Palace of Illusions

palaceSomething really strange is going on. Have you ever had the feeling that you just wake up one fine day and start noticing a particular thing that never really seemed like a big deal to you till now? ‘Cause I, it would seem, am waking up to sexism. Now, I’m not blind or stupid so of course I knew it existed. But what I guess I didn’t really realize was how it’s so ingrained in our systems that we barely even notice it anymore! Or at least I didn’t. And suddenly the universe seems full of signs! However, more on that later (I promise the rant will make more sense soon)

Getting on to the booky part of the show… I don’t know how many of you know of or remember ‘Mistress of Spices’ (book/movie) by one Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni. If you’re clueless don’t worry. I hate to say it but you haven’t missed much. In spite of the much publicized Aishwarya Rai starring Holly-Bollywood project it was turned into. The book was, nonetheless, quite a painful read I thought (I suddenly have a deja-vu-y feeling… I’ve whined about this book before somewhere havent I!)

Alright then! Let’s not get boringly repetitive. Because the point was trying to arrive at was The Palace of Illusions. Also by Ms Divakurni this book, I thought, was rather well-written and hence quite a surprise. To me, anyway.

Now, recently there seems to be quite a trend in Indian publishing of resurrecting our mythology and epics. Of course, considering how obssessed we are with them already one wonders what took them so long. However, Ms Divakurni’s book if I understand it right is by no means recent and attempts that very remarkable feat of retelling (or rather, telling) the female point of view. And so, The Palace of Illusions is a retelling of the Mahabharata (and more) from the unique POV of Draupadi, that much married princess of our epics.

Now, I will admit even as a child fascinated by all things fantastic the Mahabharata just never caught my fancy. There were just too many people to keep track of! I barely heard the bit about the blind king and his self-blinding wife and their hundred sons (I mean, seriously??!) and I would be itching to make a run for it! So this was pretty much by first in-depth read of any telling of the epic.

And for all that this book turned out to be quite a worthwhile read. CBD manages to tell the story of this ill-fated princess without any of the random flights of fancy I had to put up with in her last book! And in the process delivers the story of an unconventional girl who demands and gets an unconventional life. Though often not in the way she imagined it.

Unhappily for her, the young princess’s life seems irretrievably bound with that of the men in it. And yet, while these men go about their business of fighting wars and avenging their honour it’s this firebrand princess who unceasingly controls their fates. Whether it is that of her five husbands (yes, simultaneously) or her twin brother or of the one man who forever holds her heart, it’s Draupadi who becomes the final trigger for the war to end all wars- the Mahabharata. And perhaps, showing the true cause of wars even today? One man’s ego, another one’s greed and perhaps, misplaced honour?

An interesting story, well told. And if I never read another version of the Mahabharata I think I’ll be ok with that. This one gets a 4.

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