I just finished reading The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It is the story of the Mahabharat from the point of view of Draupadi. I did not like it as much as I had hoped, but it did make me think about the story.
- It reinforced my pity for Karna. He got the rawest deal of everyone. And Arjun got the best. It is like the world conspired to keep Karna away from glory and passed it on to Arjun. Initially Karna never really comes across as a bad person, like Duryodhan does, but slowly his gratitude to Duryodhan takes over his sense of right and wrong.
- It made me think about how we never get to hear/understand what the women did/thought. Mahabharat is so story-heavy and there are so many strong male characters that women are often reduced to the background. Looking pretty when in the palace, or crying/sobbing when in the forest. Thats it. This book on the other hand, explores what Draupadi thought of herself, her family, and most of the women she interacts with. And that makes this book worth a read. But somewhere in the middle the book almost degenerated into a saas-bahu power struggle. How Draupadi wants to one up Kunti and how she thinks Kunti has this iron-grip over her sons is a little painful to read. Thankfully the great war rescued it from being so!
- Draupadi is told time and again that women should behave in a certain way and much ill will befall the world if that does not happen. And we are reminded again that it was her speaking/laughing/avenging out of turn was what caused the great war. Somewhere in the end, after the war ends Draupadi is crying over the fact that she was the cause of all the destruction, and Dhritarashtra is almost about to give a shraap(yeah these were so easy and effective) to the Pandavas and her, until Krishna comes and yells at him for having caused much destruction, and how it was Dhritarashtra’s folly, his literally blind love for his son caused the war. Krishna was the only male character who impressed me. Granted he was God, but he treated both men and women equally. At one point there is a discussion between Draupadi and Krishna, where he asks her how does it matter to God if you are man or woman? Both are after all God’s creation.
- People(Kunti, Yudhisthir, Bheeshm) conveniently remember and forget their promises to others as it suits them. They also go into these what is right and what is wrong thought processes that prevent them from doing what their heart really wants them to. While on his death-bed(rather on the bed of arrows) Bheeshm tells Draupadi that he did not stop Duryodhan when he was insulting her after Yudhishthir lost her in the game because he was debating whether Draupadi already ‘belonged’ to Duryodhan or not! SImilarly, Kunti wants to tell everyone that Karna is her son. That would have lead to the brothers not fighting one another, and Karna possibly goading Duryodhan into giving Pandavas the 5 villages. The great war would have been prevented. But she did not, for fear of being hated by her sons.
- Draupadi’s known and unknown relationships with her husbands and Karan flabbergasted me. Did you know that Draupadi and Karan had an unspoken thing for each other? Did you? Well I didn’t and was surprised that there are so many such masaledar storylines in the Mahabharat that are not explored. The TV serial barely touched on the Vyasa being grandfather to Dhritarashtra-Pandu-Vidur thing.
- The book also never really describes the nature of the relationship between Krishna and Draupadi. I remember distinctly that she called her brother in the TV series. There is a whole page in the book where Draupadi is thinking about what her relationship with Krishna is, and she never says brother!
PS: I could swear the guy who sings “Yada yada hi dharmasya” in the title song of the good old Mahabharat is the same guy who plays Duryodhan. (Apparently not, the singer is Mahendra Kapoor)
PPS: How many of you remember reading the name ‘Bhring Tupkari’ in the TV serial credits and suppressing a giggle?