Book Review: ‘The Palace Of Illusions’ by Chitra B Divakaruni

One of the most talked-about books by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni “The Palace of Illusions”, is a fan fiction book that retells the epic mythological story of the Great War of all time, Mahabharat, from Draupadi’s point of view. 

There is scarcely any doubt that the theme of the book was one of its kind. Even though enough has been written and created around the heroic saga, the character of Draupadi (or Panchaali, as she liked to be called) has always been victimized. Chitra has simply taken a story that has been told millions of times over the centuries and has made it into a piece of admiration through her craft. Her storytelling creates an ideal platform for Panchaali to reveal her true self, not hiding any aspect of her personality, good or bad, and leaving it to the readers’ comprehension to stomach her perspectives on whatever happens between her birth and the day she dies.
In Chitra’s “The palace of illusions“, Panchaali is anything but a victim and that perhaps is the only point of alteration from the original story. As you dig through the book, you discover how, since her childhood, Panchaali has felt every tiny emotion known to mankind. She felt everything, from being unwanted to being loved, cared for, having desires, and being betrayed.

Chitra, as she had confessed, had chosen a very bold yet intriguing subject for a book. A premise that many would not dare to touch for fear of hurting the feelings of millions. I liked the introduction of a new angle with KarnaI was amused. However, it can be very deceptive for somebody who gets his hand on this book before he reads/hears/watches the original story. 

The fact that this book does not spend quality time around the character building of other significant mortals is why it is precisely Panchaali’s version of her own life; her yearnings, her vengeance that was born out of her anger and desires, seeking attention from the ones she cared for etc.
Throughout history, Draupadi has been portrayed as a headstrong, self-centered, and complaining woman who brought about the greatest war known to human beings. But in a bold attempt, Chitra has brought forward the innocence and naiveness of a young Panchaali. The way she abruptly questions everything, judges quickly and confronts loneliness and unwanted/rejection throughout her life.

If only our author was not so straightforward with her undisguised foreshadowing, reading could have been more fun and less predictable. But then there can hardly be any spoilers for those who have read the original story, as nothing changes except for a few additional mythical details, which make it a decently fabricated piece of writing.

Realm Of Pain.



There are different phases of pain. Any pain. Any chronic pain. 

Let us talk about the headache – the kind of pain that some of us have.
There is this headache that just stays and during the initial days of its stay, it makes you feel quite uneasy. 

There never is a moment of mindfulness or any clarity. An unfriendly heaviness clouds the mind almost all the time. You stay in this phase of pain for a long time – or perhaps it just seems long because there hardly is anything that you could do to fight it back. No hangouts, distractions or music can soothe it out. 

Then after some time (maybe a year or even more), you bring yourself to a point where you are kind of comfortable with it. Like you can make a phone call to a dear person and have a real conversation. However, this pain always remains in the background but it doesn’t make you feel uneasy to the extent that you wished you didn’t exist. You are aware and cautious. You know that you don’t have to pay attention to it. It has become more like a stubborn, spoilt teenager who has discovered what pisses you off and would continue doing it as long as you pay attention. They settle down as soon as you stop to care.

Then comes the phase when the pain finally stops reminding you of its existence. It becomes so abstract that you can barely recognize it – not until you have been left alone with it. It becomes more like a piece of background music. Most of the time, there are so many things going on in your life that it almost makes the background music sound faded.

It is more or less like you are having a cup of tea with your wife on a Sunday morning and you rest your head on your hand while talking about the new movie trailer you watched last night. She asks you – “Do you have a headache”? In all your senses, you reply with – “No, not a headache. I just feel unusual“. 

Now, this is the phase of your pain at which you don’t just stop acknowledging its existence but also become unaware of it.

A Draining Journey



My hand tries
to reach out
and stop
that deafening cacophony
from wherever it comes.

But
I don’t seem to find
anything
that I could stop
or ask to buzz-off
or blame.
Dear Mind, you play
what a wicked game!

I try
not to over-think
and crumble
until the noise fades
like that tick-tock
sound of the clock
in the morning.

After all, what is Life
if not the sum of
small journeys
from one miserable
to another,
and holding on
through each journey.

Picture Courtesy: Pinterest

Summertime Nostalgia – A Memoir!

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Some of our days do smell like childhood. Every movement that we make, every thought that we think and every sound that we hear reflects the nostalgia of the day that we have already lived decades ago. As if our mind and body are wandering separately in two different days of two different years of our lives. This is exactly how I felt when I woke up this morning.

Chotu handed over the freshly brewed cup of black tea as soon as I went outside my bedroom. Seventeen years ago, when Chotu first came to us to be our house help, I was told his name was Govind. But looking at his stature at that time and how convenient it was for me, I soon started calling him Chotu.
I took my tea and went to the study room. That is where I have always taken my morning tea. I enjoy the fresh air more than the television during the first few hours after I wake up in the morning. I have my study room combined with the living room. Metaphorically speaking, I am more alive in my study than anywhere else. Hence it completely made sense to call my study as a living room too. My east-facing study faced the lawn and the brown entrance gate of our house. I mostly kept the study door locked and prohibited its usage for usual going in and out of the house. Anybody, who visited us, had to take the second door which led to the thin passage adjacent to the left of the study.

I have my writing table right by the big wooden window which was painted sky blue. Of all the other great things in my life which they have blessed me with, I especially thank my parents for this window. This window is my special free pass to get into the most artistic landscapes of my imagination. There is a semi-circular multicolored stained glass window on top of the wooden window which made the study look colorful with the lights reflected during the early morning hours.

Sitting at my table I could see all the trees planted in our lawn. Starting spring until the end of the summer, our lawn smelled of Jasmine flowers and Guavas. Flowers on the Gulmohar tree (Delonix Regia) added a different vibe and pleasure in looking outside the window. Together they raise a toast to my senses, particularly to the eyes. What we have seen through our eyes works dominantly with the memories that we create of our yesteryears or of every passing minute. Like I can still remember the fireworks during Diwali from my childhood and how much the sight of it used to fill me with joys or the summer evenings which I used to spend in our lawn looking at the stars. Every evening, Chotu would pluck some jasmine flowers and put them in a ceramic bowl of water on my writing table. One can only think of pleasant thoughts when surrounded by the natural aromatic fragrances.

Ours is a two-storeyed house in Vasant Vihar, Delhi which was constructed at least 37 years ago by my parents. When my father was still working with the Indian Railways, he was confused about choosing between Delhi and Kolkata to build himself a home and get settled. My mother used to write articles and short stories for local magazines, and it was easy to access multiple big, medium, and small publication houses in Delhi for her work to get published. They had lived in a rented house in Vasant Vihar for a couple of years after their marriage and they honestly believed that they felt at home in this locality.

Today as I sit by the window sipping from my cup of tea, I can vividly feel all the summers of August I have spent in this house. Being the only child of my parents, I had always discovered my ways of keeping myself busy and entertained. During the daytime when my father was at duty and my mother was busy writing in the study where I am sitting right now, I would sneak outside and start playing with Chotu’s bicycle. My father had bought this bicycle for him to take care of the outside chores. His bicycle was slightly bigger for my age. I used to drag myself on it, nevertheless. As a teenager I was curious to see if the leaves of the trees or plants felt anything when we touched them and I used to spend long afternoon hours observing the plants, hanging guavas and collecting the fallen jasmine flowers and leaves and stuffing them in the pockets of my dress. Later, I used to decorate the study table with those flowers and leaves.

Summer has the longest days and even though the father used to come back home from the duty by 5pm, it never felt early. Once my father was back, we all used to sit on a big jute mat on the lawn and Chotu used to join us after he had served the evening tea and snacks. Father would tell us about his day at work and the mother would talk about the signs of progress on her articles and stories. I used to listen sincerely whenever my mother talked about the stories she was working on. I think I get my reading and writing habits from mother as even when I played alone in the lawn during the afternoon hours of my childhood, I used to observe my mother sitting by the same wooden window of our study and working on her stories.
After listening to my parents talking about their day, I used to engage myself in playing and chatting with Chotu. I would insist if he could tell me some stories from his village or what he used to do in the afternoon when he was a little kid. He would tell me how he would sneak outside of his house without letting his parents know and go swimming with his friends in the small pond which they had in the village. When they had swum in the pond for a while, they used to catch fishes using the bamboo stick with a hook attached to one of its ends. His stories were fascinating as I never had done any of those and I would listen sincerely as long as he would go on. After he ran out of the stories, he would lift me up and help me pluck guavas from the tree.

Today felt like one of those summer mornings of August in Delhi when our house did smell of guavas and Jasmine flowers. It did smell of the incense sticks that father would light before he would have breakfast and leave for the duty. It did smell of all the spilled inks and crushed papers around the mother’s study table. It smelled like raw memories.
I firmly believe that our past gives us the most precious gift of memories only when we live completely in our present. Imagine if, twenty years ago, I didn’t notice closely how the trees of our lawn looked like in this month or how my mother would work inexhaustively for long hours on her stories or what ingredients Chotu used to put in my favorite snacks or what my father would talk about during the evening teatime – then my senses would not have collaborated well with my brain to create the most cherished and honest memories for life.

A FAMILIAR MISLAY

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How much happiness is the enough happiness for your heart to hold?
If it is much more than what you could carefully handle, then what do you do to keep it intact – making sure it doesn’t flow over the edges during the course of you being excessive careful with it?

July 31st

With great struggle I found the cab I had booked almost 40 minutes ago. I boarded it in a jiffy and thanked my driver for not abandoning me while I waited patiently for the cab.
In a minute or two, I had settled down with the damp smell inside the cab and rested my head on the window pane of the back seat.
I stared right into the falling raindrops playing with the reflections of the lights from the stores and the traffic on my window.
My cab was barely moving and yet I was neither in a hurry nor impatient. Its stupid!
How can one possibly feel arrived before they actually arrive somewhere.
You know that feeling – you see an unknown, unfamiliar number flashing on your mobile screen. You want to take that call, you want to see what lies on the other side but you hesitate. You are so made up of your thoughts that nothing really seems to talk you off the ledge.

Driver must have sensed the pain and anxiety one would normally feel as soon as they board a cab in the city right after the evening rain. He switched on the FM and the station ‘accidentally’ started playing Nothing Else Matters from Metallica.

Wait!
I should not feel anything anymore.
How can one feel nearly perfect being stuck in a never-ending traffic?
With every moment moving ahead on that road in the cab, I felt as if I was travelling in an entirely different direction on the parallel lane as if the completeness of that moment was enough for my delicate heart to hold. Sometimes we have to make assumptions that maybe this is it now! That’s all I can handle.
Wherever that cab was supposed to take me to was the most beautiful trap of life – you have seen it, you have known it, you have addressed to it and later you have either felt incompetent or devastated. It shows you where you need to go but it never takes you anywhere.
Years later, I feel as if I never got off that cab. I am not lost for sure but I am still trying to figure out where I had to go, where I am to go.

Thoughts Marathon

april 27th

The world out there is in deathlike silence,
there is no pretentious chaos and haste
and I can barely shut my ears and eyes
to the planet of thoughts inside my head.

Hush!
Silent!
Stay in there but stay low –
you – like a maddening sound of taiko.

I reckon there is no running away,
there is no hiding out,
but can there be no pause,
no break-outs, no respite?
Do they not run on electricity?
Is there no load-shedding?
These millions of tiny,
hyperactive thoughts!
Do they never run low on battery?
Ain’t they ever sleepy?

So, I thought yesterday
when the Sun will set,
I will take these covert
voices in confide,
take them with me
to shower,
bargain with their pride.

These non-dying thoughts,
their consistent buzzing,
they will float free
in the hot shower
or will just sink.
But in either cases:
It will free the soul-bird
from the cage,
and put at rest the thoughts
that otherwise would pierce
my lungs with rage.

 

Nourishing Inward!

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So I was going through the Twitter news as soon as I was awake this morning and was kind of narrating the same to my husband who was not even completely awake yet.
He shooed me away saying that he was not ready for this negativity early in the morning.
I, at that moment, reckoned that it was more of a reality than a negativity but later it kept me wondering for sure.
There is so much depression outside. There is fear, there is hatred. Then there is judgment and denial. They are all lurking and waiting for you to come outside and visit them and, you know, the moment you are there checking on them, they will get hold of your clutch in no time. If you are not strong enough, you will let it destroy your soul, savor on it and you will be reduced to a moral fillet, not knowing anymore what is right.
To save your sanity in this immensely, continuously going insane world is to find something that takes you for a ride inside. People will come and tell you how indifferent you seem to be with whatever is going on around you, but you don’t have to get into that trap. You can’t change a thing because things have moved beyond the control long back. All you need to do in a world that is constantly testing your threshold is to nourish and make your internal beautiful. Write songs, water your plants, make art, talk to the ones who matter, drink lots of water and watch good movies but do not, for a minute, believe that opening yourself up in the world will leave your heart and soul harmless.
A step back is a step in and inside is as important as outside, in fact most important, however, underrated.

Pic Courtesy: Pinterest

Birthday Notes To A Soul-Sister

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Do not struggle.
Not inside your head.
Not inside your heart.

Listen.
Listen to the words
that your heart is speaking

when your mind is silent and
when the world is critiquing.

Do not let the critic,
who do not mean a penny 
and who you do not see
or to who
you do not owe,
decide
what your heart should want.
A heart wants what it wants.

You don’t want to impress them.
Not to them
you want to prove
your worthiness.
Not until you see
how they add a real value
to your existence.
Till then, outdistance.

May you always pursue 
which makes your heart
fulfilled and happy.

May you work hard
to pay your bills

but may your bills be
for the things that you
want to do,
you want to see,
and want to become.

Pic Courtesy: My dearest friend, Anna!

Soul Lessons

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There is no finish line.
Nothing ever really ends until the death.
However, what we mostly tend to forget while fighting our sufferings
hard is that the moment our mind is ready to focus less on these
griefs and hurts, they gradually cease to exist in our lives.
They just start to fade.

It is a misconception if we believe that we can work our ways away
from all the things that did hurt or still does.
But we can always gently move them to the backseat.

Not forcibly but eventually
we always have to come down to a point in our lives
where we are confronted to make choices for
ourselves.
Choices – not only of –
what to eat
what to dress yourself in
what to study
what to visit
but, also the choice of how to go about feeling about something.

We can not pretend like we don’t have a heart to protect it
from breaking
but we can always pretend like the circumstances, that decided
the course of our lives, has changed and we no longer obligate ourselves
to respond to it when it knocks on our shoulder from the backseat.

Pic Courtesy: @risfloat

 

 

Cycle Of Stuckness – World Mental Health Day

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We create the cycle of stuckness on our own.
We feel we are stuck somewhere when that place or the person stops making sense to us.
We keep our blanket of patience extremely thin with those places and people that when the moment of vulnerability knocks, we wish to get rid of that stuckness at first sight. We fight to come out of it. And that is when a new place, a new person, a new thought and, sometimes, a new habit lurks us in. We are not stuck until we feel we are chained.
The most troubling part is to understand that the monotony of our life is not the same as feeling freedom-deprived.
When we are deprived of chasing what we wish to – that is when we are stuck.