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Weaver of dreams

Writers don't fit into neat, watertight compartments, says Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni



Chitra's book tells the story of a dream interpreter caught between her creative impulse and compulsions of family.

"WHATEVER HAD made her ill had left her, now that she had passed on her dream."

— Rakhi, daughter of the dream interpreter in Queen of Dreams.

"We write from experience, and there is no denying the fact that I've spent the first half of my life here and the other half in the U.S.," said Houston-based Chitra. "Categorising authors does not bother me so much, as long as the categories are inclusive... I fit into the category of Indian writing in English, South Asian Woman Writer, and... Bengali-Indian American Writer," she added with a chuckle.

Chitra studied literature in the U.S. with the sole aim of becoming a teacher of English. The college lecturer hadn't started writing till her beloved grandfather died in Kolkota. "I was shocked when just a few days later, I could not even conjure up an image of his face. That was when I decided to start writing as a personal fight against forgetting," revealed the author of books such as Mistress of Spices, The Vine of Desire and short-story collections Arranged Marriage and The Unknown Errors of Our Times. She is fascinated with Indian myths and traditions and has done considerable research on them.

"I'm fascinated by the potential of prose — the way one can develop characters and changing relationships," said the author whose poetry collections include Black Candle and Leaving Yuba City.

Queen of Dreams is the story of a dream interpreter who is caught between her compulsion to use her "gift" of dreaming "the dreams of others, so she can help them live their lives", and her love for her family. "This is a dilemma that all of us face, of having to balance the home and profession," said Chitra. Chitra's latest book for children, The Conch Bearer, is doing pretty well, and has already been translated into several languages. She has just finished writing another book for children.

"I'm working on a re-telling of the Mahabharat from a woman's point of view," informed Chitra. As a long-time activist, she started an organisation called Maitri that addresses problems of Indian women immigrants. She is presently also working with Asians Against Domestic Abuse.

"I've been lucky to have very early introductions to the works of Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Mukthananda and their spirituality has guided me a lot. Traditionally, it is believed that a woman is happy because of her husband, and if she is unhappy, it is again because of her husband. But happiness has to come from within. And I try to portray this in all my stories," pointed out the author.

"When 9/11 happened, overnight, Asians who had believed that they were American, became the target of hate campaigns. It taught us that we have to be vigilant. In good times, we need to build stronger bonds through knowledge so that we may dispel any kind of prejudice," said the author, whose favourite writers are Tagore, Tolstoy, Toni Morrison, and Mahashweta Devi.

The teacher of creative writing has won acclaim as a master storyteller who is "gifted with dramatic inventiveness and lyrical, sensual language". Her novel The Mistress of Spices is going to be made into a film by Gurinder Chadhdha. But the adulation does not seem to have gone to her pretty head. "To my sons I'm just mom. And in any case, there is nothing to feel egotistical about — writing is a gift. And like Mother Teresa once said about herself: `I'm just God's pencil'," concluded Chitra Divakaruni, who is grateful to her mother who inspired the latest book, and her mother-in-law, who supported her.

MALA KUMAR

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