The palace of illusions is one of the best book I read in 2016. The way Chitra Banerjee has taken the mythological epic and given it a beautiful take while keeping the facts intact is simply breathtaking. The character of Draupadi in Mahabharata has always been a controversial one. She is the woman who is born from fire, the woman who marries five men at the same time and the woman who is humiliated in front of a whole court when her own brother in law tries to disrobe her. This is the story of Paanchaali who until now was a two dimensional character who suffered at the hands of fate and men but we never came to know what kind of a person she was until now. Banerjee’s Draupadi has a voice and opinion, her conscience is strong and her flaws are evident. The book is a re-telling of the Mahabharata but the approach is totally different. Draupadi’s views give it something more and it doesn’t feel like a recycled story. Banerjee added some new plot points to make it much more spicy and it includes Draupadi’s feelings towards a man she isn’t supposed to have feelings for. This unsaid love story somehow takes up a lot of pages and all your sympathies. Some may argue that this new plot point was unnecessary and that the author was just looking for something scandalous to make her recycled story a bit refreshing for the readers. Even though I agree with these points I must say that I wasn’t complaining. This new angle was the most original part of the book and could actually make you wonder whether there was any truth in it (who knows?). This is not the only addition made by the author, another aspect is the close relationship of Draupadi with her brother Drishtadyumna as the original text doesn’t tell us much about the brother’s personality or his equation with his sister.
The characters may be old but the approach is fresh and so is the outlook. The way draupadi describes the Pandavas and their sexual preferences is amusing. After Draupadi herself another character that keeps you enthralled is the mischievous God Krishna who enters from time to time and gives you something to think about. Through this depiction the author shows some of the different shades of the beloved deity and his friendship with Draupadi.
The writing is so compelling that it is hard to put the book down. There are many questions that are asked throughout and the book also shows a mirror image of our flawed society. We know that Mahabharata is an epic about the flaws of human society and this book makes some of them very evident through its bold narration. the author voices the injustice and discrimination towards women in the Indian society which holds ground even today. The fact that Draupadi doesn’t approve of her own name because it means ‘the daughter of Drupad’ and nothing else is a simple way of showing how women have always been put in the shadow of men and their huge ego. Her physical appearance and skin colour are some points on which the society doesn’t hesitate to comment on. Even though Chitra Banerjee has given her protagonist a strong voice, she couldn’t let her take stands on many occasions of injustice because after all it is a re-telling of an old epic and she had to stick to the facts. So even this new and improved Draupadi is not perfect but atleast she makes a point here and there.
Memorable quote- “What is the most wondrous thing on earth? Each day countless humans enter the Temple of Death, yet the ones left behind continue to live as though they were immortal. . . ”