Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Palace of Illusions

I was introduced to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Sister of my Heart by one of my guy friends. He did not care too much for that book and mentioned he was in some way related to the author and got an autographed copy of the book from her. It was in fact intriguing to find this book amidst his sci-fi and Michael Crichton collection, which I didn't care too much for. I borrowed (and did not return) the book and I am glad I did. I loved the book and read a lot more of Divakaruni.

Divakaruni's latest, The Palace of Illusions tells the time-tested story of Kauravas and Pandavas, their parents, their siblings, their wives and rest of their kin. Unlike the B R Chopra version narrated by Samay or the original version narrated by Vaishampayana, in this book, the story of Mahabharata is retold by Draupadi or Panchaali as she preferred to be called. Like they say, there are two sides to every story and it is very interesting to hear Draupadi's version, presumably the female lead in a story full of men.

As the narrator, Draupadi takes us along in her journey of life beginning from her father's palace where she grew up feeling lonely except for the friendly conversations with her brother Dhrishtadhyumna and the occasional visit from Krishna that she looked forward to with excitement. She reveals her intimate thoughts before and during her Swayamvara and her life afterwards with the Pandavas. Her struggles as a newly married, that too to five men, her reign as the queen in the palace of illusions built by the best architect, the biggest insult of her life, her life in the forests, everything, narrated by the character herself, remind the readers that despite the eons passed since then, nothing much has really changed for women. We still have the same power struggle with the overly possessive Mother-in-law, we still look up to our men to fight for our honor and we still keep wondering if we picked the right man!

Although the story is nothing new, the author inserted interesting tidbits, making the book a delicious read. The secret love shared by Draupadi and Karna for each other and the way each of the Pandavas loved Draupadi, are such little pieces that don't really alter the story, but justify each of the characters' motivation for behaving the way they did. Despite narrating a story set long before the civilization as we know today existed, the contemporary language with a generous dose of humor and irony makes the characters all very real. Here is an example of Divakaruni's wit as she describes Draupadi's fears of being cursed by sage Durvasa:
Durvasa was known for his creative curses. No doubt Duryodhan had sent him here hoping he would would burden us with some obscure, incurable disease or metamorphose us into exotic fauna.
To reflect the wisdom of her characters, Divakaruni also has some very thought-provoking lines which we sure could use in our current war-ridden world. The irony in Duryodhan's words after being defeated in Kurukshetra made me wonder what the real meaning of winning is!
I am going to heaven to enjoy all its pleasures with my friends. You will rule a kingdom peopled with widows and orphans and wake each morning to the grief of loss. Who is the real winner, then, and who the loser?
Being raised on a weekly dose of Mahabharata on TV, the story is one of my favorites. The book narrates the events in a non-spiritual context, reveals the complexities of their actions and judges the characters to human standards. And this is what made it real interesting to me. Besides, the cynicism in Draupadi's tone is something that I completely identified with. The book forces you to look at all the well-known characters with a new eye. I always liked Duryodhan and Karna much better than the Pandavas and the book reinforced my idea. I declare Karna my favorite character in the story and join Draupadi to wonder what course it would have taken if he wasn't stopped from competing in her Swayamvar.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Characters that live on

I picked up this book tag from La Vida Loca and I need to list my favorite fictional characters. I used to read almost exclusively fiction before I moved on to other stuff very recently. So this is in a way a trip down memory lane for me.
  1. Mr. Darcy: Anyone who read Pride and Prejudice cannot help but fall in love with this man.
  2. Sherlock Holmes: Its elementary my dear Watson.
    For all you folks in London: really? there is no 221 B Baker Street?
  3. Scout Finch: The little girl from Alabama is my hero anyday.
  4. Gretel of Hansel and Gretel: I remember imagining myself as Gretel when my brothers had to study and I was left free to do whatever.
  5. Samwise Gamgee: For the dependable friend he is. Honestly, he is much more a hero than Frodo Baggins.
  6. The Common Man: He is you, he is me, he is every one of us. An Average Indian.
  7. Calvin: I have to agree with LVL. He is much more than a kid. He sounds as philosophical as his namesake if not more. Need I say I believe in destiny?
  8. Moushumi Mazoomdar: I found more to identify with and liked this character much better than that of Ashima Ganguli in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake.
  9. Rosie: RK Narayan's Guide, beautifully unfolds the story of this strong, independent dancer who overcomes every injustice done to her. Waheeda Rehman did nothing less in her portrayal of this character.
  10. Laila: Of The Thousand Splendid Suns. Her beauty, her courage, her strength and her intelligence is just amazing.
I wish I could write more. But I cannot think of any other characters. So go on. Help me. Who are the characters you loved?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Of daughters, sisters and wives

Pardon me for the cliche but my parents, I always believed, were traditional with a modern outlook. They sent me to an all-girls convent but did not mind that I was friends with boys in our neighborhood and hung out with my brothers' friends playing whatever you play when you are in school. They let me pick engineering that too Civil Engineering although they much rather preferred me joining the software bandwagon. For the most part I got to wear what I wanted to and got my way around most things. To top all of that off, they had no problems in me picking the person I wanted to spent the rest of my life with. Suddenly, after all these years, my mother said something yesterday which made me wonder what I mean to them as a daughter.

To give you a little background here, my brother who is two years older than I am is traveling to the US in a couple of months to take some licensing exams. He is not traveling on business where his employer will pay for his trip. He is funding this entire trip by himself and will be in the US for about 3-4 months to complete the exam and subsequent processes. Ever since we started discussing his trip, it was taken for granted that he would come stay with us and take the exam. Obviously!!! And then yesterday we were discussing the logistics of his trip, when my mother asked my brother to look for another place to stay. At first I wasn't sure what she meant so I had to prod a couple of times before she finally came out with it. Men from a respectable family do not stay in their married sister's and brother-in-law's house for an extended period of time it seems!! What???

Knowing for a fact that my mother does not spend the energy thinking about these kind of Uttam Dave type things, I asked her where it came from. She first denied that anyone helped her with these thoughts before admitting that it was one of her colleagues. My initial reaction was to yell, cry and threaten her that I would never talk to her if she ever entertained such thoughts. After sleeping over it for a day, I called her back to find out what exactly was bothering her and she says it is shameful on her, my father's and my brother's part to accept any kind of help from me, their married daughter. And secondly she is sure I am doing it against the husband's wishes and it will cause me problems with him. And of course she believes the parents-in-law would never approve of such a thing and will promptly disown me when they know my intentions.

It is not like I never discussed my brother's trip with the husband. In fact he was the one that brought up the subject of all the paperwork needed to be done for his travel and he of all has no problems with the whole idea. My parents-in-law are of the sweetest kind. Although I itch real bad to join one of those Bitch9-about-MIL discussion groups, she is sweet enough to leave me with nothing to bitch about. I did mention to them about the trip and they had no problem absolutely (I hope!). My brother who is the subject of the entire discussion has no problems because he gets along well with the husband and honestly, doesnt care. My father had no second thoughts about it either. So really, I think the problem is with people like my mother's colleague who I am guessing are the targets of Uttam Dave's advice and my mother who's thoughts are so easy to manipulate.

And me, well I am left thinking what I mean to my parents after all these years! Was I just the daughter that they spoiled rotten knowing fully well has to be given away to another family and never reclaimed? Have they lost all their rights on me that they cannot let me fulfill my tiniest of responsibilities towards my family? I wonder if this is a question of being traditional. Or if it just not being able to break away from what is expected or rather not expected of you by some moronic society. Either ways, I feel terribly disappointed for having to explain this to my mother!

P.S: When I read reactions to Dave's posts at Chandni's and Mad Momma's I thought maybe the advice is necessary for girls married into Ekta Kapoor kind of K Families. Ok please let me eat my words from their blogs. No, no woman should be given the kind of marital advice where she is asked to forget about her parents, her family and everything about her before she got hitched. Sorry, that doesnt work for me. My mother of all people should have known that!!!

P.P.S: Oh, today is my blog's first birthday. And am I glad I have this place to voice my shouts and murmurs! The activity here is not as much as I would have liked, but at least I get to have my monologues without any opposition so thats good. Happy Birthday Shouts and Murmurs!!