Thursday, March 27, 2014

Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I completed "Palace of Illusions" by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni today. Its a narration of one of the greatest epic of Indian Mythology "Mahabharat" but from the point of view of its most famous female protagonist , who was somewhat responsible (read destined) for causing the greatest war that the Indian subcontinent ever had changing its landscape forever, Draupadi or Paanchali.
Although Sita , who was part of the other Indian epic Ramayana  is more revered and enjoy a stature of Goddess , I find more fascination in the character of Draupadi , more so because she is more humane. I have a little more inclination towards characters who have more human traits than to people who are God (except of course Sachin Tendulkar). Also I do have a inclination towards reading stuffs which are more of a  first hand account rather than some third person narration.
So ever since my friend told me that there are books which narrate the epic from a characters point of view and that too from that of Draupadi , I quickly jump to search for the same. Although I picked up this book reading its review and popularity on Goodreads , I somehow still hope that there is a even better book than this on this subject.
So as you can sense I am not that much impressed by this book and hope to come across a more well written and put forth one.
Draupadi was the daughter of King Drupad who was the ruler of Panchala . Drupad was humiliated by his dear friend and tutor of Pandavas Drona, after he refused to acknowledge a promise he made to Drona. So in order to avenge that humiliation Drupad organised a Yagya to have a male child who will kill Drona. From that yagya ,apart from the male child also came a female child, Draupadi, who was prophesied to change the history of the continent and thus will be instrumental for the epic war "Mahabharat"
Palace of Illusions is a book which captures all the events that happened in that epic and narrates it from the point of view of Draupadi. So right from the Yagya til she died , the book narrates what all part she played in it and most importantly what was her state of mind during all these times.
Since it is a woman we are talking about here, the level of emotions depicted are vast ranging from desires, love, lust, jealousy, happiness, agony ,humiliation, sadness, despair , affection and so forth and so many.
A war from a Man's point may contain more valor, courage and avenge but when you put it from a woman's perspective you add certain more humane emotions of sympathy and jealousy.
Whats good in this book ?
Well, since its written by a woman , of a woman and from a woman, it does provide you a more humane and emotionally rich perspective of the epic stories or legends that we Indians have so grown up with. The way the relationships are woven between Draupadi and her brother, with her Dai Maa, with her husbands, with her Mother in law Kunti, her elders like Bheeshma and more so ever with Krishna are quite commendable and believable.
One thing that makes me admire the humane quality of her is the fact is that I never found her suppressing the emotions or the desires that she experiences . In our Indian culture, woman are brought up to behave in a certain manner , with a certain second class citizen nature where they are taught that the male in their lives are their supreme commander so naturally the women feel oppressed and portray a fake character of as if they are contented with whatever their fate is but in truth all of them have many hidden desires. So in conventional terms you may call Draupadi rebellious but I find her "Real".
This book portrays her that trait beautifully , whether it is questioning the elders or harshly speaking her mind despite the norms saying that a woman should keep it to herself, working for to get what she wants , manipulating people and even playing the true MIL-SIL duels that's so common in our Indian culture.
Draupadi is depicted as Woman who is short of the regular emotional feelings that we Indians have known woman to have ,say for example a mother's love for her children. She had little or no contact with her 5 sons , Agreed that she had the situation to blame or plainly she was different that's why we are reading about her.
The story told is nothing new as most of us who live in Indian sub continent are well versed on it , so it was a kind of refresher too. One thing that this book mentions which I dint know was that even Draupadi was granted the power to view the battle of Kurukshetra from the tents that was sheltering the woman folks. As per my knowledge this power was only granted to Sanjay, Blind King Dhritarashtra's charioteer , so that he can narrate each day's happenings to the king.
Well what I did not like ?
First of all the comprehension is at times too dramatic thus making it sound more fictitious. Yes its a fiction I know but the art of good writing is to make you read a fiction as if its the most real thing. If I may, I will call  the writer the female version of  Amish (of the Shiva trilogy fame).
Second , yes it was a known fact that Draupadi adored Karna more than she adored her five husbands but in this book it has been played a time too many to my comfort. Ok I may sound hypocrite with at one time appreciating her speaking her mind and at same time not liking her overflowing love for a man other than her husband. For me it was a touch disrespectful to her but again going with the theme of Draupadi may be apt.
Third, in totality, the book was ordinary. I don't know what I was looking for but it fails to leave a mark. I felt despite the rich flow of emotions there was much more to touch upon. Especially since it was coming from a woman's point of view , there could be more. There was nothing that makes me think, oh that's why she did this or huh so bad on her.
Ok may be I am little over critical as Draupadi may have been different from a stereotypical  female and me having grown in this other culture may find it little unusual to digest and also I have read or heard of these stories so many times that somehow the level of empathy that I should feel on seeing her plight is subdued.
To be honest as I mentioned earlier that I admire her more than Sita , so I would like an ideal woman to have more of her traits and little of Sita's.
I will rate it as 3.5 out of 5 and although not highly recommended but you may read it just for the sake of reading Mahabharat again.