Sunday, October 18, 2009
A Book I Loved and Yet Disagreed With
I had been hearing great things about 'The Palace Of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni' for the longest time. Everyone who read it was raving about it. And my curiosity about the book was quite piqued by all those recommendations. Truth be told, there was a time in my life, when no matter how tiered, I could not shut my eyes, till I read some. Life changed, as did my habits, my association with books, could at best be called dead till a few months back. Then a couple of bloggers started discussing about the books they were reading on Twitter, and I felt a twinge, which made me realise how much I miss reading books. So I bought a few, and started getting back on track. It was on my way back from India at the airport, when we had an hour at hand, and I was running around the BB, that I stopped at the bookstore. And that is where I spotted The Palace of Illusions. And I immediately bought it. Its not easy to find an Indian author's book here, I had to source 'Bringing Up Vasu' all the way from India, and strangely enough that landed up with me on the day I was leaving from India, and I read it there.
However, getting back to The Palace of Illusions, it is a very gripping and captivating tale or maybe I should say narration. Since I did not know even that much about the book, it surprised me to know that it is the tale of Mahabharata as the author felt was experienced by Draupadi. The original tale itself is supremely riveting and captivating, with its twists and turns, intricate side stories and the entire chain of events. So a re-narration is very unlikely to be bad. One has to be a really bad writer to mess up the original, and that Chitra Banerjee is not. Her style of narration is wonderful. I could not wait to grab the book each chance I got, and go on reading it. Simply put, it is the narration of the epic as experienced by Draupadi. Her emotions, her views, her life everything expressed as she felt. The book also speaks of a love she holds in her heart for Karna, a secret love she harbours all her life, as does Karna. I have not read the unabridged version of the epic, and hence I do not know whether this is supported in the original or a personal addition of the author. But this does touch a little something special to the book. A touch of the forbidden love, a relationship doomed by the stars, feelings that run deeper than the formality of relationships, and yet morals strong enough to hold both the people back. The book is a wonderful read.
And yet I am not convinced by the idea of the book. While the author claims to write from Draupadi's stance, I don't think it is fair. We with our modern, liberated mindset, cannot claim to know how a woman who lived eons ago felt or thought. I do not believe the wants, beliefs or morals of a woman in those times are the same as those of the women today. It was a different society, a very different mind set. It is unfair to look at that world with today's mindset. There can be arguments saying human nature has always been the same, but I strongly believe that the society we grow up in, does shape up the way we are. And hence a woman today will be very different from a woman who lived thousands of years ago. That is my belief and hence the flaw in the very premise of the narration. The book is worth a read though, either which way. And that is my simple opinion.