The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Throughout history, men have judged women, prided themselves in their dominance over them and have written literature to assert the validity of the same. The more mythology I read, I realised somehow women were always painted as the unwitting villains, the cause of great wars. Never has the phrase “The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused” rang truer. Funnily, people always measure this quote, and history itself as an assessment of a moment in time. For once, I was forced to think of this as a continuing process. This book serves as an interesting thought exercise, and regardless of where you stand on literary qualities and requirements, will force you to think. Chitra does an amazing job with this book, not simply because of its unique vantage point in a tale that almost all of us know, but rather in the humanity that she brings to her depiction of Panchali. Beautifully, while asserting the need for feminisation of literature, this book also goes deep into how almost everyone, including supposedly infallible Gods (or their incarnates) are flawed, and that is what the idea of being a human being entails. Perfection is a mysterious end, which is to be chased, and can never be achieved. It is a bygone conclusion that equality is a goal to be strived for. But what this book made me think was of thinking beyond the idea of substantive gender equality, and think about intersectional parity and availing of equal opportunities. While Draupadi’s character deftly depicts the pain of a woman, it subtly highlights (ironically through Draupadi’s own flaws and privileged thinking) the pain of people belittled by the misfortune of birth. Factors that are not controlled or chosen, and merely variants of the vagaries of birth are oddly chosen by society to systematically wreck people, and eroding that should truly be our goal. A poignant scene that touches upon this is the mass funeral of those who perished in the Great War of Mahabharat, where the distraught yet measured reactions of the upper classes is starkly opposite to that of the hysterical and rather vengeful response of the lower classes, who were served no purpose by the war.

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Throughout history, men have judged women, prided themselves in their dominance over them and have written literature to assert the validity of the same. The more mythology I read, I realised somehow women were always painted as the unwitting villains, the cause of great wars. Never has the phrase “The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused” rang truer. Funnily, people always measure this quote, and history itself as an assessment of a moment in time. For once, I was forced to think of this as a continuing process.

This book serves as an interesting thought exercise, and regardless of where you stand on literary qualities and requirements, will force you to think. Chitra does an amazing job with this book, not simply because of its unique vantage point in a tale that almost all of us know, but rather in the humanity that she brings to her depiction of Panchali. Beautifully, while asserting the need for feminisation of literature, this book also goes deep into how almost everyone, including supposedly infallible Gods (or their incarnates) are flawed, and that is what the idea of being a human being entails. Perfection is a mysterious end, which is to be chased, and can never be achieved.

It is a bygone conclusion that equality is a goal to be strived for. But what this book made me think was of thinking beyond the idea of substantive gender equality, and think about intersectional parity and availing of equal opportunities. While Draupadi’s character deftly depicts the pain of a woman, it subtly highlights (ironically through Draupadi’s own flaws and privileged thinking) the pain of people belittled by the misfortune of birth. Factors that are not controlled or chosen, and merely variants of the vagaries of birth are oddly chosen by society to systematically wreck people, and eroding that should truly be our goal. A poignant scene that touches upon this is the mass funeral of those who perished in the Great War of Mahabharat, where the distraught yet measured reactions of the upper classes is starkly opposite to that of the hysterical and rather vengeful response of the lower classes, who were served no purpose by the war.

Available on Flipkart and Amazon

Cross-posted at The Standing Coin

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