I took a fancy for Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee, the moment I saw it lying on a dusty library shelf. I could relate to her fancy for mythological stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, that as a kid I grew on. The book tells the story of Mahabharata with a fascinating twist.
Here, the age old epic is freshly told from Draupadi’s point of view. Draupadi- the heroine of Mahabharta, the woman who was as pure as fire despite being related to five men in matrimony, the woman who thought Lord krishna to be a dear friend, the woman whose scalding tongue is held responsible for the greatest ever blood shed in Kurukshetra.
In Palace of Illusions, I could relate to Draupadi as a woman of flesh and blood. Chitralekha has beautifully portrayed her as an innocent young girl, struggling with her extra ordinary life in the encapsulated castle of her father, conscious of her different looks and incessantly dreaming of a knight in shining Armour who would rescue her from her boring life and make it scintillating and exciting.
I could feel her pangs when she was sacrificed for the sake of politics and was made to marry Arjuna and not Karna, by a carefully crafted Swayamvara in which only true Kshatriyas could participate. From time immemorial, women have been protected as cherished gems to be handed over to a suitor as a trophy, at times to protect family’s honour and at other times to draw from the profitable alliance, no respect being shown to her own desires.
Perhaps, that’s why the author, being a woman has been able to portray her emotions of anger and resentment in far more practical ways than the actual Mahabharta has ever done. Her resentment towards her mother-in-law for reducing her to a mere object that all Pandavas must share, gives credulity to her as a wronged daughter-in-law. The pure love that Draupadi feels for Krishna without even understanding it to be the devotion towards God struck me even more vehemently than all of Meera’s bhajans. The love pangs, Draupadi gets on seeing Karna, transforms her somewhat into a fascinated love struck young girl.
I could relate to a great extent the emotional upheaval this woman undergoes in her eventful journey through childhood, youth and old age. These sneak peeks into Draupadi’s life could describe her anger in much better terms than all the cheerharan episodes shown in Mahabharata could ever do.
However, my thirst for the beautiful Maya Mahal of Pandavas was not fully quenched. Neither did the war scenes impress me much. This emotional saga was found lacking in the fancies I associated with the Royal tale of Kurus and Pandavas. As the novel progresses, Draupadi also gets reduced to a caricature of herself, devoid of motherly feelings and unsympathetic and non understanding of the great turmoil, destiny has landed her in, appearing as a cold, distant mythological character. Perhaps the author got restricted by the original story.
However, the heartfelt description of the emotions of a woman by Chitra Divakaruni far surpassed all my expectations and I am hungry to devour more of her books.