The ninth month of the year holds a special place in my life. September, a month dedicated to the Virgos, the fast cars of Singapore Night Race and the venerable teachers, is also the month that reminds me of the passage of time. Most of the year seems to have whizzed past and by now I have a fair idea of how it fared. Was it good? Was it bad? By now, I ought to know. So, September is reserved for contemplations, consolidations and evaluations.
In my contemplative state, I have gravitated towards mythological tales as well as contemporary plots.
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a rendition of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata and the book presents the viewpoint of Draupadi, a woman. In changing the narrative, Divakaruni manages to subvert the patriarchal slant of mythological stories. The reader is led to question the idea of absolute truth and readjusts known perspectives.
I have always been drawn to multiple perspectives as they force me to look at life, events and people differently. And somehow, the more I age, the more I value different perspectives and the more I realise that there is no absolute right or wrong. We all are right. We all are wrong. It simply depends on who narrates the story at that point in time.
In The Palace of Illusions, Divakaruni gives an alternate POV to a story that has already been told and retold countless number of times. Additionally, in adopting Draupadi’s voice, she lays bare, social issues and throws light on how power belongs to select few in the society. However, the protagonist here is no wilting flower either. Her character displays ego, willfulness and pride with equal flourish. The Place of Illusions is thus, a powerful book that takes a feminine viewpoint and yet presents the flaws of the character. It’s a must read for those who enjoy history, social commentary and an important contemplative resource for those who appreciate the nuances of characters and of life itself.
Another book that makes you question the construct of truth is, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, by the Pakistani writer, Mohammed Hanif. The story is based on the plane crash that killed General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, the former president of Pakistan. The book won the Guardian First Book Award and Hanif’s writing is both provocative and pithy, as he explores the various possibilities of Zia’s death.
What strikes in both the books, whether it is a mythological and historical narration or a contemporary commentary, is the common theme, that truth or the notion of truth, can be manipulated by a select few. This realisation somehow makes it even more important to be open to multiple perspectives, both in life and in stories, so that we don’t miss out on things that remain untold.
So, where does September bring me? It brings me to the stories that I may have missed through out the year or perhaps, even before that. It brings me to a place that’s hopefully less judgmental and less biased than before. It brings me to the place of understanding, that to believe in just one story is to ignore the many others that are equally valid.