Thursday, May 10, 2012

Palace of Illusions ~ Draupadi's take on Mahabharata

Note: This was something I wrote almost 2 years back on my old blog.

I have been thinking of picking up Chitra Banerjee's Palace of Illusions for some time now. Got an opportunity yesterday at Hyderabad airport, while waiting for boarding to be announced. Read it non-stop and have finished it.

The 300-odd page novel is a narration by Draupadi on a somewhat abridged Mahabharata. Of course because she is the narrator, it also includes her childhood in detail, which I'm not sure if it is mentioned in the original.

I have always been fascinated by the Mahabharata as an epic. During childhood, it was definitely one of the most eagerly awaited serials and I can sing the title song even today. Draupadi is one of the key characters in the epic, having said to have played a very important role in bringing about the war at Kurukshetra. So, when I read a review somewhere that the 'Palace of Illusions' gives a perspective of this central figure, I was more than sold on reading it.

There are lots of reviews on other blogs about the books. So, I am not going to do the same here. But I have been thinking of jotting down points on what worked for me and what didn't.

The writing is fairly simple and straightforward - so much so that it is almost as if the characters live in the current world that we live in. The book makes for a quick, easy reading. And, as promised, gives a view on the story through Draupadi's eyes, which may or may not be true, who's to say?

Some of the points that grated on me while reading this book were -

1. How Draupadi's father, King Drupad was shown in a less than a favorable light. Draupadi seems to have acceptance issues with her father and the rest of the family. Somehow, the idea I got after seeing the epic was that of a doting father. The author also makes a small goof-up, when after the Pandavas come back to tell Drupad that all five of them are to marry her and live in the forest etc etc., he (Drupad) asks them how he can allow his only daughter to live like that? Whereas, earlier in the book, we are told of Drupad's various other daughters and how Draupadi could never form any sibling bonds with them.

2. Lack of Arjuna's storyline - Ok, first of all, I did not like that Arjuna was mentioned as 'Arjun' in the entire book whereas everyone else was called Karna, Bheema etc. 'Arjun' just seems so 90s hindi movie name.
Anyway, it is shown that Draupadi is very much ready to fall in love with Arjuna as the swayamvar approaches. However, once it is done and the whole 'You have to marry all 5 of us' is played out, the Arjuna storyline loses steam.
Throughout the book, Draupadi does not once relate her relationship in detail with Arjuna, who was her original suitor. It is mentioned in various places on how Arjuna seemed angry with the arrangement or how Draupadi longed to see the love in his eyes. One would only imagine that she would relate her year of being Arjuna's wife in a little bit more detail.
For the most part of the narration, she keeps talking about Yudhishtir, who is a slightly boring character for most readers. She also talks about Bheem's love for her at various times. However, not once does she talk about any kind of love that Arjuna might have showed her ever or vice-versa.

3. Obsession with Karna - Karna is undoubtedly one of the most popular figures in the Mahabharata, in spite of being associated with Duryodhana.
In the book, Paanchali & Karna have been shown as a couple of star-crossed lovers. Paanchali, for her part, keeps comparing her husbands with what Karna might have been. She keeps doing scenario analysis on 'what-if I hadn't stopped him at the swayamvar...' and so on and so forth. So much so, that after a point I momentarily forgot that this was an already written epic, and kept waiting for some hindi-movie type union sequence between the two!!
I do not know whether Ved Vyasa's Mahabharata talks about any kind of desire between Draupadi and Karna, and even if it does, its probably limited to the swayamvar event and does not become a life long obsession.

Even with all her longing for Arjuna's love, in the end, when she is dead, Paanchali dreams of entering heaven holding Karna's hand and not Arjuna's. This portion was too filmy for me to digest.

4. Tu Tu Main Main - Paanchali's interaction with her mother-in-law Kunti has been portrayed in the book like a typical saas-bahu relationship, and somehow it just comes across as highly pedestrian. I don't believe that ladies like Draupadi & Kunti, who have enough strife in their lives, would actually make it worse by doing one-upmanship with each other in their everyday life. When Kunti visits the Palace of Illusions, Paanchali feels that it is established that she is the mistress of her home and not her mother-in-law. In turn, Kunti also behaves like the proper 70s movie mother-in-law, sans the 'kulta, karamjali' type dialogues.


What I did like about the book was the depiction of the relationship between Krishna & Krishnaa (Draupadi). Their friendship, Krishna's continuous effort to educate Paanchali on the higher purpose of life and Draupadi's realization that of all the people she knew Krishna was the one who truly loved her were well etched. The ending where Krishna is seen to be with Draupadi in the snow filled mountain - tries to give a spiritual touch- but probably should have stuck to the spirituality only in relation to Krishna and not to the floating heavenly characters.

Overall, I felt that Draupadi through the narration, was portrayed as a very uni-dimensional character. The need to show a multi-layered complex heroine was obvious, however in the effort what came out was a self-important woman, who was obsessed with 4-5 key things in life - vengeance, Karna, Krishna's divinity, her mother-in-law's power over her husbands, her Palace of Illusions - may or may not be in that order.

On a lighter note, as I read the book I kept on hearing Naseeruddin Shah's dialogue "Aisi sati ki jai ho" in my head from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. I'm sure everyone remembers the disastrous cheer-haran scene in the hilarious movie. Here are some funny dialogues from the scene and also a clip:

1. Shaant, gadadhari Bheem, Shaant
2. Dharamraj, iski jubaan kheench loon ke? (Bheem to Yudi in relation to Dushasan)
3. Draupadi tere akele ki nahi hai. Hum sab shareholder hain.
4. Nahi, Draupadi jaisi Sati nari ko dekhkar maine cheer haran ka idea drop kar diya hai. Jai ho, aisi Sati nari ki jai ho.
5.Nalayak, adharmi, durachari, vamachari, bhrasthachari, bol sorry! Apne sasur ko nahi pehchante? Main hoon Draupadi ka baap, Dhrupad.
6. Yes sab kya ho raha hai? (Dhrithrashtra, aka The Blind King)


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