Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Palace of Illusions

I usually faithfully read all of Divakaruni's books, though I haven't liked all of them. I was going to wait, but Rads'review intrigued me. That this book is based on one of the greatest epics ever.

I have to say, firstly, that this is a well-written book. Especially if you have read Mistress of Spices. The style is smooth and not at all abrupt.

I have read bits and pieces of the great epic in its English Translation. And as far as I can recollect, I don't think I have read the Draupadi/Karna angle before. May be I skipped that part or may be it is a regional thing. I have always heard that she was devoted to Arjuna. Since reading this book, I have heard of other Bengali works that mention the same angle. And we know that works on the epics can alter a bit, according to the origin of the writer and suspension of reality is a norm in these cases. All the characters are infused with CBD's visions of them - a tiny bit is visible in the spices used for the brinjal fry, the yearning for fish curry and a couple of other instances that struck me as typical Bengali at that time.

Most of the events related coincides with what I have read earlier. Although the viewpoint differs. Divakaruni has weaved Draupadi's personality in such a way that the story flows very well and through her. In fact, all her characters are very well-etched. Kunti is shown as an archetypal mother-in-law, wanting to make sure her position among her sons is unshaken by Draupadi. Kunti's subtle power struggle, Drupad's vengeance, Dhritirashtra's jealousy, Gandhari's wifely devotion, Duryodhan's hatred, Karna's loyalty, Drona's love for his son, they all are very much alive in this book.

Vengeance is what Draupadi learnt in her cradle, and that is what feeds her later in life. As a brash young woman, she is ready with her barbed words. Over time, she learns to tame it some. She is shown not as a paragon, but as someone with a lot of faults. In short, human. And that is true for all the characters in the epic. Even Yudishtra had his faults. As human beings, we are all fallible. To me, that is something Mahabharata teaches - to accept one's faults and learn to live with them.

Then the war. The havoc it causes. When there is no fairness in it (is there ever?). The inhuman side of it. How even good men lose a little of their soul in the killing. (Harry Potter and horcruxes, anyone?) The aftermath, that is worse than the war itself.

Above all, there is Krishna. The cushion that helps devotees when they land hard. Although, there is no sermonizing, far from it. A hindu fanatic might take a cudgel against her for writing Draupadi in such a light, with an improper yearning. But, it needs to be taken as a work of fiction. A fantastic one in that.


Altoid said...

Interesting, not a lot of people seem to have known about the Draupadi/Karna connection. I didnt either. Also didnt know about Vyaasa giving her the ability to record the war for posterity.

I loved it as well. My other CBD fave's got to be Sister of my heart.

Munimma said...

I think that vyaasa part could also be a CBD thing, so that the story could progress.

Sister of my heart was ok, but I felt that style-wise, this has to be her best so far.

A-kay said...

I have heard about the Draupadi-Karna angle too. I think there is a sub-story during the pandavas time in the forest - they get this mirror from some rishi and this mirror shows the face of the person who thinks about them most. When Krishna sees this mirror, the face of Shakuni appears (much to the disappointment of Arjuna) and for Draupadi, the face of Karna appears. It is an interesting angle - at the very least.

Munimma said...

I don't think I have heard about the mirror. Interesting. It makes sense that Karna is thinking about Draupadi, since she insulted him in open court even if there was no yearning involved.

Me too said...

Now your review intrigues me!
I too thought this Draupadi-Karna angle is new but then after reading a-kay's comment, I too seem to vaguely remember the mirror story. Also, if Thalapathi's Rajni character is loosely based on Karna, then there too seems to be that angle(if that's the angle you all are talking about!)!

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