Indian- American author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni makes a conspicuous attempt to give a voice to the mythological and historical lesser-heard. I feel, particularly in Indian society, that the female voice is often subdued under years of misogynism and patriarchy. The salient expectations to cope with the gender-based mandates which include living and learning to compromise are often dealt with little or no resistance. Despite this, her books allow me to lose myself in an imaginary world where there is scope for hope, equality, for gender-neutral success. For readers, these books teach you to rise again like a phoenix.
A Palace of Illusions
I was introduced to her brilliant writing through the book – “A Palace of Illusion”. I had to pick up her other books after this one.
The story fictionalizes Draupadi from the great Indian Mythology – The Mahabharata. Draupadi was born to Drupad to revenge for the insult inflicted by Dronacharya. It was not only Drupad’s revenge but eventually Draupadi’s revenge that led to the grand fight of Kurushetra. We all know that saga, don’t we? This book offers the saga from Draupadi’s angle – from her fight with insecurities to rise to the occasion of a dutiful wife and a lawful queen. The fiction also sheds light on what could have been the consequences if Draupadi had selected Karna during her swayamvar. Her choices played a significant role in changing the course of Mahabaratha.
A Forest of Enchantments
The Forest of Enchantments also takes a similar route to take the reader along with Sita’s journey as Draupadi’s. In the opening chapter, she questions Valmiki on Ramayana – that the saga doesn’t highlight her woes. Valmiki advises her to give voice to her suppressed emotions and her experiences. Thus starts the saga, from Sita’s point of view. Sita was a warrior princess but in turn of events, she becomes a prisoner in the Ashoka forest of the famed city of Lanka. The epic war ended with Raavan’s demise at the hands of brave Ram. Sita may have believed her days of woes to be over but it was not so! Unfortunately, there is no room for error. One toe out of line and the pious lady that Sita was, she was labeled unfit to be the worthy queen of Ayodhya on her return. While reading I realized that women are pictured either as virtuous or as wicked, there is no in-between.
The Last Queen
The Last Queen, as rightly entitled, narrates the story of the last queen of Lahore, Jindan Kaur. Queen consort of Sher-e-Punjab or “Lion of Punjab”, the great Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Jindan Kaur was mother to Daleep Singh who later succeeded to the throne and was the last ruler in the Sandhawalia dynasty. Daughter to palace dog trainer, Jindan enamors the Maharaja with her intellect and compassion. She is married to his sword and taken to Lahore. Due to her lineage, she is not well-accepted by other queens except Guddan. Jindan quickly becomes Maharaja’s favorite queen and he promises not to re-marry again, a promise which he adheres to till his untimely death. Queen Jindan becomes a victim of court politics, however, she fights back with all her might. As soon as young King Daleep ascends the throne, Queen Jindan becomes the Queen Regent and deftly manages the big kingdom left behind by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. She succumbs to a series of conspiracies and manipulation by the British and dies as a rebel. The book magnifies how the lengths a woman can go to save her husband’s pride and son’s safety. Vicious humiliation and back-stabbing conspiracies could not subdue the spirit of Jindan Kaur. She was an extraordinary revolutionary woman and a follower of her heart’s desires.
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