Name: The Palace Of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: PICARDO India
Publication Year: 2008
Number of pages: 360
Price: INR 399
My rating: 4.5/5
The Storyline –
Most of us Indians are aware of the Mahabharat epic. If we have not read the book, we have still seen many versions of the epic as TV Serials and movies. The story has been done and redone many times over. So, what makes us read the same story again and again. Because, everytime you read the book, there is something new that we will understand depending on what stage of life we are in. But still, I had no motivation to read the book, except that it has been written from the perspective of Draupadi. She is the narrator. That certainly piqued my interest. A woman’s perspective. And looked forward to reading the book. And did it fulfill my wishes? Yes! It did! And it was much more.
Let me tell you, the book is not at all preachy. Draupadi never judges anyone as right or wrong. She herself doesn’t reminisce about her actions. Its just a woman’s way of thinking. It shows Draupadi as a complex character. Someone, who has lived contrasting lives as a princess who is not much loved by her father as she was a byproduct of the yagna meant to yield a son, Dhrishtadhyumna. But she gets everything as a princess except the love of her father, King Dhrupad. She is accepted as a princess, but not as a daughter. Then she marries a brahmin who turns out to be Arjun, the greatest warrior. And then from being unmarried, she is married off to 5 husbands.
She is a good wife, but her heart yearns for Karna. Unrequitted love, but a possibility. Then there is Krishna. His relation with Draupadi does not fit into any social convention and so, it remains unnamed. She becomes queen of her Palace which is called the ‘Palace of Illusions’ as it is built by Maya, the Asura architect. But again to lose it all in a game of dice. Then again, she is living in the forests leading upto the war. Eventually winning the war and becoming Queen again. Its a complex life and the woman is certainly exemplary. Chitra Divakaruni has put flesh and soul into the character of Draupadi, making her very much alive.
What worked for me –
The Book has a beautiful, poetic and easy flow of words. Being from a woman’s perspective, it focuses on the little things. Like, it describes the way the palace and its gardens look. It explains the emotions felt by Draupadi, the way she is groomed to become the greatest queen as she is expected to change history. It also describes the way she does up her hair, her clothes, something as a woman, I yearn to know. One can literally, see the beautiful gardens and smell the ‘parijata’ in it.
The story has a lot of ‘love’ and ‘hate’ in it. The love of the five husbands, or the lack of it towards Draupadi. She knows Bheem loves her but she is unable to return the love. She is a dutiful wife, dutiful Queen. She belongs to all, yet belongs to none. Her heart beats for Karna. Every moment, she regrets her decision to not marry Karna because of his social status. There is never any communication between them. But, its in their eyes, in their hearts. Simply beautifully brought out by the author. The last chapters which follows their life after the war, has lot of not so common stories which I have not seen in other books. And the last moments of Draupadi before she dies is ethereal. It makes you wonder, if this is how we will feel on our death bed.
There are many beautiful lines too in the story. One of my favourites is, ‘Between Krishna and Yudhisthir, they will not even let me enjoy being miserable’. Krishna and Yudhisthir are always trying to find the positives even in terrible situations. And this is how Draupadi reacts.
Bheeshma is always glorified in other Mahabharat books because of his oaths to remain unmarried, and to not have children. But, in this book, Draupadi insists of being wary of a man who could pluck out such tenderness and life from his existence.
And many more lines, which make you introspect. Let me not spoil the fun anymore.
What did not work –
There were not many flaws in the book. So, I don’t have much to write here.
Overall verdict –
The book is an excellent read whether you are a mythology fan or no. Its can also be read even if you do not know the Mahabharat. One of the best books from an author of Indian origin. Its a must read for mythology fans.