Lit for Life 2019 | Authors

The epic women and gutsy kids of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s fiction

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's 2016 novel 'Before We Visit the Goddess' is centred on the relationship between mothers and daughters down generations   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The winner of multiple awards, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has been writing prolifically from the early 90s. Her 2008 bestselling novel, The Palace of Illusions, is now celebrating its tenth anniversary (it is soon to be adapted for the screen). Her novels, mostly set in India and the U.S., are known for their exploration of the South Asian immigrants’ experience. They also tend to have strong female leads — The Palace of Illusions had Panchaali narrating the tale of the Pandavas, and her forthcoming novel, The Forest of Enchantments, is the Ramayana told from the perspective of Sita. Her 2016 novel, Before We Visit the Goddess, is centred on the relationship between mothers and daughters down generations. Divakaruni is also an accomplished writer of young adult and children’s fiction. Excerpts from an email interview:

Sita narrates your forthcoming novel, The Forest of Enchantments, while The Palace of Illusions had Panchaali as narrator. What is it about epics that they afford repeated retellings?

The epics deal with the deep core of human experience — love, hatred, fear, nobility — in a nuanced way. There is so much richness packed within unforgettable characters such as Ram, Sita, Krishna and Draupadi, so much complexity. They are timeless — that’s why they are still relevant today and personal to each one of us, if we give them some time and attention.

Why did you choose to tell the epics from the points of view of Sita/ Panchaali?

These two women seemed the most complex to me, the most interesting because of the many difficulties they had to overcome. They inspired me. I felt their joys, sorrows and challenges were timeless and we today have so much to learn from them. Also, we had heard stories from the points of view of the men already. It was time for a change!

You tend to foreground feminine experience in your novels. Why?

To me, women’s experiences are at once important, valuable and complicated. Additionally, throughout history, they have been marginalised. That’s why I want them at the centres of my books. We — men and women both — have so much to learn from them.

How does writing for children differ from writing for adults?

Children are more demanding readers. You have to hold their attention all the time. I remember when I wrote The Conch Bearer and Victory Song, my children were very tough on me. They would read (or listen to me read out) chapters and be quick to say, “Mom, that’s boring.” So I learned a lot from that experience. I also learned how to express myself in a simpler vocabulary. That was challenging.

One Amazing Thing (2010) seems to suggest that stories have a transcendent power. Your views...

I truly believe in the power of stories. Stories have taught me so much about life. Inspired me, made me weep, changed how I see the world. Made me feel other people’s pain. Made me travel to different worlds and imagine myself there. Transformed me by removing prejudices. I sincerely hope my stories will do some of that for my readers.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni will be speaking at The Hindu Lit for Life 2019, on January 12, 13 & 14, at the Lady Andal School premises, Harrington Road, Chennai. Visit to register

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Printable version | Jun 8, 2021 9:22:28 PM |

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