Wednesday, May 6, 2009

a review: the palace of illusions

The presentation in form of the first person narrative technique (Draupadi's persona used as a mouthpiece) used in Divakaruni's 'The Palace of Illusion' is simply brilliant! But at the same time, I wish the facts were not so different from Vyasa's Mahabharata that got translated in various regional languages later.

Am probably writing this because like any other Indian, am quite sensitive about this great epic, the abridged form of which I first read when I was just seven and since then have developed a strong liking for the image of Vasudev Krishna, which continues till date!

Debaroti, a colleague of mine was amused when she heard from me that in 'The Palace...', Draupadi went through dreams, imagination, hallucinations and trance-like state. She wondered aloud if the narrator (heroine herself) had been taking sleeping pills and if so, then what could it have been!

Infact, I have a feeling that either the author or her narrator was under a strong impact of opium just as the great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (composer of 'Kubla Khan') used to be while writing/ narrating.

For example, the presentation of transformation of Shikhandi from a woman to man in this novel is absolutely illogical. The Oriya novelist, Pratibha Ray's 'Yajnasheni' mentions that Shikhandi underwent a surgery and had her muscles toned.
Around 5000 to 7000 years back, Bharat was quite advanced in the field of Medicine, especially surgery! The 6th century BC surgeon, Sushruta, notable for his ground-breaking writings on plastic surgery - was the first one to record as to how a medical person should operate on cataracts. He compiled an encyclopedia of medical treatment which contained detailed anatomical information and descriptions of 300 surgical procedures. Among them the first descriptions were of rhinoplasty and octoplasty: plastic surgery of the nose and the ears. [reference: The Reader's Digest - The Truth About History]

And so far Divya Drishti is concerned, Vyasa had granted it to Sanjay (Dhritarashtra's chariot driver) only. It is only in this book that we see Draupadi receiving the Divya Drishti!

I always knew that Karna admired her beauty and personality and she had respect for him but Panchaali - Karna romance is not mentioned anywhere. So after reading ‘The Palace of Illusions', I searched the internet for correct info regarding Panchaali and Karna (presented in the novel as an absolute Mills & Boon/ Victoria Holt hero) getting united in heaven.

Even when she is lying in the lap of Himalayas - dead and stone cold, she or probably her spirit is seeing Krishna and Karna coming before her one after the other. Lying there she is trying to figure out whose presence always gave her soul an embalming effect (Krishna) and whose presence heightened her desires (Karna)! Must say that Draupadi's imagination was running wild even after her death!!!

One of the comments of the readers:

· "... Is there any truth to the love Draupadi felt for Karna (in the Mahabharata text) or simply adding masala?"

· OR, do read this link and see people's reactions to Panchali and Karna getting united in heaven!

One may not be able to go through Kaliprasanna Singha's (the famous 19th century author)Mahabharata, but then the ideal references would be:

· Draupadi - Pratibha Ray's 'Yajnaseni' (The Oriya original was published in 1985, the English translation in 1996) is more close to Vyasa's Mahabharata and also has logical presentation.

· Pritha by Samaresh Basu. It gives an idea about the society when the incidents of Mahabharata actually took place.

Instead of ‘the palace of illusions' or 'panchaali's mahabharat' the name ideally should have been 'the illusionary palace' or something similar which highlights the opium effect under which the novel has been written/ narrated!!

One must read Pritha and Vyasa's Mahabharata (translated in English or any other regional languages) before reading 'Tha Palace of Illusions' to avoid getting misguided about the actual facts as mentioned in the translated versions of Vyasa'a timeless epic!

- nilanjana

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