A story so powerful that it has transcended thousands of years, Mahabaharata is timeless , relevant and inherent in the pschyce of every India. It takes courage to mess around with it and re-write it. Well, Chitra Banerjee has done a pretty good job. No, the story is neither changed nor there is an alternative ending but what the readers are treated to are a fresh new perspective. Imagine being there when it all started..and imagine seeing it through Panchaali’s eyes – the woman who started it all.
The narrative starts from her birth – moves back and forth between flashbacks and present , digging out stories of the past and building out characters. Chitra’s Draupadi is a young rebel, a tomboy foerver craving for her father, King Draupad’s attention. She is determined to leave a mark on this world. Always conflicting with her elders on her expected role as a princess and a woman, she finds comfort and solace with her confidante Krishna, King of Dwarka.
Though Draupadi’s tries hard to fight the social structures around her, from very early on in her life, she has to bow down to higher values – like protecting one’ family honor and pride , like choosing for the greater good of the kingdom. It starts with her Swayamvar, where she compromises on her heart’s desire chosing Arjun over Karna. Next, when Kunti asks her to wed all her five sons. We see her evolution frpm a young , rebellious girl to a queen of the times. She starts moulding into the role expected of her showing flares of herself on some rare occassions.
Chitra provides interesting glimpses on dynamics of certain relationships (that could be very well true) . We take a look at our heroine’s relationship with Kunti – by forcing her to wed all her sons, Kunti does not endear herself to her new daughter-in-law. What’s interesting to read is how Draupadi creates a position for herself in the household and learns to gain importance in the eyes of her husband. Then there is Arjun and Draupadi – how Arjun fits the bill with her image of prince charming and how early their relationship collapses with her marriage to his brothers.
What is probably truly original is Draupadi’s secret love for Karna…well I thought it was orignial till I did some research and found out that popular folk lore hints at an infatuation between Draupadi and Karna.
Though it is the story of Draupadi, what makes this book really interesting and worthwhile is the original background story of Mahabaharta. In a few chapters itself, Draupadi becomes a narrator and just one of the characters as the greater drama unfolds.
When I started reading the book , I thought that this first person narrative would help me understand and get an insight ( all hypothetical , ofcourse) into one of the most powerful and enigmatic heroines of all time. Well, it did. I also thought that maybe she will redeem herself for causing as much trouble as she did. Well she didn’t. But everyone else was at fault too. Mahabharata was a huge battle of egos.
Should you read this book ? Oh yes.