By Upendra Mishra
BOSTON—The beauty of long winter nights in New England is that it becomes darker early and forces us to wind down our days sooner. Some of us snuggle ourselves into our favorite shawls or blankets and sit down in the favored cozy corners of our homes, pick up a new book or reread the ones we have already read a few times.
The other day I picked up one of my favorite fiction books: “The Palace of Illusions” (2008, Doubleday) by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This book is written as a memoir by Draupadi, the famous Mahabharata character who had married five brothers—all at the same time.
I have read The Palace of Illusions several times, and love it each time. Sometimes, the same sentence gives a totally different meaning and now makes more sense. Since I often re-read the books that I like several times, I highlight some passages or sentences during my first read. It makes easier for me during the re-read if I just want to browse through. Sometimes, I only read the highlighted parts, and when I don’t understand the highlighted part during my second read, I must read a few earlier paragraphs or the entire chapter.
“The breath made my mind one-pointed, and I began to glimpse subtleties that had been invisible to me before,” I read these highlighted in yellow lines last week. This sentence made no sense on its own. Thus, I followed the ritual and started to read the chapter from the beginning. As I read first few lines, I remembered from my past readings that this chapter dealt with a sorceress teaching young princes Draupadi some simple and basic lessons of life, or street-smart skills.
In this chapter of the book, Draupadi is recalling lessons her sorceress taught her. One of lessons she is teaching is about seduction, or the first role of a wife. “She demonstrated how to send out a lightning glance from the corner of the eye. How to bite, slightly, the swollen lower lip. How to make bangles ring as I raised my arm to pull a transparent veil into a place. How to walk, the back swaying just enough to hint at hidden pleasure,” Draupadi recalls. “In bed you must be different each day…sometimes a lioness, sometimes a trembling dove, sometimes a doe, matching its partner’s fitness.”
While sorceress is teaching the seduction techniques, Draupadi asks: “Teach me how to love my husband, and how to make him love me.”
Sorceress laughed out loud, and said: “I cannot teach you that. Loves comes like lightning, and disappears the same way. If you’re lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you’ll spend your life yearning for a man you can’t have. I advise you to forget about love, princess. Pleasure is simple, and duty more important. Learn to be satisfied with them.”
On the breath, which started this column, the sorceress had taught Draupadi a Yogic breath that filled her with energy so that she needed no other sustenance (more on the power of breath in the next column.) Here are some other lessons sorceress taught Draupadi:
- Your first lesson, princess, is to know how to sidestep questions you don’t want to answer. You do it by ignoring them.
- She taught me how to make myself so ordinary that no one would spare me a second glance.
- She taught me to be unafraid of speaking out, and to be brave enough for silence.
- She taught me when to lie and when to speak the truth.
- She taught me to discover a man’s hidden tragedies by reading the tremor in his voice.
- She taught me to close myself off from sorrows of others so that I might survive.
(Mr. Mishra is managing partner of the Waltham, MA-based integrated inbound marketing and PR firm The Mishra Group. He writes about his three passions: marketing, scriptures and gardening.)