Mainly Divakarunis novels strengthen the basic existential approach of inner dislocation. The characters turn around their overstated self-consciousness and self-doubt. They are essentially lonely beings and they experience a severance from society. In such a lonely survival they feel insignificant and threatened. They are anxious by the noticeable insignificance of existence. Hence, they explore for significance by imagining being unique. But even in the midst of this make-believe individuality, they feel frightened and immaterial.
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Divakaruni’s writing is packed by her own practices as a first-generation migrant and a woman between variable traditions and cultures. Her apprehension for women of her own heritage is broadcasted not only through her award-winning novels and short stories but also by her contribution with organizations; that’s aim is to help South Asian American and South Asian women in situations of domestic violence and anguish, in the Houston and San Francisco Bay area.
In 1991, with a group of friends, she established a help-line to make available different kinds of services to Indian American women. The most essential things the help-line volunteers do is to listen and be a compassionate. She explained,
At Berkeley, I volunteered at the women’s center. As I got more involved, I become interested in helping battered women – violence against women crosses cultural borders and educational levels. Then, slowly, I focused on women in my community.28
Thus, the theme of maltreated women, as we know, is important and comes again and again in a number of books; somewhat because of the work she has done in the community with domestic violence or ferocity. She expressed her personal experiences and understandings in front of her readers via these stories. That’s really important for the autobiographical point of view also. We can easily find the characters of autobiography in it. In her writing, domestic brutality is explored from many diverse angles. Inspired by the life stories of these women, Divakaruni published a short story collection Arranged Marriage (1995), which told us about their courage and their abuse. Set completely in India, a battered woman makes a choice to go back to her abuser. That’s same somehow in her further short-story collection The Lives of Strangers (2001). This collected work features tales set in America and India. Divakaruni clarifies the alterations of personal settings brought about by the choices women and men make at every phase of their lives. Therefore,
Beautifully told stories of transformed livesâ€¦.Both liberated and trapped by cultural changes on both sides of the ocean, these women struggle fiercely to carve out an identity of their own. (San Francisco Chronicle) 29
In The Mistress of Spices, a woman in similar circumstances, brought about partly by her colonization, is cut off at once from her entire support system of family and other women who might help her, and she has to make a decision. At the end of much painful thinking and trying out different things, she decides to leave the relationship.
The few protagonists in her novels are mostly unsettled facing a hostile world around them. The abandoning of the traditional linear structure of the novel provides them with the scope for padding her novels with a liberal use of archetypes, motifs, and symbols. There are also a few dream visions and sequences, which the writer uses to plan the inner suffering of her sensitive characters. Recollection of past memories causes terrific mental disturbances in most of the characters. It is because many of the variances and agony suffered by her are rooted in some past happening, usually in the social surroundings. Her novels trace the changing patterns of civilization, especially because of migration. Chitra Banerjee is a keen observer of society and whatever she observed, we can easily figure out in her works.
Attitude towards religion-
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was born in 1957 in Calcutta, India. One of her prime reminiscences is that of her grandfather told her the tales from ancient Indian epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. She rapidly noticed that fascinatingly, unlike the male heroes, the key relations the women had were with their lovers, sons, husbands, or adversaries. They did not have any important female companions. This subject would ultimately become very essential to Divakaruni’s writing. The author was raised as and still she is a pious Hindu. She has grown up with the elements of the mythical tales, folktales, and the tales of magic. Though Divakaruni is familiar with the Hindu philosophy; she has quote generously from Mahabharata in her novel Palace of Illusions (2008). She is not on the whole a very religious person but rather she uses her familiarity as an added adornment in her fiction. Divakaruni once explained her reason for writing,
There is certain spirituality, not necessarily religious – the essence of spirituality – that is at the heart of the Indian psyche that finds the divine in everything. It was important for me to start writing about my own reality and that of my community. 30
The Palace of Illusion is yet a blend of modern concerns with the inheritance of the motherland. The Bhagavad Gita is at the center of the Mahabharata and it considered to be the epic which is most closely connected to Hinduism. The author could not deal with it in the novel but she placed Krishna as Panchaali’s guide, companion, and supporter from the very beginning of her life. In fact, Krishna gives Panchaali messages from the Bhagavad Gita all the way through the text, but he works it into daily talk. In Divakaruni’s approach, we can see the move from a customary religious view to a much enormous spiritual perception.
She used to spend her summer vacation with her aunt in Rourkela, a small town very different in flavor from Calcutta, where she lived. She got the sense of religious customs in the company of her aunt. She shared her memories, “My aunt also taught me a prayer ritual, or vrata, popular among unmarried girls. This ritual involved a weekly fast, the gathering of certain leaves and flowers, the pouring of water over a statue of Shiva and a chant” 31.
Those experiences are a very essential part of her life and we can easily depict it in her novels such as Sister of my Heart (1999) and Mistress of Spices (1997). In her book The Mistress of Spices, she gave some enlightenment on the magical power behind the different spices and its connection with spirituality. She also made an effort to relate them with the holy spirits like Shri Ram, Shabari, Sita ma, and so on. As,
For all of them in the evening I burn tulsi, basil which is the plant of humility, curber of ego. The sweet smoke of basil whose taste know on my own tongue, for many times the Old One has burned it for me too. Basil scared to Shri Ram, which slakes the craving for power, which turns the thoughts inward, away from worldliness. Further,
Fenugreek methi, speckled seed first sown by Shabari, oldest woman in the world.32
She discussed about the power of those spices and her attitude towards the religious point of view is very much lucid. She was able to do justice with these examples only because of her childhood practices and her concern towards religion. She compared chilly with Lanka somewhere in the book and also gave a very keen and apparent description about Lanka’s significance.
The dry chilli, lanka, is the most potent of spices. In its blister-red skin, the most beautiful. Its other name is danger. The chilli sings in the voice of a hawk circling sun-bleached hills where nothing grows. I lankawas born of Agni, god of fire. I dripped from his fingertips to bring taste to this bland earth. 33
In her another novel Sister of my Heart, we can notice the examples of her religious concern. She tried to give us an idea about the importance Kalighat Temple as well as Durga-Puja. The religious culture which she predicted in her novel is very much close to Calcutta. Even the marriage ceremony was in Calcutta style. This city is worldwide famous for Durga-Puja and their faith towards Ma Kali. They keep a good faith in God and a little superstitious also about it. There is description of Bidhata Purush also in the book and he was considered as future maker of a newborn baby. One of the characters in the story explained that,
The Bidhata Purush is tall and has a long, spun-silk beard like the astrologer my mother visits each month to find out what the planets have in store for her. He is dressed in a robe made of the finest white cotton, his fingers drip light, and his feet do not touch the ground as he glides towards us.34
Thus, all these instances somehow make her works close to autobiography.
Divakaruni is persuaded that the written word is very important to preserve and remembering the history, that’s why she started writing in the first place. She spent a lot of years of her life in India, after that she moved to the United States to study at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Writing was definitely not an anticipated part of her but it may have potted her identity. Later on she moved to California to pursue her doctorate in English literature at UC-Berkeley. Chitra Banerjee was trying to get settled into her life in America when her grandfather died. After this episode she recalls, “I realized [then] how much I had forgotten already about India and life there. I started writing as an action to prevent myself from forgetting. It was a very personal thing” 35. And so she began her writing profession.
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But her books are often set in her dearly loved new home, the San Francisco Bay area. She doesn’t only look to the past; in fact, she endeavored to combine her knowledge of the migrant experience with her familiarity of a diverse and wealthy setting. Though she is presently teaching literature at the University of Houston, but still she and her family like to spend their summers back in California. Thus, she is writing about the locations where she spent her life. She says,
For major characters, I do stay within the community, because that’s what knows best. There are the people I know more so than people I might see or meet from the outsides. And there’s always something calling me, too, to the Bay Area. That’s the place I know best; that’s home. I know its hills, the streets, the markets, the smells, and the sounds. So I can write with more authority. The other place is Calcutta, because that’s where I have spent most of my time when I’m in India. Both of those places have an emotional resonance for me. 36
Divakaruni’s writing is stimulated by her own practices as a first-generation migrant and a woman, who always lived between traditions and cultures. Her concern for women of her own inheritance is broadcasted not only through her award-winning novels and short stories but also her association with organizations that’s aim is to help out South Asian American or South Asian women in the situations of domestic abuse and distress, in the San Francisco Bay area and Houston. Children’s schooling in India is another important interest of hers. She has also given a good range of child literature. The series of The Brotherhood of Couch and Neela: the Victory Song are an excellent example of it.
In her essays, she has given details about the incentive behind her novels, some of which are connected to her own life-changing practices in North America, while others are more personally linked to her reminiscences of India plus the custom of folk tales and myths passed on from generation to generation. As an engaging lecturer, she has frequently examined her own writing in the milieu of contemporary literature. Students at a number of universities both in the United States and abroad continue to examine her works within the framework of American Literature, women’s studies, South Asian studies, postcolonial theories, and other interdisciplinary approaches. She said in one of her interviews,
My first model and influence, from when I was in graduate school, was Maxine Hong Kingston. I was much taken by her text The Woman Warrior. The themes of recreating identity, immigration, family stories, changing roles of women, racial conflict, and myth all resonated with me. I wanted to apply them to my background and the stories I had grown up with, as well as the stories I came across, living in America. I was also influenced by Bharati Mukherjee, especially her exploration of race and multicultural relationships in books such as The Middleman and Other Stories. Novels such as Jasmine and Desirable Daughters, which explore the changing identities of immigrant women, though in the context of a more violent world, intrigued me. All of these would become important themes in my own work. 37
We have discussed several points in this chapter to figure out autobiographical element in the works of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She observes around her surroundings and whatever she learned, she expressed it into her writing by her magical, spiritual and unique style. Either it is direct or indirect the writer is linked with her own stories.
For more than 20 years now, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has been telling stories of Indian women from her home in California. Her women are desperate, wonderful, complicated, lyrical, memorable, even magicalâ€¦.Chitra’s women experience love. Loss and longing through tangled marriages, bitter divorces, childbirth, abortion, abuse, violence, racism, poverty and riches. Now, Banerjee Divakaruni returns to a fantastic world, inhabited by kings, queens, villains and sorcerers”. 38
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