The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

the palace of illusionAll young Panchaali had known as a kid was one propechy. She has been foreseen to make a mark in history. That’s made  her so curious on how and why she would do it. Her nanny  has often rambled on and on how she and her elder brother, Dhri was born. Secretly, Panchaali didn’t all of it because she knew that Dhai Maa often mixed things with what she was true and what she actually wanted to happen.

It was true that she was born from fire that was prayed straight to the Gods. It was true, that the King, her father, only expected for a son. It was also true that her brother was prophesied to kill their father’s worst enemy and that she was about the change the course of history. But she didn’t really believe that her father welcomed them both. She had a fleeting blur kind of memory that when her father wanted to pick only her brother up to show to the crowd, they held hands so tight. Alas! Their father was forced to welcome them both.

As a little kid, Panchaali was a curious girl. She would pester around people with questions and actually forced her father to let her join Dhri’s tutoring periods, in which he reluctantly agreed to do so. She was also very bright, smart, but like other children, she still had a lot to learn. She and her brother, Dhri had an especially close relationship, mainly because the castle they lived was isolated, and she didn’t really have many people to play and talk to.

This story focuses on how Panchaali grew up from being a very bright and curious girl, to a girl who was in the end to marry five husbands. How could she marry five husbands? It all started when she started when she got of age to be married. Her father invited lots of suitors to marry her, but before that, they needed to do a very near to impossible kind of test. Of course Panchaali was told by her best friend Krishna that she was going to marry either Karna or Arjun, as they were the only people he knew that would be able to marry her.

Karna was about to hit the target .(Yes, to marry her, it was an archery contest), when he got involved in a fight with Panchaali’s brother. Sensing danger, Panchaali did what she could to stop them. Ask Karna about his parents, when he doesn’t know about them. He didn’t even try to do the task, he was so caught by surprise and by shame he quickly walk out. In the end, Panchaali married with Arjun, who was currently in hiding.

When she went for her first night with Arjun, Panchaali couldn’t believe her unluckiness. Arjun’s mother, Kunti made sure she married with Arjun and all four of his siblings! Poor Panchaali. But each of her husbands have different strengths and weaknesses, all useful in her life and in battle. And she found out she cared for them greatly, although the care never even came close to love.

What do I think about it? I feel that people have the freedom to choose who they marry with. People should marry whom they love instead of get pitted to each other. In the end, rather then love, Panchaali formed a kind of brotherly-sisterly relationship to the five brothers that she married with, instead of complete head-over-the-heals love.

For a few years, they had a very satisfying life. Panchaali had five sons, from each of her husbands, and they lived in the ‘Palace of Illusions’ built by a God who was thankful to Arjun because he did something to help to him. The Palace of Illusions was the envy of every king. And in the book, it was described to be so beautiful I wished I could live there. It was said to have lots of pools, and sometimes what you see is actually not what it is. Which is why it earned its name. It is also described to be big and gigantic.

But that was not all. The peaceful wars were over, and Panchaali and her family were in exile due to the fact that her eldest husband, Yudistir had lost a bet, leading up to 12 years of exile, and 1 more year of working hard. She was so angry, and in the end, a war started against the other party–Karna was in it. This war was so massive and caused so much destruction to all, and somewhere there, Panchaali was going to change history.

My teacher had just thought us about ‘Norms’ a few weeks ago. It was about laws that set of rules about culture. Across the time, the norm is always changing. However,  majority of people do not like the changing. For example, the norm on same sex marriages, or the norm on premarital sex, or the norm on baby comes first before marriage, and the list drones on; finally stopping at ‘woman who has more than one husband.’ Men are known at the olden times, especially kings to have two the three wives, Panchaalil has five husbands! Five! Who am I to condemn the people who are not following the norm?

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, an Indian-American writer is an award-winning author, poet, activist and teacher. Her themes include the Indian experience, contemporary America, women, immigration, history, myth, and the joys and challenges of living in a multicultural world. Her books have been translated into 29 languages, and her work has appeared in over a hundred magazines and anthologies. Several of her novels and stories have been made into films and plays. She has won an American Book Award and a Light of India award. Divakaruni teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston and writes for both adults and children.

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