Haven’t we all wished to rewrite the fate of a certain fictional character because we thought they deserved better? Haven’t we all wanted to know what were our favourite characters thinking during the toughest of their times ? While some of us create an alternate destiny and let them live happily ever after in our heads, there also a few of us who write a fan fiction as an ode to our favourite characters. But then there are others who feel strongly about them that they can go on to write a full-fledged novel based on those emotions.
A friend of mine quipped – “Couldn’t wrap my head around this one. Rich in imagination, but the book is not for the weak-hearted. So many beliefs skewed “. Although her comments encouraged me to pick the book, it had to wait for a few months before I could finally start on it. She was right. Of course, the story was nothing new. We all grew up listening to it as children. And even when you are an adult, the story entices you and leaves you with a new set of questions. But then Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni chose a different narrator to an age old story and that made all the difference to her “The Palace of illusions”.
It is no secret that the narrator is Draupadi herself and that gives you a completely different perspective about the entire epic. Apparently, the book doesn’t cover the entire Mahabharata. It begins with Draupadi and ends with Draupadi. The book had a beautiful start narrating the early days of Draupadi, her love for her brother, her admiration for Sikandi and the kind of princess she was. Then it goes on to talk about Draupadi’ s relationship with Krishna, the Pandavas, and Kunti and last but not the least Karna too. Since the story is not new, the sequence of events in the story doesn’t change. But the book gives you a peek into Draupadi’s thoughts through the author’s imagination.
It was an easy and breezy read. I love the part when Ms. Banerjee makes Draupadi ask those questions we all have always had. As a woman, I sure did enjoy few parts of the narration. But as a reader I felt let down. It was disappointing to see Kunti and Draupadi reduced to another Saas and a Bahu. What began as a bold attempt ended as a job half-done. Even more disappointing for me was that I had absolutely nothing to take away from the book. The book rather left me with a much bigger question.
There is no denying that these epics are a treasure trove of stories and one sure can churn so much inspiration out of them. Also it surely is not new in literature to retell a story with a different narrative. There indeed are books that have done well that way but then they have had their own literary value. However, in the recent times, with the trend of mythologies being retold and mythological characters painted as your neighbor next door, I am beginning to wonder if there is a dearth of stories around that we are made to ruminate the leftovers of the previous night’s feast. Is it too difficult to cook something fresh or is it too convenient to ruminate? I believe this is an important question any responsible publisher or editor should ask themselves before bringing out a piece of work for the bigger audience. As for the readers, I am not the judge of which book is right or wrong for you. But I do think as a reader one must evolve out and not be lost in the mediocrity that is abundant around you. To celebrate a mediocre book is a grave injustice that you do unto yourself.
Having said that, you still can read the book if you have much time to kill and nothing worthwhile to do. But if you plan to give it a miss know that you actually aren’t missing anything.