Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Reflections: The Palace of Illusions

Each of our realities lies tacit and veiled within our perceptions. Truth and the objectiveness of reality will continue to be an elusive subject of much discussion for philosophers. Almost all of us continue to go through experiences in life wherein each involved member of the experience holds onto their version of reality - that which is bound to be qualitatively different in subtle ways from the others' perceptions. Someone always has their point of view, which try as they might, cannot be translated to others, leaving each person to go through their own emotions and interpretations of the experience. I often wish that I video-tape most of my interactions with people, just so I could go back to the scene and watch it as it transpired so that everyone involved will have a better sense of reality than our imagined versions. Even so, the lenses through which we view such a video will be tainted with our perceptions, our expectations and insecurities. The mind is apt to play such tricks... completing sentences that were never uttered, giving life to insecure emotions, reading between the lines and ending up with a convoluted mess of misinterpretations which we will steadfastly cling onto as being the actuality of the episode. Such differences in thinking and perception are mostly attributed to gender differences. Much has been written and researched about how men and women are differently wired. It's a fact that a man and a woman who witness the very same scene will notice things differently, perceive different kinds of aspects, thus affecting the overall interpretation. If that's the case with mundane events in life, how interesting would it be to read a woman's perspective on a historic epic?

Several authors and poets have delved into the nuances of Mahabharata - concentrating on its myriad stories, the discussion of Dharma, the beauty of the literature, and in-depth character analysis. But it takes the epic to another level when we witness the events through the eyes of a woman - and not just any woman, but one of the stars of the epic - Draupadi herself. Divakaruni demonstrates a lot of creativity by identifying with the true spirit of a woman as strong and resilient as Draupadi. She narrates the epic tale taking the voice of Draupadi, bringing to light aspects of the tale that have never been considered before - a woman's emotions, the dynamics of her various relationships and the roles she plays in realizing the inevitable fate of thousands of people.

I was a little apprehensive and skeptical about this book, for it's easy to get carried away and sensationalize the story, and perhaps even introduce irksome controversies in the name of wielding one's creative license. But the most commendable aspect is that the author does a wonderful job of drawing her creative interpretations within the line of the actual tale. Her research and facts are sound and her take on Draupadi's thoughts and emotions resonate well with us. Draupadi is crafted as a strong-willed rebel, a feminist of her era and an intelligent woman weighed down by her rage and vengeance. The reader sees her grow and evolve, both through her thoughts and actions, that she gets transformed into a realistic character.

Divakaruni also focuses on the ravages of the war. Instead of glorifying the war or the victory of the Pandavas, through Draupadi, she brings out the horrendous aftermath of war, teasing the discussion of who really won, and what the true meaning of victory is. She shows Draupadi's pain and regret, her disappointment at how everybody was fueled by their fire of revenge, intensified by their ego, and blinded by their anger and desire. The manner in which Dharma became a loose term, only to be manipulated and rationalized by both teams towards their gains, is stressed and highlighted, despite it not being discussed in depth. It was heartening that Divakaruni chose to dwell on such aspects of the war, making the reader introspect on how such a war could have possibly been evaded and how each character was caught in his/her own web of revenge and ego. It's an irony that such a great battle to uphold Dharma reduces to mindless revenge and ego.

The one surprising thread in the book is Divakaruni's conception of a strong attraction between Draupadi and Karna. I have heard of Karna's possible attraction to Draupadi, but never before have I come across Draupadi's undying fascination with Karna, tinged with regret and wistful imagination of how her life would have been had she married him. I can see how this interpretation is sure to ruffle a few feathers, for Draupadi is worshiped as a Pativrita. But for me it added an interesting dimension to the tale.

Divakaruni's writing is lucid and beautiful. Some of her metaphors are not as put together as I would have wished, but in all, her writing flows well. The book attempts to recreate the "reality" of the Mahabharata as experienced by a woman, enhancing our comprehension of the epic by adding more shades to the already rich hues.


Srishti said...

lovely post neeru.... sounds like an interesting read....

SecondSight said...

To me, the most impressive thing about this book was how she's managed to avoid the controversy that invariably arises out of rewriting India's 'sacred' texts !:)
I was also intrigued by the way she portrays the interactions between Draupadi and Kunti- it's something very natural, but I'd never considered the possibility until this book.. :)

Sanjini said...

How is her style of writing in the book? The theme of the book sounds interesting - however I have read Chitras books ...one of them is the popular "Mistress of Spices". I somehow did not like the style of writing...I thought it was a little rambling or prosaic (for lack of better adjectives).

On a side note you might want to read "Gone with the wind". I find the book very interesting in many ways.

Sanjini said...

Once again .... a simple statement loaded with a heavy truth...
"Each of our realities lies tacit and veiled within our perceptions."

I agree completely! Somehow it reminds me of the frog in a well story told by Swami Vivekananda.

Neeraja said...

Thanks Srishti! I think you will like this book.

SecondSight - I agree, that's the most commendable part! I guess with worshiped characters, all relationships are assumed to be ideal :). One of the things that makes the epic and the characters more natural and down-to-earth in this book is the exploration of such realistic relationship conflicts :)

Sanjini - Her writing is quite good in the book. I didn't like Mistress of Spices either; more from the standpoint of the theme/story. And oh yes, "Gone with the Wind" is a classic and one of my all time favorites! I loved it when I read it at 16 and I'm sure I would still love it if I were to re-read it now :)
I guess we all are frogs trapped inside our own wells :)