely no space to overturn what is in store for her and the Pandya clan.

I loved the easy narrative style of the book and of course, for me, it was the Epic and the perspective of the narration that enthralled me. I have always wondered what it means to be married to five men, each with a different personality, wants, and needs. How does this lone woman handle the relationships and what really does she share with them beyond the traditional boundary of man and wife? Was she unhappy for being pushed in to this arrangement or was it really destiny that dictated the course of events? What is her real identity as Draupadi beyond this? Divakaruni pushes the boundaries by giving Draupadi her fair share as an ordinary woman who constantly fights to find her place in the world.

Though I have also been told that the five husbands are also symbolic of the pancha boothas and there is a higher spiritual meaning to the characters, for now, I am content living in the Palace of Ilusions.

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