Just like her character Draupadi from The Palace of Illusions, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a strong, buoyant and a poised woman. She remains connected to her Indian roots, despite living in the US for over 30 years. .
The 57-year-old author has written 16 novels, including The Mistress of Spices,Sister of My Heart, Arranged Marriage, Oleander Girl and her latest, Before We Visit the Goddess. The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart have even been adapted into major movies starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, while for The Palace of Illusions “filmmaker Aparna Sen has bought the rights to the book”.
Born and bought up in India, Divakaruni moved to US for graduation, met her husband and settled there. She started teaching literature. “I didn’t think I would ever be a writer. I started writing after my grandfather passed away because I realised that my heritage was important to me and I was forgetting things,” recalls Divakaruni. She went for workshops, wrote poetry and then moved to fiction, for she liked telling stories of people and about life. “There was a lot of rejection initially,” says Divakaruni with a faint smile.
The process of writing: Challenges and hardships
However, writing books comes with its set of challenges. She takes 2-3 years to write each book. The research for the next book starts even before the earlier one is published. “Some books took longer like The Palace of Illusions (which is a retelling of Mahabharata with Draupadi as the narrator). There were many versions of the Mahabharata. I read a lot of them, did research on the period. But I always knew I would like to write it from Draupadi’s point of view,” confesses the author. Her next task was to give Draupadi’s character a modern, yet timeless twist.
Indian influences and characters
There is complexity and latent strength in the women characters she creates. In her novels, she has highlighted various aspects of the Indian society, from arranged marriages and caste system to gender bias. “You don’t notice these things when you’re part of the culture, but when you’re removed, you do notice it. Our Indian society is rich and evolving,” she says, adding, “Women are conditioned since childhood, they are always seen as shadows to men. I wanted women to be the centre of my novels and let the men revolve around them.”
We will soon get to read Ramayana from Sita’s point of view. Chitra says, “I have started my research but it will take time.”