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The art of dissolving boundaries is what living is all about. 1 Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, an Indian immigrant woman writer anticipates through her writing to dissolve boundaries among people of different backgrounds, communities, ages and even different world. She spent 19 years of her life in India and learned all the costumes and traditions of her own, thus, she knows her motherland very well. But her migration from one country to another made her comprehend about the feeling of dislocation and homelessness. She felt the adjustments to get shifted from one place, which is your own homeland or roots.
Before she became a writer, Chitra Divakaruni was only a simple young woman in a novel country, far away from her own country. She was excited at the prospect studying in America, but forlorn – missing her family in Kolkata and the traditions of her culture. For her, it has been such a great attempt just to make it to the U.S. because her very traditional family didn’t understand why she would want to leave her home. Ultimately, she was able to convince her family to let her go. In 1976 when she came to the U.S., she went through some incidents and realized the gap between the East and the West. Once while walking down on a Chicago street with some relatives she was horrified when a few white teenagers shouted “nigger” and hurled sludge at her. This incident deeply shamed that she didn’t want to discuss even. But somehow it stayed in her mind and acted as the spur kick her to start writing and then one evening, her five-year-old son Abhay came back from school and tried hard to wash off the ‘dirt’ color of his skin. Through these episodes she realized that still there is the sense of “other” and this made her interest to start writing about her own experience of immigration, which are the same for the many other immigrant women. She identified that people still behave them as “alien”. Divakaruni said in one of her interviews that,
It was a big adjustment, moving from a big city like Calcutta to Dayton, Ohio, which, at that time, didn’t have many Indians and was not cosmopolitan; I felt a real sense of being “other”. People were so startled to see an Indian person in Indian Clothesâ€¦. I think all people come to a new country with preconceived notions, so there was an adjustment on both sides. 2
It arouses several views to think about once own identity and roots. The question “Where are you from?” put her in a shock that people even didn’t know about them. It would be really a challenge to get settled in a country where all their lives or their appearance would proclaim them “Foreigners”.
“Moving to the United States really made me renegotiate my boundaries and in some ways, even reinvent myself as a woman”, says Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 3. For her, writing is the only way to fight for her self-identity. Before her migration she never thought to be a writer, but later on she felt that whatever feeling she had that was also the same for many-many other immigrant women and she wanted to share it with her readers. That understanding taught Divakaruni that she had stories to tell- stories that could get people together and disclose the common humanity in everyone. The totally new experiences or environment turned her into a writer. She spotted a light on it by saying,
In some ways, I think that immigration made me into a writer, because it gave me a subject to write about. When I lived in India, I was so immersed in the culture that I didn’t really think about it. But when I moved halfway across the world, I began to think a lot about what it meant for me to be Indian, and also how immigration changes us. 4
That’s why all the way through her skills she wants to write about the life of immigrant women and their problems of dislocation or cultural clash. By showing her own culture the author would like to remove the gap between the two different communities. She believes that situations, conditions, circumstances or destiny are the same everywhere only the implication and reactions are different.
The main theme of Divakaruni’s work is immigrant conflict and acquired values vs. adopted one. There are so many challenges if someone is writing about two distinct worlds. She says,
It’s okay to be an Indian person who loves Indian culture but now I’m an American citizen and committed to making life in this country better. We need to remain secure in our own identity but participate fully in the culture, politics and daily life of America. The important part of integration is that you don’t give up, you share. For me as a writer, a major challenge is to keep my finger on the pulse of both worlds. That means talking to people on both continents, observing them, learning what is changing with them and what remains the same. This also means that I’m writing for audiences that are very different. This is difficult, especially as I refuse to explicate culture. 5
Divakaruni has studied both Eastern and Western literature. She likes to bring the two together in her writing. She feels this is the only way to enrich both traditions. She recognized that different readers will take different things from her works. She really likes that her books have different kinds of readers or observers. She would want South Asian or South Asian American audience, who will read the books and think about the issues in their communities and lives. She hopes that her readers will see that though we come from different places, what we have in common is humanity. She conveys her great desire that people may eventually come together and make a better world.
This chapter will provide an introduction to Divakaruni’s essential theme. She writes to unite people by dissolving boundaries among them. She is a bridge-builder between these two different cultures, one is her own motherland India and another is where she is living United States. May be both these communities are different in their traditions, customs and lifestyle but feeling, emotions and sensibility are the same. Yet, over the course of 15 books, her motivation remained clear – her books are a bridge of words, an attempt to take a reader to understand both themselves and those they might have labeled ‘other’ 6.
So, being an award-winning poet and author, Divakaruni senses a lot about her early days in America. As a creative writing professor at the University of Houston, she makes an effort to use her knowledge to help out worldwide students to feel comfortable in their new environment. Thus, such understanding of her life directed her to write, first poetry, and then fiction.
The author also writes about family, domestic violence, emotional abuse, cultural alienation, and human trafficking. Thus, we can analyze how Chitra Benerjee Divakaruni promotes healthy family relationships. She recognizes the positive aspects of traditional culture or values and its places in family and community. Like her fiction her life walks in a careful line between the two worlds. Six months ago, she shifted to Houston with her husband and two sons from the Bay Area to Texas, where she teaches at the University of Houston. Like the characters in her books, she sometimes finds herself struggling to keep in equilibrium the demands of family and career, tradition and modernity. According to her the solution is to combine the best parts of both but she also knows that it is not always easy. “It’s really a juggling act. Some days, it’s clear what the best aspects are, some days it’s not”, Divakaruni said with a warm chuckle 7.
The author talked about the boundaries between the two East and West plus the two different cultures and the differences among the psychology of the human being. She wants to get rid of the gap between her adopted land and motherland. She has experienced both of these worlds very well and realized that each has its own positive and negative aspects. India has valuable traditions, enrich culture or ethics and on the other side the U.S.A. has modernity, freedom plus lots of exposure in every field. Her writing relates to her homeland and culture of origin; it shows the powerful relations to the culture of the native soil. She tried to give knowledge to her readers about her origin or identity as well as the experience of her new home, thus, she wants to be an Indian-American. Divakaruni shared her views in one of her articles “Indian Born in the U.S.A.” that,
In my dark kitchen I bow my head to pray for strength – for India, facing, on her 50th anniversary of freedom, the severe challenges of poverty and illiteracy and communal violence. And for us all, children of the Indian Diaspora, here on the other side of the world, who have our own challenges. I pray that we may be able to preserve the values we’ve gained from our past: love of family, of traditions, of spirituality and the simple life. That we may combine them with what we’ve learned in our new home: energy and enterprise and how to fight for our rights. This, perhaps, is the best legacy we can leave our children: The art of being Indian – American. 8
Aug 21, 1997.
Hence, the act of migration implies a ‘bodily’ shifting out of the familiar place and relocation in the new and unfamiliar land. It was due to the colonial impact and its after effect which created uprooted and dislocation of identity. Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) enlarged the range of the post colonial approach by revealing the Eurocentric Universalism which establishes Western superiority over the East, recognized as the ‘other’. In other World (1987) by Gayatri Spivak, Nation and Narration (1990) by Homi Bhaba, The Empire Writes Back (1989) by Bill Ashcroft, Culture and Imperialism (1993) by Edward W. Said and such other works accelerated the study of colonialism and its effect on other cultures. They all are stuffs of Western education and living outside from their native environment. They can imagine a pre-colonial at best; mythological ‘motherland’ in Africa or Asia to articulate or end up expressing a cross identity. Therefore, the native speaker of English language shifted to the foreign land and tried to create their self-identity, culture, and individuality in an alien atmosphere. All those hardships and obstacles which they have faced provide them a new mindset.
All these experiences are well dealt in Diaspora literature. This concept of Diaspora often focused on a forced displacement along with centered on negative experiences in terms of unfriendliness, disaffection, loss, and persecution. Even as their ancestral deficiency is an overpoweringly negative concept, the idea of the Jewish Diaspora describes a community who’s socioeconomic, cultural, ancestral and political networks across boundaries of states, and protect a common shared identity. Although transformed by the influence of nearby cultures; for many the dream of return to the “homeland” provided a fundamental principle of identity. Thus,
Central to the concept of Diaspora is the image of a journey; however, not all journeys can be understood as the Diaspora. Diasporic journeys are not the same as casual travel; they are about “setting down and putting roots elsewhere” (Brah, 1996) – crossing geographical and mental borders. These discussions of the Diaspora are inevitably bound up with the notion of “borders and territories” – the arbitrary lines of social, cultural and psychic demarcation. 9
The migration experience does not finish with the point of settlement or agreement; it is handed down through the age groups, consciously or unconsciously making its role to the way in which those Diasporas bargain their existence through societies in which they and their culture is in the minority. Being in Diaspora means living in a cross-cultural circumstance, one in which fusion, change, and expansion are predictable. Those alerts of the complexities of this recognize the notice to redefine their identity and the requirement to discover a medium through which to articulate their progress. In their process of defining and redefining their individuality and the struggle this involves, South Asian women in Britain have had to tackle the combined issues of gender and society.
Most of all, Diaspora is understood as transcontinental the socio-cultural collection reminiscence of diasporic people is a community having its ties to a homeland, which establishes the false appearance of an ideal past. Emigrants inhabit their communal imagined homeland, which has its location in another place and time. A longing and affection for the discarded homeland is the driving force, which hypotheses an image of the lost country. Divakaruni’s depiction of her inherited home has, is committed to region in part, her otherwise lost Indian personality. Her accounts are derived from a memory blurred by the distance of time and space.
A settler or immigrant are distanced by space and time, as they no longer reside in their country of ancestry and the inhabitance of language and culture of the birthplace is removed from their daily lives. To synthetically recreate the milieu of the lost motherland is flowed due to wistful and false memories, which are created in part to endure a sense of identity and maintain a link to the disconnected motherland.
Currently there are almost 20,000,000 people of South Asian origin living outside of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, with the majority in Africa, the U.S., the Caribbean, and Oceania 10. Although there are regional differences in their adaptations in many ways, still tried to display a common ‘Indian’ identity. They may want their children to flourish in their adopted countries, but at the same time they may wish them to accept Indian family values, share their common culture, and get married to other Indians. In other words, many Diasporas living over as tend to reproduce their Indian culture, language, values, and religion as much as possible.
People are getting migrated to other countries because of so many reasons; it could be education, business, residential, and so on. Many writers have also migrated to the West and have been producing a large mass of literature in English which is a powerful organ to voice their emigrant sensibility and migrant experience in the West. The inactive social or cultural hostilities, feeling of isolation from their roots and thereafter a steady search for attaching and assimilating these ancestries in the Western surroundings constitute the center themes in their works. Themes of homelessness, migration, loss of identity, exile, culture clash, cultural assimilation, and rootlessness are often discerned in their works with remarkable similarities. The dilemma of these immigrant writers in a multi-cultural circumstance often get combined with their personal suffering due to bias or a sense of rootlessnesss, if they are rejected by their host countries.
Indian Americans writers have made their presence felt in American culture, society, business, and even politics. These writers are writing about common people, identity, a feeling of uprooted, immigrant experience, East-West relations, and life in the United States or the Indian Diaspora.
Indian American writing broke new earth from the 1970s and so on. With the relation of immigration laws, Indians migrated to the United States in large number. One consequence of this has been a propagation of women writers. They got the right exposure may be because of the modernity and free atmosphere of the foreign countries. In large American cities, one can easily find their books. Their readership has widened, with many women who are reading novels and short stories in order to learn about their own communities. Indian American women authors wrote about the experiences of immigrant life, which became the reading materials for thousands of immigrants. As it is evidence in the works of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She has studied both Eastern and Western literature, thus, she likes to bring the two together in her writing; she feels it is a way to enrich both these traditions.
Divakaruni’s books, which are set in both Indian and American,
A feature Indian born woman torn between Old and New world values. She gives laser-like sight and skilled use of story, plot, and lyrical description to give readers a many layered look at her characters and their respective worlds, which are filled with fear, hope, and discovery. 11
Most of her work is partially autobiographical and based on the lives of Indian immigrants which she has dealt with. She writes to help people and unite them by breaking down old stereotypes. Divakaruni skillfully expresses the experience or familiarity of South Asians in America. She says that her books are somewhat based on practice plus social observation. But Divakaruni endeavors to interlace such observation with the factor of magic, myth, and ancient culture alongside contemporary culture. She tries to bring a sense of the daily realities of immigrant life and ancient culture together. But she also insists that she doesn’t write for a specific spectator in mind. She explains in a soft, gentle tone of voice that, “I like to stay close to the story, think about the story, stay close to the characters. I find it distracts me if I begin to think of audience while I’m writing” 12.
Therefore, it shows that she is still attached to her own motherland while adopting another one very well. She only explains her adjustments and conflicts during her journey to the U.S. from India. Divakaruni accepts that both sides have the same problems and circumstances only the way of looking towards those situations are little different. Somehow she realized the frontiers between these two worlds and strived to remove them.
Chitra Banerjee has an empathetically personal and boldly imaginative style of storytelling that draws readers into the lives of people across cultures, particularly the lives of Indian and Indian American women. Thus, she has an unusual ability to breakdown different kinds of boundaries, e.g. – those between the East/West, prose/poetry, magic/realism, past/present, and native/immigrant. She was able to do all such through the dramatic style and social content of her work.
If we look through the geographical point of view there are boundaries or gaps between the East and the West countries, but it’s all about our psychology only. If we glance it positively and treat all of them as a human being, then there is no boundary as such. No doubt that there is a difference between the culture, lifestyle, atmosphere, customs, and dressing sense; but it doesn’t mean that their sensibility is also different. The author tried to show it in the course of her characters that they are able to adopt the new rules of a new country after a lot of adjustments. Divakaruni wants to explain whether they got shift to another country but they have never sensed any boundary between their motherland and foreign-land. They are still attached towards their own roots and homeland. While they have adopted the lifestyle along with the customs of their new home but by some way they still feel the attraction towards their own tradition. Thus, she makes it clear that shifting to another culture or land doesn’t mean to leave something; it’s all about to adopt another home. By her writing Divakaruni illustrates that how difficult it is to remove the border line between East/West and maintain the gap between these two different cultures.
Divakaruni brings together wide critical applaud with the publication of her first collection of short stories Arranged Marriage (1995), which pays attention on women who came from India and caught between two worlds. That book also went on to American Book Award in 1996. Many characters in Arranged Marriage deals with this rapid transform in worldview, at once exciting and also horrifying. They have to build a sense of the new condition, which begins to convert them as women. Even it begins to transform their relations with the people in their family like their parents, who are usually back in India and their husbands, who are with them in the novel country. There are kids also who are now born in the new milieu, still wedged between two cultures, so far with an entirely different worldview. Well this is also an awfully chief theme in her another story collection The Lives of Strangers (2001), with movements back and forth between the two worlds.
Divakaruni’s more than 15 books address the stories about to the understanding of women or immigrants in a new nation. Though she said her books are not autobiographical, but many of her characters contribute to similar apprehensions. She is concerned with how we make a new home for ourselves in a place that is so far away and so unlike from our home culture. The author also said that, she is concerned about how we as immigrants change the places in which we find ourselves. She is very much interested in the ways women’s roles have changed as we move into different cultures. Eventually, Divakaruni expects that her words will challenge readers to think about what it means to be an immigrant and about larger issues such as family and home. She further says that,
What I hope people get out of my books is that it will encourage them to think about important issues. I also hope that they see that although we come from many different places, what we have in common is the humanity – we want the same things, we desire the same things. … I hope my books will dissolve boundaries and bring people together. 13
Therefore, in her writing Divakaruni keeps on to be stimulated by her students at the University of Houston, many of them are immigrants themselves. In her time at UH, Divakaruni has been pleased to see the increasing variety among faculties, particularly at the highest level with President Renu Khator, who is also from India. Divakaruni talks about the strength of Renu that,
Her having come from a different background and really having overcome many difficulties in her own personal background makes her an inspiring role model. She can also understand the struggles of some of our students who maybe come from different backgrounds where they haven’t been given the kind of support they need for college success. 14
Through her writing Chitra Banerjee wants to share all her experiences and also wish to unite the East/West by telling the stories of different characters. In her novel Sister of my heart (1999), Divakaruni presented two different characters Anju and Sudha, who were born at the same time. They both grew up together in the guardianship of their mothers in India. After marriage Anju went to America with her husband and on the other side Sudha lives in India with her in-laws. Author figured out Anju as a young woman in a new country, far away from home as well as from the sister of her heart Sudha. Anju tries to adjust in a new atmosphere with the past memories of her family and culture. There was no family support for her and she had to do everything by her own. She says while living alone in her new apartment,
I don’t like walking into the empty apartment. There’s something about the air – unpeopled and stagnant, as though it’s from the bottom of a well that dried up a long time ago – that makes me uncomfortable. That’s when the longing for the house of my childhood shakes me the most. How irritated I used to be at the constant commotion – milkmen, vegetable sellers, Ramur Ma shouting at the neighbors’ cat who’d snuck into the kitchen, Pishi calling me to go for my bath. Now I’d be glad to see even the teatime aunties!15
Thus, through both of these protagonists the author wants to show two different lives in different cultures. Anju’s life is entirely different from Sudha’s. There is a gap between both of them, but this is physically only not mentally. Distance didn’t change anything much between the relationships of these two sisters, after all they are sisters of the heart. They used to keep their connection through phone calls or letters as well as share each and every experience or growth of their life in different surroundings. By showing the life of these two sisters the writer’s aim is to remove the gap between the East and the West. She also gave us an idea about the contrast between the two different cultures Western culture splendidly as well as Indian. Anju presents her positive attitude and advantage of American customs. She says,
Unlike some of the other Indian husbands I know, Sunil has always encouraged me to feel comfortable in America. He taught me to drive and introduced me to his colleagues at work. He bought me jeans and hiking boots, and when I said, Go for it! He’s taken me to malls and plays and dance clubs and the ocean. And finally though money is short, he has been enthusiastic about my going to college to get a degree in literature. 16
By showing the contrast, Divakaruni gave a picture of her motherland plus her current home (America). Thus in her book Sister of my Heart, she discussed the relationship between the older generation of India, who lives in a world full of mystical tales and magical occurrences plus Anju and Sudha’s generation which is more drawn to western ideals. She believes that her readers must know about each other’s culture.
If we put a glance on her other works like Mistress of Spices (1997), Queen of Dreams (2004), and Vine of Desire (2002); we will feel the same sensibility among the protagonists. They all are trying to get adjust and make their life better in the new and free atmosphere of the United States, keeping their past in their heart or memories. In her novel The Vine of Desire, the same story runs between the two sisters. Anju was living in America with her husband and now Sudha also joined them with her little daughter Dayita. Now Sudha is also trying to enjoy the new place and learn new things.
Sudha turns on the T.V. Anju has told her she must, it will help her to understand Americans. So she watches a weather report that states there’s a 70 percent chance of rain; a commercial for paper towels that features a giant male, a dirty floor, and a tiny, agitated woman; and then return of a game show. 17
They all are living far away from India and somehow they have adopted the new culture but still India is alive in their memories as their motherland. Thus, by heart they never go far away from it. Sudha is pretending to be happy, so once Anju asked her disappointedly, “Do you miss India?” 18.
The whole setting of this novel is in America, but we also get a glimpse of India through the inner feelings of the characters. We can know about the different lifestyle of America, their way of thinking, rules, choices, and culture. Sudha also understands that, “All the rules are different in America, and she knows none of them yet” 19. The author made an effort to explain us about the reason that why people are getting attract towards the foreign culture; it’s all because of their free rules and open mentality. That’s the technique of the writer to break down the barrier among different continents. She not even presented the combination of east/west but also blends past and present together in her novels very well.
It is to be sure that the element of secrecy or mystery is an integral part of Divakaruni’s work. She skillfully conveys her experiences of South Asian in America. She said that her books are partially based on the experience of social observation. But the author strives to weave such observations with the element of magic, myth, and ancient culture beside contemporary culture. She tries to bring those belongings together- the daily realities of immigrant life and a sense of ancient culture. She does so in her novel Queen of the Dreams that combines the story of a dream-teller mother and her young Indian-American daughter with the event of September 11, 2001. In her novel Queen of Dream, Rakhi’s mother is a dream teller, born with the ability to interpret and share the dreams of others. Her work is to foresee and direct them through their fates.
This gift of vision fascinates Rakhi but she is totally separated from her mother’s past in India and the dream world which she inhabits. She puts an effort for something to bring them closer. Rakhi was totally caught beneath the burden of her own painful secret; her comfort comes in the discovery after her mother’s death through her dream journals, which began to open the long closed door to her past. Thus, the whole story wonderfully deals with the concept of past and present. It gives us the sense of a new America as well as the sense of traditional India. Via this novel we also get a glance of dream world and real world, there is a fine combination of both of them. Thus,
This story of an emotionally distant mother and a daughter trying to find herself transcends cultural boundaries. Queen of Dreams combines the elements that Divakaruni is known for, the Indian American experience and magical realism, in a fresh mix. The tale succeeds on two levels. She effectively takes the reader into an immigrant culture but she also shows the common ground that lies in a world that some would find foreign. The search for identity and a sense of emotional completion is not confined to small corners of the world. It is a dilemma that all readers can understand. (Denver Post) 20
Divakaruni’s another novel The Mistress of Spicesis unique in its style. It is written with a combination of prose and poetry, thus this book has a very mystical quality to it. She wrote this novel in a spirit of play to collapse the divisions between the timeless one of myth or magic and the realistic world of twentieth century America. It’s her attempt to create a modern fable. The novel follows Tilo, a magical figure who owns a grocery store and uses spices to help the customers and overcomes their difficulties. She also develops dilemmas of her own when she falls in love with a non-Indian. This creates great conflicts, as she has to choose whether to serve her people or to follow the path leading to her own happiness. Tilo has to decide which part of her heritage she will keep and which parts she will choose to abandon. The writer has well succeeded in her aim to remove gap between east/west, magic/realism and past/present in her novels which are discussed as above.
In her article “Dissolving Boundaries”, she shared her experience which made her a new turn towards the theme of dissolving boundaries. She shared her feelings in it,
It was Memorial Day. I waved good-bye to my two year old son and his grandma as my husband pulled our car out of the driveway, tires squealing. “I’ll be back in a few days,” I called out to my son, “with a brand new baby brother for you.” As our car speed onto the freeway, I tried to reassure my nervous husband, telling him the pains weren’t too bad, and that everyone said the second time around was much easier. I had no premonitions at all.
I didn’t know that a normal delivery would not be possible for me. That the ensuing Caesarean surgery would go wrong in every way. That I would end up having to remain in the hospital for over a month, unable to take care of my newborn. I didn’t know that I would balance precariously for weeks on the frail and perilous boundary between living and dying.21
That was really a tough time for her. She went through no dark tunnel, saw no bright lights. She did not rise out her body even. That encounter with death affected her deeply, though not in ways one might expect. She got the sense of life and death. But that time she felt a strange, dizzy sense of emptiness, of peace, in the way Buddhists use the term. She felt as though she drifted between states of death and life, and that it didn’t matter which side she landed on. Because the boundary which we humans had drawn between these two states was not as irrevocable, nor as important, as we believed. She committed,
I mused a lot about boundaries as I lay in bed recovering over the next few months, learning to live again. And it seemed t
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