The Mahabharata is one of my favorite works of fiction (part fact?). It is a humongous work with countless interesting stories and sub-stories woven into it. To add even more variety, though the basic story remains the same, there are several different interpretations of it - which is total paisa vasool in terms of the number of reading experiences you can get for reading the what boils down to essentially one story.
The best part though, which makes the epic so engrossing, is that none of the characters are larger than life. Be it a mere human or a saint or even a God, none of the characters are flawless. Of course, their not-so-virtuous actions may sometimes be considered reasonable if the reasons behind them are examined. Still, the actions by themselves are not what the ideal, perfect character would have done. Which, according to me, is super-cool, since that is how the real world usually operates.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Palace of Illusions. It is the story of the Mahabharatha told from Draupadi's view point. A female perspective, how could I miss it?
I laid my hands on the book a couple of weeks ago. Finally, I got to read about how Draupadi felt about being married off to five men just because an old lady made some thoughtless comment or how she was stupefied about being made a stake in a game of dice. For the record, I still feel outraged whenever I think about how Yudishthir happily staked his wife as though she was a cow or about how his brothers were so bound-by-loyalty-to-the-elder-brother that they sat watching as their wife was humiliated. Evidently, women did not count for much those days (how glad I am that I was not born in that era).
As for the book, some of the turn of phrases were pretty neat. Some of the passages detailing Draupadi's thoughts as she juggled the various men in her life were downright hilarious. Draupadi herself is not portrayed to be a Mother India or a self-sacrificing ideal queen. She is a normal human being with normal human emotions and weaknesses. But in spite of her faults or maybe because of it, she emerges as a likeable character. After all, who cannot identify with a woman who is human enough to know that something is bad for her and yet persist to do it because, you know, it made her feel good at that instant?
I thought Draupadi's transformation from shy girl to stunning queen was a bit Bollywoodish (one song and hey, we have gone from beggars to zillionaires). Also, I thought her attraction towards Karna was a bit unconvincing and at times, it felt as though this attraction was being shoved down my throat. But I guess the author needed a new fulcrum around which the story could revolve. However, considering Draupadi has interesting takes about the various characters she meets, I wish more space had been devoted to those insights rather than harping upon her (non) relationship with Karna.
Overall though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and would certainly recommend it. Women readers would probably enjoy it more. Palace of Illusions has now whetted my appetite for the Mahabharata and I am looking forward to picking up a different interpretation soon. Any suggestions?