Rendezvous with an Author
[Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni]
Arvind.R, I M.A English, MCC
Today I had the good opportunity to listen to a famous and prolific Indian woman writer, Mrs. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She was the guest speaker at the Ethiraj College, Chennai, speaking on the topic, ‘Rendezvous with an author’.
She arrived promptly at three fifteen p.m. She was given a rousing welcome and reception by the faculty and students. After the opening address was given, she was presented a memento, which she gladly accepted.
Here is a brief account of her life. She was born in Calcutta and raised there. She completed her bachelor degree in English literature there. Then she emigrated to the United States to pursue her master degree in the same stream. There, she took up many jobs like a babysitter, a store clerk, a bread slicer in a bakery, a laboratory assistant and a dining hall attendant. She was then driven by the urge to write. She started out by writing poems and became a noted poet, essayist, short story writer, novelist and young adult fiction writer.
She wrote her major novel, ‘The Mistress of Spices’, which was about a Bengali woman working in the United States in a grocery store. She skilfully portrays the Indian diaspora there; understandably inspired by her own experiences. She is a feminist who strongly believes in women empowerment. Her works reflect her analysis of the woman’s psyche; their yearnings and hopes. She explores relationships and social stigmas. The book was a great success and launched her career as a novelist. The book was later made into a crossover film by Gurinder Chadda, starring Aishwarya Rai.
She churned out many bestsellers and went on to win many awards in the U.S.A and worldwide, including the Atlantic Monthly Fiction award.
Here are a couple of other books. ‘The Palace of Illusions’ is a famous novel. Here she dealt with her take on the ‘Mahabharat’. She spoke from the standpoint of Draupadi who is at the epicentre of the novel. As a polygamist with five husbands, which is uncommon, she occupies a unique place in the epic.
Of special interest is the scene in which she is disrobed by Dutchadan in the palace in full view of the helpless spectators. It is a sad and disturbing moment when she is dishonoured. She endures her humiliation stoically distracting her mind by focussing upon Krishna, calling Him to her aid. It is a depiction of male chauvinism which the writer denounces. She says that she experimented with ‘magical realism’ in the novel.
In fact, she goes to the extent of saying that life itself can be termed a ‘Palace of Illusions,’ as it throws each one of us into a labyrinth of illusions all our lives.
She also dwelt on how she considers different literary forms. For example, a short story is an allusion to a ‘Chinese Painting’; composed of many random brushstrokes superimposed upon each other. She referred to a novel as a ‘Tapestry’. She refers to this metaphor to imply the complex plot and character graphs that meet and intersect to produce a holistic product.
Her latest novel, ‘Before we visit the goddess’ is another experimental novel where she interweaves two different writing styles. It is a story dealing with three generations of a family. The narrative moves back and forth without a chronological order. It beautifully captures a mother-daughter bond. Here both the characters are shown as strong willed and their relationship is analyzed.
She concluded her speech and threw the stage open for questions, which she eagerly answered. When asked about the inspiration for her novels, she did say that they were semi-autobiographical and she was inspired by real life characters. She facetiously remarked that she warned people to be nice to her, if not; she would include them in her novels in bad light! When quizzed on her inspiration, she remarked that first her support was her husband, Mr. Murthy, to loud applause. Then she said that she was inspired by Anita Desai, Tagore and a few other female American novelists. She concluded her speech by thanking the entire college faculty and the students; much to their delight.
She then exited the stage and posed for photographs with students and teachers. Later she went on to do her book signings which were sold at the hall entrance.
Thus, the curtains came down on an enlightening evening, much to my liking. As a literature student, I learnt how the writer’s mind works and how to approach the craft. My knowledge was definitely augmented and my interest piqued.
Besides other things, I was certainly inspired to write; this piece to start with!