Monday, February 29, 2016

Palace of illusions

Sometime back, I read The Palace of illusions which is a novel based on the Mahabharata from Draupadi's point of view. Draupadi is the narrator of the story. It had raised the hackles of some Hindu groups which was the reason why it came to my notice and decided to read it - a minor illustration of the Streisand effect.

It was not difficult to find  passages that would have annoyed some groups. For eg., when her brother Dhrishtadhyumna's tutor says that the primary duty of  a woman is to support her father, brother, husband and sons, Draupadi tells her brother, 'And who decided that a woman's highest purpose was to support men? A man, I would wager! Myself, I plan on doing other things with my life.'

About fortune-tellers, Dhai Ma (who is the nurse of Draupadi, a character invented by the author) says, ' Fortune-tellers are always predicting weddings. They know that's what foolish girls want to hear. That's how they get fatter fees.'

The book is worth a read. I found it the most interesting version of whatever I have read of the Mahabharata. It humanises deified characters and gives them qualities that one relates to, for eg., the mother-in-law - daughter-in-law psychological tussles between Kunti and Draupadi or the steady deterioration of moral values as a war proceeds. Most interesting is the depiction of a soft corner that Draupadi always had for the most tragic hero of the Mahabharata, Karna.

This was something I had not come across earlier. The author got the idea from an incident described in a Bengali version of the Mahabharata. The incident itself does not form part of the book but is described by the author in this talk about the book.It happens after the Pandavas were exiled following Yudhishtira's loss in a game of dice.

While they were  traveling through a forest, they saw a tree laden with fruits from which they plucked one fruit. At this point Krishna appeared and told them that the tree belonged to  a great sage who had a bad temper. When he finds out that they had plucked a fruit from his tree there was no knowing what curse he might put on them - it might even mean the  death of the Pandavas. A frightened Draupadi asked him how to atone for the misdemeanor.

Krishna said that as atonement, each person should tell his or her deepest secret. Each of the Pandava brothers reveals his deepest secret and each time, the fruit rises part of  the way towards the tree. It was only a little distance away from the tree when it was Draupadi's turn but when she revealed her secret, it dropped to the ground. Krishna said that Draupadi had not revealed her deepest secret and asked her to try again. But the fruit did not rise - it was not her deepest secret. Finally she confesses, 'I always had a soft corner for Karna.'

I read that the author is working on a novel based on the Mahabharata  from Sita's point of view.It will definitely be part of my antilibrary.


  1. Uncle, you should also try Devdutt Pattanaik's versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
    Anand Neelakantan has also written Ramayana from Ravan's point-of-view (called Asura) and Mahabharat from the Kauravas' perspective.

    1. Thanks a lot Anjali. I was especially looking for Ramayana from Ravan's point-of-view.


    2. You're welcome! I get a lot of ideas of what books to read from your blog. =)