Tag Archives: novels

Between the Lines

Thoughts on The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

A woman in a man’s world- the phrase we all have heard one or more times in our lives- is exactly what would define Panchaali’s life. Born unwanted to a father blinded by the need for revenge, accepted only by her brother at birth, and later married off to the one as choreographed by the men in her life, but forced to marry his other four brothers as a bait to righteousness by a hardened, widowed mother-in-law, her struggle is too real as one wonders how much of one’s life, even if prophecies dictates to be the changer of history, is truly one’s own.

Starting her story with her trusted maid, who is the closest to a mother figure she’s going to get, the narrative moves slowly to cover what it’s essential purpose seems to be: rewriting history from a female perspective, and it does serves this purpose well- as characters are described as humans, with flaws, not just a harmatia; and dreams, not just prophecies; and hopes, not just duty. The myth of human nihilism is counteracted by illuminating emotions into characters that have been rendered timeless. There is the seeking of love and belongingness that haunts us all, that also haunt the heroes our childhood tales glorify, and there is a sense of mystery and magic and adventure that we all hope in our life to unfurl.

The Palace of Illusions retell the story of Panchaali, who struggles as all women do, and who narrates the story we all know the outcome to. Perhaps this is why it’s easy to read the novel and take in minute aspects of it- there is no rush to find out what will happen, because it has been imbibed in our minds through childhood stories. Yet, there is a certain yearning and mystery, for you want her to have a happier ending- maybe because she’s not just the protagonist, but because we know it’s not possible- yet nothing is as agonizing as What if thinking.

And then there is the bittersweet agony of unrequited love that runs deep through the novel- that even though she had five husbands, she seeked love. And each of them as they open their souls to her also apparently seek love, but somehow the softer emotions are overwritten by pride and honour, and duty, as the author states, all men do.

Yet, there is something real in something that has been immortalized as an epic story of battle and ruins and destruction that this book explores. Beyond everything else, the author recognizes the fact that in the end all we seek is companionship and belongingness and love, that need not come from the source that we expect or yearn- that it is not unjust to hope for someone to love you even when there are millions ready to avenge you, and that sometimes we are just blinded by our beliefs in what should be and what we want to be true, and ignore what’s right in front of us- forgiving and unassuming.

And that’s what this story taught me: that a slight change in perspective is all it takes for us to look at lives differently- because every time I’d hear these stories, the importance of duty and righteousness and bravery is what is imbibed- things that blind men even today, but this narrative opened my eyes to a different way of looking at something that has been established as the gospel truth for centuries.

So when she’s absentmindedly named as Daughter of Draupad, while her brother is named Destroyer of Enemies, and when her brother’s tutor wanted her out because it wasn’t ladylike to learn of governance and warcraft and law, and when her father and her husbands repeatedly dismissed her off, the latter unconsciously, and when her mother-in-law hated her and her favourite husband took another wife, or when her husbands’ cousins humiliated her while the former looked on, and when she expected and longed for love all her life naively, or when she is remembered as the cause and the catalyst of a great war, when hundreds of men instigated it and fight each other resulting in a massacre, it would resonate with each of us. For indeed, it is a human story of a woman born in a man’s world- as are all of us.

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On paper and love.

On paper and love

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a human being in possession of a good brain must be in want of a book. Always.  So it wouldn’t surprise anybody that they spend hours in a bookstore, skimming through books of various types. It wouldn’t even be a surprise to see them spot their favourite book and hug it like a long lost friend, caressing it like a dog, sniffing its pages, like a ripe mango. Because, it is impossible not to do so.

I personally have such encounters almost every month now, no matter how many assignments are due, no matter how many tests I have to prepare for, because it’s simply what I love.

I still remember the first time I entered that bookstore, while I was still new to the city. It almost did lure me in and made me spend more than a thousand bucks. Later, every time I was around, I would make it a point to browse through, making puppy-dog eyes at my parents to buy me more and more books, because of course, what is this life, without books to decorate your shelves!

Slowly, that addiction only grew- to diaries, folders, papers, pens, pencils and every other form of stationary imaginable. And today of course, my shelves overflow with books and diaries forcing me to put away my childhood comics and ‘Famous Five’s into the store. And now, I don’t know what I could do, as my shelf is threatening to overflow again! How I wish sometimes that I lived in a huge mansion, with shelves enough to keep all mu books and buy more of them.

So today, I spend hours and hours sitting in my favourite section of the bookstore, slipping through the pages of books I would love to own someday. And sometimes, I spend hours sitting with my friends reading books on Astrology and laughing about the sheer stupidity of it all. And then, I read the books I’ve read so many times, I’ve lost count. Or flip through books on poetry, that I can definitely not afford today.

And today, I buy diaries and pens and papers, my first loves, my addictions. And today I buy books worth half my pocket money every month and buy more making puppy dog eyes, because I’m a Scorpio and I have that power in my eyes( yes, I’m laughing too.)

Because I love the smell of my old favourite book that has all but torn apart because I’ve read it so many times, over and over again. And I love the smell of the new book, just out of its packaging. I love the smell of the diaries and the pens and the stain of ink. And I love the smell of the rain, cuddling up in my bed, reading a book and scribbling small notes and couplets on a piece of paper so old and tattered that I end up sneezing after a couple of minutes. Because, at that moment, I have the power to be who I want- a witch, a dragon, a dog. I have the power to cry and laugh, no matter what is going on around me. I have the power to let go. I have the power to be me.

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P.S: I’m sorry about the poor Pride and Prejudice reference.