Was it a coincidence or was it destined that I would be finishing reading this book (yes, it takes me a around two months to finish a book) around International Women's Day? I don't know but there is a rush of power flowing in my blood as i flip cautiously through the crisp pages of the book "The Palace of Illusions" by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. If I put it simply for you, which i am tempted not to do, I would say that this book is an interpretation of Mahabharata through the eyes of "Draupadi".
We all have grown up on the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the countless repetitions, the convincing tones of our grand parents, the supplementary reading books in schools of these epics, and the live characters shown on TV serials made on these stories make us believe deeply that these were real. Were they? After reading the book, i am getting convinced they were.
All this time I was waiting to finish the book, to be able to write about it. I was burning since the time Draupadi is insulted and humiliated in Court of Hastinapur. I was livid on her husbands' silence. I too wanted an answer as to what kept everybody quiet? But I pulled along with the woman with five husbands, as she moves ahead in her life, but i burnt in anger, grinding my teeth as i read the name of 'Yudhisthir' again and again in the book.
But, i can't believe where my anger has dissolved suddenly, as i finish the book. As i closed the hard bound cover, i also covered my eyes preventing them to lose the sight, the solace, the peace and the contentment I have got.... just as Draupadi might have felt before dying. As she lay bruised, hurt, frozen, numbed by cold of the snow on the way to Mahaprasthan, she has amongst all the questions this one question which haunted her all her life "Why did Bheeshma not stop Duryodhan from robing her modesty in full view of his royal court?" And Krishna, her friend for life, omnipresent, (he had already died by then, simply put) says :
" Bheesma thought too deeply of the laws of the men. It paralyzed him. He wasn't sure whether you were already Durodhan's property - in which case he had no right to intervene. But sometimes one has to drop logic and go with the instinct of the heart even if it contradicts law".
A balm for my heart... and a resonance of my thoughts... made me relax. Sometimes a mere understanding of your pain from your loved one is all you need.
As I try to make sense to you, dear reader, I realise that my thoughts on this book, my feeling for Draupadi and my intent to write something on the occasion of Women's Day, today as we live in a different Yuga altogether, are all mixed up,and all so connected, roughly speaking. It's almost like trying to pull out the loose end of a badly entangled woollen yarn.
This book is a powerful reading, seeing and feeling the world and life around Draupadi was indeed an eye opener, as the author takes you along the journey right from the Yagna fire from which she was born to the open sky where her soul wanders relaxed after she leaves her body. It was mystical.
I never knew that Draupadi loved Karna so intently and so passionately in the secrecy of her heart and nor did I know that amongst her five husbands, it was Bheema who actually loved her truly. The book "The Palace of Illusions" puts forth the women of that era, puts their feelings and thoughts at the fore front. And that really delights me, to be able to feel another woman's heart and soul.
To sum up Draupadi's persona, I would not say that she was a great woman, as she had her flaws which caused the great war. But, I would surely say that she lived her life as she wanted it, she followed her mind and was strong willed. She respected herself even when her husbands faltered. That is something amazing about her. Although as a queen and as a wife of five men she outshone other women, but she simply ignored her five sons born out of the Pandavas. She hardly contributed in their upbringing as she chose to remain with her husbands in exile.
Lastly, to sum up my thoughts over the book and the current situation of women in our country, I am left with one question: What would a common man choose today family honour or personal pride and ego or the well being, safety and security of a loved one? The answer may vary from situation to situation, but think about it.