The Palace of Illusions – Draupadi’s tale

So this is the first time I thought to write about a book I absolutely would recommend every Jane Eyre or Louisa Alcott fan. The Palace of Illusions, by the extremely talented Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Written in simple yet alluring language, she has described the life of Draupadi and the turn of events that lead to Bharat’s greatest war – The war of Kurukshetra or Mahabharata. It is a surprisingly, very refreshing yet imbibed with everyday wisdom inundated with all the modern-day quirks.  After reading english classics women centric themed books which solely focus on the trials and gender discrimination which women face, this book was home-coming. So Mahabharata was written long before the English Classics where plights and mental dilemmas of women was the core subject later on intertwining with love and marriages. We all know the character of Krishna who is the most important one along with Kauravas and Pandavas and other gods. Krishna was the one who played his part in how the life of Draupadi subsequently took shape as foretold by Sage Vyasa. Heavy focus is put on the foretelling of Vyasa, who by divine powers already had written the outcome of all the characters. Here, wisdom is entwined with the events of past present and future. What I loved the most was the authors perfect description of Draupadi’s inner turmoil over here idea of love and husbands, of her displeasure at being confined by the nature of marriage and her frustration at being forced to marry five instead of one.

 “Love comes like lightning, and disappears the same way. If you are lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you’ll spend your life yearning for a man you can’t have.”

But almost every time whenever she is maddeningly frustrated or is dejected, her savior comes in the form of Krishna who plays a central character in developing Draupadi’s character and imparting her wisdom and strength when the going gets tough. I suspect we all do look up and pray a silent prayer in times of desperation.

“Can’t you ever be serious?’ I said, mortified.
‘It’s difficult,’ he said. ‘There’s so little in life that’s worth it.”

Time and again he reminds her of her shortcomings, but so with patience and love. He is like the God we all want, the one who accepts us as we are with all our flaws and faults, but the one who never stops believing in our greatness and capacity to outgrow them and in the end move towards playing our part with as much sincerity as possible.

“Can our actions change our destiny? Or are they like sand piled against the breakage in a dam, merely delaying the inevitable?”

Perhaps the most significant act was the disrobing of Draupadi’s honour…and lets see what the author has derived from that ..It raises many a questions too.

“What did I learn that day in the sabha?
All this time I’d believed in my power over my husbands. I’d believed that because they loved me they would do anything for me. But now I saw that though they did love me—as much perhaps as any man can love—there were other things they loved more. Their notions of honor, of loyalty toward each other, of reputation were more important to them than my suffering. They would avenge me later, yes, but only when they felt the circumstances would bring them heroic fame. A woman doesn’t think that way. I would have thrown myself forward to save them if it had been in my power that day. I wouldn’t have cared what anyone thought. The choice they made in the moment of my need changed something in our relationship. I no longer depended on them so completely in the future. And when I took care to guard myself from hurt, it was as much from them as from our enemies”

Perhaps this situation is right in itself…her derivations arise from that particular situation itself but is this where the difference between a man’s thinking and a women’s lie ?

“A situation in itself,” he said, “is neither happy nor unhappy. It’s only your response to it that causes your sorrow.”

Only Krishna came to save her in the end. All of her five husbands were rendered helpless by the Yudhistir’s gambling, his vice that lead to turn of events where Drupadi’s vengeance and anger turned tides of time. But if we go by Krishna’s words, should draupadi have not responded to her humiliation and stand there as if this was a mere event ?

“Love. There’s no argument, no matter how strong, that can overcome that word.”

True enough, as the love Draupadi is described to feel for Karna, who was the most misunderstood character and an outcast. She believed her love for Karna was unlike any other, united and separated by time distance and circumstances. Our elders, just like krishna, tell us our heart is stupid and we mustn’t succumb  to it.

“we cannot force ourselves to love—or to withhold it. At best, we can curb our actions. The heart itself is beyond control. That is its power, and its weakness.”

We all have that one person, that secret childhood crush, a passing fleeting glance from a person which stirs intense emotions inside. That was the way Karna made her feel, and she was sure she could have a different, more happy life if she had married him and not Arjun. But that is where perhaps she struggled the most, to accept her reality that it was not meant to be. This is what we all have a hard time accepting and it doesn’t get realised unless we undergo some internal struggle. Most people have a hard time accepting the situations happening to them because you cannot read and imbibe wisdom. You have to give experience a chance, and when the right time comes, you are more aware of the workings of fate and time and then perhaps, you find the strength and calmness of mind to live through it.

“Aren’t we all pawns in the hands of time, the greatest player of them all?”

“Wisdom that isn’t distilled in our own crucible can’t help us.”

“Expectations are like hidden rocks in your path—all they do is trip you up.”

“Your childhood hunger is the one that never leaves you”  – Is this what drives a person to his actions ? Did you crave for validation, attention or love ? Was it lack of money ? Freedom ? Someone to care and nurture you ? Is it guidance you crave for ? Or is it independence because you were too protected ? Does the notion of power drive you beyond anything else ?

Did Draupadi truly get the love she craved for from five husbands or inspite of that, she craved what was unattainable ? What is this lure of unattainable things that drives the heart in such a desperate frenzy ?

You read these words easily, but perhaps it may take a lifetime to realize its meaning. We all ‘desire’ certain things, and we may not be able to function fully unless those aren’t fulfilled.



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