[The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the fifth book in the #FemmeMarchFest challenge that I’d taken up for the month of March. This Instagram challenge was started in honor of International Women’s Day. This challenge means that all of March, I read only books written by woman authors, with one exception.]
The Palace of Illusions, like so many other books, had been on my list for a long time. For some reason, this book intimidated me. Maybe because it was based on the Mahabharata, an epic that I wasn’t too familiar with as against the Ramayana. So it was with the hope that I’d come to love it that I picked it up and started reading it. Never mind that it was for a challenge that I did this. Or it would have taken a further long while for me to pick it up.
The first thing that I acknowledged when I started reading The Palace of Illusions was the fact that times were different during the epics. Women were treated as people who shouldn’t take part in world affairs. It was unbecoming of a lady, they said. Thus it was decreed that they should only support the men in their family if they didn’t want shame to befall them and their entire clan. I thanked goodness I wasn’t born then.
But another thought struck me through this all. If I had been born back then (maybe I had, who knows?), I probably would have taken it as it was even if I saw the unfairness of it all. That’s because you tend to accept what is taught to you as a child. And if that keeps going on around you for years, you start believing it to be true.
I also thank goodness times have changed and that we can actually question things that aren’t fair.
It was cruel that a woman couldn’t question it when her husband was ready to ruin her life just because his mother made an unreasonable demand. There is nothing righteous in the path they took, something that was the first domino in the grand scheme of things. It was a grossly unfair patriarchal stupid society, something that has filtered down even to this age. Of course, it has changed a lot since then, but you get the point!
That’s the whole problem with the whole of history. It has always been written from a man’s perspective. A man’s courage was praised more than anything, making him able to rule over lands and hearts in equal measure. But description of a woman’s courage has been very rare. She displays the same courage as does a man, and she is branded a selfish witch. Proving my point that history has always been unfair to women, cruelly relegating her to the mere folds of a sari, to the side of a warrior to give birth to his heir and then watch from the sidelines.
The Palace of Illusions is an insight into the mind and heart of one of the most important women of the Mahabharata – Draupadi, or Panchaali as she would have preferred to be called. While it has been said that she was the cause of the Great War, it has been conveniently omitted to mention in the annals of history that it was the greed and lust of the men that actually put into motion the events that led up to the war of Kurukshetra.
Nobody asked Yudhishthir to wager everything he had in a game of dice. Blinded by his greed to win, he even put his wife on the line – an utterly shameful act. And to think that he was the one who walked up to heaven in the end. Not to forget his brothers, also Panchaali’s husbands, watched as Duryodhan and Dussasan inflicted insult upon insult upon their wife.
Even after all this, how can Draupadi have been the cause of the War? Merely because she saw it fit to spear those who insulted her honor? *shakes head*
Putting all this aside, The Palace of Illusions is so beautifully written, so realistic a picture drawn that I could feel my blood singing, my heart thumping in my ears, and my mind exploding with rage. Everything we know about the epic is so well and relevantly used in this book that despite the anger at the unfairness, it made me smile multiple times. Most other times, however, the strong narrative almost moved me to tears. And that, I thought, is the genius of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – one that I hadn’t known until now.
What else can I say about such a book other than that it is a must read for those familiar with the Mahabharata. It will give you a fresh perspective. But if you aren’t, then there’s all the more reason to read it. So go ahead and plunge into the pages!
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Picture Courtesy: Amazon India.
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