The search for identity has emerged as a major concern in much of the post-colonial writings. America like any other newly emergent common wealth country as always tried to define and establish itself as nation with its distinctive national and cultural identity. The country has witnessed the flowering of many different ethnic writers with their emphasis on the marginalized resulting in the meeting of many races and cultures trying to assert their identity. Multiculturalism in the United States has given impetus to various ethnic writings today. The ethnic and cultural diversity of America is reflected in the literature dealing with immigrant experience, which has come of age and has found a separate space for itself.
South Asian American literature today has been defined in terms of the main stream discourse. The meeting of many cultures in America has resulted in the writers resorting to different modes writing to give expression to their unique voice and vision. South Asian American literature today has accommodated many Indian writers in its vast literary sciene, who have grown to full flowering in their art.
In recent times, South Asian writers have made significant contribution to the growing body of American literature and a few of them has received a good degree of critical attention and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is no exception to this. Divakaruni has come to occupy a prominent place in South Asian American Writing with the publication of her poems, short stories and novels. Today for that matter major contemporary women writers with Asian origin have raised their voices against these gender based inequalities through their writings in Canada, and America, especially fiction writing seems to have taken a new turn in the 1960’s with the appearance of women novelists into the literary scene like Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Bharathi Mukherjee, Chitra Benarjee Divakaruni, all who tend to write more as women than as patriots, social critics and crusaders. A close study of these novels reveal that their focus is on the world of their feelings and sensibilities that even the impact of feminism movements has generated articulation of the inner tensions of women. Devakaruni in one of her novels titled The Vine of Desire draws attention to the dimensions of gender system through her fictional world. She projects in her novels how the concept of gender has transcended all barriers between man and woman. Anju for instance takes up the job of writing by going to college even after her marriage with Sunil. Through her novels, Divakaruni makes a plea and expresses the fact that gender system be demolished because it is possible for a female to be creative like her male counterpart and envision a new world in wh9ch men and women are equal at every level of existence. So like all feminist writers, Divakaruni’s texts also deal with the issues of gender and claims that ‘human quality’ and ‘human freedom of choice’ should be given to women as they are born as human beings first.
Divakaruni in her fictional works depict the problems faced by Indian and other third world immigrants who attempt to assimilate into North American life styles. In the novels titled The Mistress of Spices, Devakaruni explores the immigrant experience through her central character-narrator, Indian born woman Tlottama, in America. She uses her laser like insight and skilful use of a story, plot and lyrical description to give the readers a many layered look at her character and her respective worlds which is filled with fear, hope and discovery. We understand that Tilo makes her decision to be in love with him that she changes her name to Maya, which means the world of illusion, a place of inevitable sorrow. Tilo discovers that she is and single being to whom she can turn up to. She pleads the spices telling them that she will accept their decrees to look this way as long as she must; thought love and power were lost to ashes. The guilt in her is that for one person to be happy, another must take the suffering. S o she begs the spices to give her sleep and oblivion that she may not want her body twist back into misshapenness and the spices do not say no.
Tilo lies down for the last time in the center of the store of which she is no longer the mistress. The voice calls Tilo, Tilo the floor tilts and she hears sounds of her heart tearing but ironically it is the shop that cracks like egg shell. She could feel the red stars (may be the red chillies) explode. As she plunged into pain, Tilo realizes with hopelessness that it will not kill her. Awareness comes to Tilo that she has to adopt herself to ugliness having known beauty already. She feels like that life is game beyond understanding. She wonders if all this is the doing of the first mother who is kind to her, an unforgiving daughter despite her mistakes. Tilo hears the voice of raven for an answer, so that they can head towards the paradise. Tilo feels that it is time for her to relax into her density all her life, but one thing is unresolved to Tilo, whether she is an Indian or American, she is caught between two different cultures and the clash results in a dilemma . she wonders if she belongs to the native Indian Culture.
In her works, women occupy the central role and they are treated equally on par with men, through she is vociferous in voicing her fears and concerns regarding the future of women in an alien land. Her female protagonists are sensitive, self conscious, brilliant, creative, independent beings with their own unique and individual identities. Tilo, in The Mistress of Spices is immigration from India who runs a spice shop in Oakland California. While she supplies the ingredients for curries and kurmas she also helps her customers to gain a more precious commodity: whatever they most desire. For Tilo is a mistress of spices, a priestess of the secret magical powers of spices. Anju and Sudha in The Vine of Desire are also women with strong determination, will power and self-centeredness. Thus the women in both the novels bear te4stimony to the fact that they are depicted as stong and empowered women though they encounter lots of trials and tribulations in their journey towards self discovery and realization and identity.
From the reading of the novel, we understand that the immigrant encounters with the new world forms the core of Divakaruni’s fiction and the ‘woman’ as immigrant dominates her works. Much of her fiction is informed by her own personal experiences. More often than not Divakaruni creates characters who lack a stable sense of personal and cultural identity and float gleefully in the multi cultural society of America. She tries to dig deep into the problems of immigration and its impact especially on women. Regarding immigration Bharathi Mukherjee has disclosed her views in one of her interviews: “We immigrants have fascinating tales to relate. Many of us have lived in newly independent or emerging countries which are plagued by civil and religious conflicts. We have experienced rapid changes in the history of the nation in which we lived. When we uprooted ourselves from these countries and come here either by choice or out of necessity, we suddenly must absorb 200 years of American history and learn to adapt to American society. Our lives are remarkable often heroic”(Jasmine99).Thus all immigrant women writers focus on female experience and explore the subtle psychological dominance and the plain physical brutality frequently directed toward South Asian women whose subjugation is sanctioned by India’s Patriarchal system. This traditional bias, Divakaruni suggests in her narratives, too often carries over into the immigrant experience as both the women and men struggle to adjust in a new society that makes demands they are unprepared to meet. Both Sudha and Anju in The Vine of Desire are unprepared to adjust themselves because of emotional bonds and the love triangle that exists between Sunil, Anju and Sudha. While Sunil continue to do his job, Anju and Sudha face indifferences and problems. So it is clear that too often women bear the brunt of masculine frustrations and they are the victims. The Vine of Desire (2002) is the third Novel of Divakaruni. It is a moving and satisfying sequel to the second novel titled Sister of my Heart which is about the lives of two women Sudha and Anju and how they are changed by marriage, as one woman comes to California, and the other stays behind in India. The Vine of Desire stands on its own as a novel of extraordinary depth and sensitivity. The title expresses the story of two immigrant women, Sudha and Anju, enmeshed in the making of American lives and in the work of living with passion and commitment with parents, children, and men, with one another and moist importantly of all in their own skins. It speaks of desires and dreams that all human beings keep closer to their hearts like Anju and Sudha and how sometimes life disappoints us, but we keep o striving to find that deep joy we once knew as children. The very story of desires and dreams of the two heroines Anju and Sudha teaches a great lesson for all that life is a journey full of changes and transitions and that nothing is permanent but everything is transient. The book is not just about transformation and growth but also about expectations versus reality. It depicts a lot about the Indian culture and what it is likely to be immersed into a completely foreign culture. Sudha experiences a lot of changes as she realizes the freedoms that come with a culture so different from her own.
Injustice has been experienced by the women all through the ages. Whether it is in India, America or Canada, women have been persistently suffering and silently sacrificing themselves as candles. But South Asian immigrant writers acclimatized themselves to the new atmospheres in Canada and America and portrayed the conditions of women in their writings.
Divakaruni’s novels depict women as entangled in the mesh of their own psyche born out of the pressures of a society which is both patriarchal and cloistered but at the end all of them to break strong holds of their society and explore new avenues. In a remarkable terse and evocative language, Divakaruni tells the story of a pronouncedly individual woman who emerge as representative figure with her brave attempt to find an identity of her own. She makes us to realize that all human relationships are in fact, a gamble, a throw of dice, a matter of chance and destiny. In other words, we can say that the ‘refashioning of the self’ in America and the search for new identity for immigrants in general and women in particular, in Divakaruni’s fiction, is an odyssey which requires sacrifices on the part of those who aspire for it. This remoulding of self is realized upon both body and the spirit and in most cases it leaves the aspirants traumatized, lost, confused and pathetic, losing the vitality of their former life and warmth of the new.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banarjee: The Mistress of Spices, Great Britain: Black Swain, 1997.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banarjee: The Vine of Desire, New York: Anchor Books, 2002.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banarjee: Sisters of My Heart, Great Britain: Black Swain, 1999.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banarjee: The Unknown Errors of our Lives, Great Britain: Black Swain, 2002.
Harvey, David, The conditions of post modernity : Cambridge University Press,1989.
Publication Details: Fiction of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: Critical Response
Prestige Publications: ISBN: 978-82-926244-5-7: 2016.