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Monday, February 27, 2012

The palace of illusions

I had heard a lot about the 2008 book by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, 'The Palace of Illusions' , and kept agreeing that it seemed like a 'must buy' and that I must pick it up and read it but somehow the act of buying and reading seemed to be eluding me and I never seemed to get round to doing it. Till one day I reached home and saw the book lying, ever so casually, on the bedside table. It transpired that the daughter had , through one of the new age sites, ordered some books and 'The Palace ...' was one of them. The only thing required was now to sit down and read it, but I still never seemed to get the time to do it. I got the time to read Amitava Ghosh -Sea of Poppies; to read Mitch  Albom 'Tuesdays with Morrie'; Katherine Frank's 'Indira' but not Divakaruni. And then I realized that the inertia regarding 'The Palace..' actually went back to another book by the same author ,'The Conch Bearers'. The son had been gifted a signed  copy  by the author in a book reading session  organized by his school and had come home and flourished it  triumphantly. His sister and I had felt duty bound to point out to him that since he had , even as a 13 year old,not progressed beyond Raold Dahl and Enid Blyton the book was of no use to him. The boy, ofcourse to prove us wrong,  immediately sat down to read it. We laughed and went about our ways, sure that he would put it down soon. Not only did he not do so, but also read it with a look of increasing absorption and sadness.When I went to his room at night to say goodnight he just held me tight. Instead of the act reassuring me it troubled me enough to make me start reading 'The Conch Bearers' the very next day. The book is essentially aimed at the young reader and is the story of a boy ,Anand. The ending is , however ,so poignant that it haunted me for days and days on end.  Anand has to decide between staying on in the Order or returning to his family. He makes his decision and leaves the reader yearning for a different one. I felt shattered- for Anand, for his mother, for myself- a mother.

I am reading 'The Palace of Illusions' these days. The story is familiar to all of us - it is the epic tale of Mahabharat' told through the eyes of Draupadi.  The narrative is like re visiting a traumatic experience - it is as tragic as any poem by Homer.The recurring leit motif is of destruction .Draupadi's birth from a fire; her love for her brother; her marriage to five men with their own foibles;  a cold mother in law; her own home- Palace of Illusions- at last, and then the unbelievable traumas that follow -her home, freedom and honour gambled away; almost stripped in public; her life of hiding and servitude  and finally, the grim justice of war - Mahabharat.

A permanent stone seems to have settled at the bottom of my stomach. The only word reverberating in my mind is,'why'? Why did Panchali have to ask Karna the question she asked- even though she had been warned by Vyas? why did she not stop her maids from laughing at Duryodhan  in her palace? why did Yudhister love gambling ?why did he have to gamble his wife?

Why does there have to be war before peace?

Is peace , without the baggage of war,  unachievable?



  1. I have liked many of Divakaruni's book but this one, The Palace of illusions, somehow it did not get me, I left it half way!

    1. Glad to find someone who likes Divakaruni. Yes, as I wrote , the book is heavy reading .

      Glad you stopped by!