C is for Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Born 1956

After two days of delving in the past I fast forward to current times and pick a modern day favourite, an Indian American this time and a lady yet again.. I really hadn’t realised I preferred women writers with women protagonists.

Today it is Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni the author of the award winning The Mistress of Spices. She has authored over a dozen books including novels and short stories as well as some poetry. Her subjects are often Indian American immigrants. Her books include Arranged Marriage (short stories), Sister of My Heart, The Vine of Desire and Oleander Girl among others.

India to America

She was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and after finishing her graduation she moved to the United States. It wouldn’t have been easy for her there and she took up various small jobs to put herself through college - ‘menial and minimum wages’ is what she terms them. However had she not moved, she just might not have become a writer at all

On being a writer

In her blog she says, “In India, growing up in a traditional family, I had never considered being a writer.” In America she came across other immigrants like her. She identified with their struggles, struggles to fit into this new country yet to keep their values intact at some level. And that’s where she started weaving her stories and her first book ‘Arranged Marriage’ was born. Some of her stories have a nagging melancholy, I don't particularly are for, but they do paint a vivid picture of immigrants.

My favourites

I love the quaint mix of India and America she serves up in her novels. I enjoyed The Mistress of Spices. That mix of magic and exotica coupled with human longings and failings made for a compelling read.

However my absolute all time favourite is the one novel that doesn't talk of immigrants. It is The Palace of Illusions -  a retelling of the Mahabharat, from a woman’s perspective. Banerjee simplifies the epic once more talking of human failings and human relationships.

Her protagonist Draupadi is a princess 'born to destroy', the 'ill-fated' one. Yet how strong she is - a woman who refused to take the name Draupadi (from her father’s name Drupad) and preferred to call herself Panchali (after the kingdom of Panchal, where she was born). That must have been quite a rarity in those days when women spent their lives in the shadow of their fathers, brothers, husbands or sons. Forced to marry five men instead of the one she truly loved she strives to be a good wife to each. I loved her special relationship with Krishna too - his cool responses to her heated ones. She is passionate and outspoken, rash and vengeful too. Yet you cannot but fall in love with Banerjee's Panchali.


PS: I have to add just a tiny bit about my other favourite ‘C’ author – the lady from Nigeria Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Interestingly her latest novel Americanah also deals with the issue of immigrants to America. Talk about connecting across continents!

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Labels: , , , , ,