May 25, 2020
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Maya Memsaab

A sullenly subversive book. Divakaruni's Draupadi is at all times conscious of her power to order destiny, and oh how bored she is with it all.

Maya Memsaab
outlookindia.com
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The Palace Of Illusions
By Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni
Picador Pages. 360; Rs. 495
The Mahabharata is a roller-coaster ride through an arcade of distorting mirrors. Its heroes, sublime or grotesque, trapped in a fanciful web of causality and rebirth, have escaped responsibility.

But somebody must take the flak for all that bloodshed. Who better than Draupadi? Fearless and adventurous, she commands event and controls action. But what was it like, really, for her?

This Panchali’s Mahabharata is a sullenly subversive book. Divakaruni’s Draupadi is as arid as the wilderness on which Maya will build a palace of unbelievable splendours for the new bride and her five husbands. Draupadi is at all times conscious of her power to order destiny, and oh how bored she is with it all. And what is it like, to be married to the mob? To five husbands and their steely mother and their overbearing grandfather and a hundred sneering cousins?

Much has been said, she says in a dismissive preface as she follows the relentless seam of event, and yet, she always has something new to say. Divakaruni has given Draupadi a powerful voice, a cold pronouncement, utterly joyless. We see the Pandavas as vacillating non-entities, Kunti as a termagant, Karna as Heathcliff redux, against a shadowy backdrop of familiar names and forgotten stories. Krishna alone escapes Draupadi’s clench of dislike. Still lovable, though sternly cleansed of mischief.

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