30 April 2009

The Palace of Illusions

When I told my friends in India that I planned to pick up a copy of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “Palace of Illusions’, when I was there a couple of months ago, they did their best to dissuade me. “Don’t waste your money”, “you’ll regret it” and “is that the sort of stuff you’re reading nowadays” were the phrases that they used.

But being a stubborn Gemini, I went ahead and bought the book anyway. Not only because I am stubborn, but also because (a) I’d already read ‘The Conch bearer’ by the same author and enjoyed both her imagination and style of writing & (b) simply because this book was about the Mahabharata and I couldn’t resist it.

And you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was absolutely glad that I had gone with my instinct to buy it.

I’d certainly be lying if I said I didn’t find anything to criticise in it or that the book was the best take on the Mahabharatha that I’d ever read. And I definitely didn’t agree with many things the author had said. But I enjoyed Divakaruni’s style, her take on Draupadi – the way she’d interpreted one of the most enigmatic characters of the Mahabharatha.

I guess when you’ve grown up hearing these stories all your life, you don’t actually stop to pause and think about each character’s personality. You think: it’s all black and white. The Kauravas are bad and the Pandavas are good. Paanchali had five husbands (btw, I found out from the book that Paanchali is because she is named after her land, Paanchal and not, as I mistakenly thought, because she has 5 husbands). Karna was a good guy on the bad side, etc.

Maybe that’s another reason I found the book fascinating and wished it could have been a lot longer so Divakaruni could have explored some of the themes that she’d just touched the surface of.

Draupadi’s relationship with her brother Dhrishtadyumna (no wonder she calls him Dhri, it's a mouthful!) is brought out very well and in great detail. Their lives as children, in a gloomy dismal palace, is given a fairly large chunk of the narrative and is brilliantly handled.

The same can’t be said about Paanchali's relationship with her husbands – it lacked depth. Similarly, her relationship with her MIL Kunti isn’t explored in too much detail. What little I read of Kunti’s character was a revelation to me – was she really that much of a hard case? The Pandavas were complete letdowns – even Duryodhana’s character is etched better. Arjuna started off promisingly, but petered out soon. Funnily enough, I like Bhima's character the best among them in this book, although that hasn't been the case earlier on for me.

I found the author’s take on Draupadi’s relationship with Karna intriguing. I can’t quite recall where I have read it/heard of it, but somehow, the fact that Draupadi loved Karna did ring a bell. I especially liked Divakaruni's physical description of Karna and could relate to that. Once again, no idea if that’s a fact or just the author’s imagination.

Paanchali’s realationship with Krishna was completely entrancing. Again, there isn’t too much of it, but what there is, especially at the end of the novel, is beautiful.

But why did Divakaruni skip the bit about Karna being married? And why did she have to make the Paanchali-Karna angle so strong and their love so deep? In a way, that is the strength and the failing of the novel. But was that how it really was? Who can tell? Was that the reason why the Pandavas and Paanchali journeyed to Hastinapura play a game of dice that would end in victory and ruin?

Another thing that irked me was the 'Hindised' use of all names, as opposed to the original Sanskrit version - Arjun instead of Arjuna, Yudhisthir instead of Yudhisthira, etc.

I enjoyed knowing all about the life of the Pandavas after the terrible war till their last journey - it's a bit like Ramayana after Rama found his sons Lava and Kusa - you never really get to hear what happened after that. Here, though, you do hear what happened to the Pandanvas and Paanchali, right to the not-so-grim end.

But what the heck, you can do only so much with 300-odd pages on the Mahabharatha. And I thought she did really well. Never mind what anyone else says!

18 April 2009

Silly, sentimental and stupid - I know. But when I saw the mangled remains of our car this morning, that was my day gone!

It wasn't even a new car - to be quite honest, it was on its last legs. But still, to see it dented, bent, the gaping maw, broken headlights, shattered windscreen, doors that won't open any more....and when I saw it being towed away, I felt like I'd sent my pet to the abattoir....

Even people don't last. So why fret about a car that would have lasted, at the most, anyways for a year more? So what if this in the car in which I reallly learnt how to drive. Or that this is the car in which I put small N into her first car seat? Or that this is the car in which we took Fudge for his last drive to the vet? Or that this is the car in which big N had her first driving lesson from dad? Or if this is the car in which we traversed the length of the North Island here? Or that this is the car in which little N said her first ever sentence (to her teddy bear): "Car seat want? Ok".

Silly, sentimental and stupid...

17 April 2009

Can't bear the stench

A sign of how desperate our politicians are and how degraded our politics has become.

So we have Rahul Gandhi and his anglicised Hindi for Congress and rabblerouser Varun Gandhi for BJP.

Can it get any worse?

Yes, it can, when Mayawati is being hailed as the Indian Obama!

Fetch me a bucket, someone! A big one.