Book Review: My Magical Palace
A nizam’s palace in Hyderabad, the exotic Bengali culture and the pangs of first love – that is where Kunal Mukherjee’s debut saga takes us. In a story that jumps between San Francisco in USA and post-partition Hyderabad in India we travel through simple joys, unbearable pain, raw courage, shameful fearfulness and a messed up child-mind. A simple story written with an endearing simplicity, this one is undoubtedly one of the best debuts of the year.
Meet Rahul. He lives in San Francisco with his live-in partner Andrew. He also lives in Hyderabad in a palace, hiding and fighting his sexual inclination, living a life chosen for him not by him. The palace stands demolished today while he is in America but the palace isn’t gone anywhere. Rahul lived there for thirteen years; then he moved on to Mumbai and then USA. Did he? Not really because he still lives there, he still lives in the fear that the thirteen year old lived in, his anxieties have only grown, his beliefs about himself have only grown. He never outgrew them; they just kept growing within him.
Rahul – A Bengali boy who despised sports, was bullied by his sister, hero-worshipped his classmate Amit and Rajesh Khanna, adored his Mallika didi and loved his gulmohar tree and his palace. He is first shocked when he sees his hero-friend Amit expelled from school for writing a love letter to another boy and Rahul is worried sick over his own love letter to Rajesh Khanna, the matinee idol. He realizes how only Rajesh Khanna enthralls him in the movies and not his heroines, how it is the hero who serenades into his dreams and how he is attracted to Subho, his friend’s brother. He realizes he is different from the boys of his class while going through their jibes and jokes directed at him. Meanwhile he spends his time at home in the Mint House, which is an ex-nizam’s palace, because his father is the Mint Master; intrigued by the magnificent palace and its luscious gardens. Rahul takes us through Bengali decorum’s and decorations, celebrations and culture, relationships and rituals, stature and starchiness while also giving us a glimpse into the Hindu-Muslim equations and sentiments through his Mallika didi and Salim. He initiates us to women’s post-marital stature through his observations of his mother, his Mallika didi and his Anjali Mashi, we observe the cruelty on nature by humans through his feelings for them and we understand friendship, peer-jealously and first love’s pangs through his experiences. Rahul takes us through life while he tries moving on from his Magical Palace into his present, real life.
Kunal is a stupendous storyteller and his debut proves it. Through his protagonist, Rahul, the writer comments effectively on religion, politics, homosexuality, social taboos, culture, nature, meddlers and relationships. It is one of those rare books these days that makes you feel for the characters. You feel their pain, fear and anxiety. You want things to be set right. You don’t want anything else to go wrong because you cannot bear to feel more for the ones you have started living with. You feel for Rahul when he is rejected. You feel for Mallika when she is abused. You hate Mrs. Khosala and her kids for meddling. And you despise the patriarchs for being the pressure cookers that they always are. Not a breezy easy read but one worth every minute you spend with it.
The author has surely got this one bang on and this is one book that lives up to its title – My Magical Palace is truly magical with its lyrical metaphors and real life situations. No to be missed this year-end, lest thou shall regret.
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