Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace Of Illusions stands apart from its fellow works from Amish or Sanghi with a simple brilliance, bringing alive the oldest story line with a sassy narrative.
Draupadi is an interesting character in the Mahabharatha, even by Indian mythological standards. The woman with 5 husbands has always been a topic of dialogue and curiosity or sometimes disdain.
This book tells the story of Draupadi in first person and how she goes on to become a key player around whom history is slowly written.
The sheer grandeur of the story shines through, as I wondered what it was about legends and stories that made them so compelling. The world of kings and battles where Gods walked amongst men and miracles were still possible.
As opposed to the bard style in which legends are usually told, this narrative takes on a more personal style, almost like a diary. The Mahabharatha has characters with flaws, often used as a message to teach us of the fallibility of humans and the author uses the first person narrative to humanize the characters.
The subtle power struggle between the new bride and the mother-in-law. The inexplicable attraction towards the enemy’s best friend. The egos and psychology at play when you have to deal with 5 husbands.
An archaic tale retold from the perspective of a woman whose thinking was far ahead of her time. A modern retelling, replete with a dash of feminism and oh-so-relatable-ness.
How she felt the sting of beauty standards because she was born with skin so dark “they called it blue”.
How she didn’t love her husbands like she wanted to, like she was supposed to.
Her tantrums when her husbands took other wives, and how she made sure she intimidated the new wives to remind them of their place.
How she was given a “boon” by the sage Vyasa that every year, when she goes from one husband to another (they take turns), she would get a brand new hymen.
“Nor was I particularly delighted with the virginity boon, which seemed designed more for my husbands’ benefit than mine. Such is the nature of boons given to women- they were handed to us like presents we hadn’t quite wanted.”
The author has weaved in bits of speculative slivers which blends beautifully with the story line and renders the original tale in a new light.
The Karna-Draupadi story thread was a personal favorite. Karna is the perfect underdog, you can’t help rooting for, even in a story where everyone knows the ending. Forbidden love has a certain kink to it.
The Mahabharatha is one of the greatest epics and for any Indian kid who grew up with its tales, this book would be nostalgic, a story which only gets better with each retelling and also refreshing in its change of perspective.