Jun 10, 2011

From my bookshelf - 5

It's been long enough since I last wrote about a book that caught my fancy. It's not that I have not been reading any books in the interim, rather I've been reading so many that I just haven't had the time to write about any of them.

The latest book that I've read is Chithra Banerjee Divakaruni's Palace of Illusions, subtitled Draupadi's Mahabharata. Yes, it's another retelling of the great epic. We have had several versions of it including Bheema's version in Randamoozham. This is from Draupadi's point of view. Isn't it a miracle in itself that such an ancient literary work still manages to inspire scores of creative minds and the public imagination after all these ages!

The Palace of Illusions starts with the moment she stepped out of the sacrificial fire after her much-awaited brother - as an unexpected and unwelcome addition. Unlike in the original where she steps out of the fire as an adult, here she comes as a 5-year-old and grows up in her father's austere palace thoroughly confused about her destiny and how to reconcile herself to others' expectations about it. She has prior warning about the "mistakes" that she will make which will turn the history of her nation, but this foreknowledge does not come to her aid at the crucial moments when far stronger emotions take precedence.

The author has taken liberties with the story line to give Draupadi omniscient vision like that of Sanjaya so that she sees all the crucial Kurukshetra battles with her own eyes and can later point out to her family where each hero's body lies. There are enough surprises and twists to pique one's interest in this age-old storyline.

When you consider it, Draupadi was the lynch pin of the Kurukshetra war - if she had had a forgiving temperament, her husbands would have calmly forgiven their cousin and spent the rest of their lives at some accommodating royal relative's place after their vanvaas. Instead, they had this shrew in their midst who never forgot to remind them of the insult she underwent in the Kuru court and worse, had to see her uncombed, unfastened and tangled hair (of which she had plenty) everyday. Just imagine living with a person like that for 13 years (above all, having her cook your food)! I wonder how Sudeshna employed Draupadi as a hairdresser when her own hair was in such a state!

Divakaruni's interpretation of Draupadi can be summed up thus: the story of a girl who wanted to be ordinary, but couldn't help being extraordinary. A totally readable book and a heroine with whom women can empathize. Look out for description of the palace and gardens that Mayasura created for the Pandavas.

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