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One on one with Chitra Banerjee

Chitra Banerjee spoke to Sonakshi Babbar about feminist conflicts, reinterpreting Draupadi, finding strong women in everyday life and One Amazing Thing.

books Updated: Jan 22, 2011 11:28 IST
Sonakshi Babbar, Hindustan Times
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"Oh let me put some lipstick on," she said and I looked on with a puzzled expression as the award-winning author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni expertly retouched her make-up for the camera.

Aren't feminist writers supposed to at least pretend that make-up and dressing up is a sin?

"I'm older now, as you get older you become more at ease with this. It's different for different people and for a woman it's important to look as good she wants to look. But you don't need to do it for someone else or to impress some male out there. You do it for your own sake. You wear what makes you feel good, you put make-up and jewellery -- whatever gives you self-confidence," Divakurni said.

"I think that's where you can be both -- a feminist and also look good. The focus is no longer on someone else, I think strong women and attractive women are good things to be, even Draupadi was a strong woman," she quipped.

Balancing Dior bags and jholas

Diavakaruni is least bothered by feminist conflicts where young girls feel guilty after a shopping spree in a Christian Dior.

"It's very important to balance things, it's imperative to do something for the society and women in particular and help women who aren't in position to help themeselves. There is no conflict in looking good. You buy things you need and then you do something good for society," she said.

Reinterpreting Draupadi

Divakaruni has convincingly retold Draupadi's tale from a feminist perspective The Palace of Illusions: A Novel. Her Draupadi is unabashedly the most prominent queen with pride, sharp intellect and a strong will.

"I had been thinking about her for a long time. Mahabharata is an action-based epic, it only shows Draupadi's actions not her thoughts. It's more concerned with heroes, wars, historic details and in the process leaves out the domestic details. I started imagining how she would be from inside and her internal thoughts processes. How Draupadi would be from inside and I just came up with the interpretation," she elaborated on her reinterpretation of Draupadi.

In awe of modern Draupadis

Being involved with organizations which work with women trapped in domestic violence, Divakaruni feels blessed to have seen a lot of courageous women.

"I'm really amazed and touched by women I've worked with. Women who have recovered and have started all over again from difficult situations. I wouldn't call them Draupadi because she was strong in a particular way but these women strong in many ways."

Women writers

It's a wonderful time in literature, a time when women are coming into their own, she said.

"There have been strong women writers around for a long time but now we see more of them. New issues are coming up and it's wonderful to see new, younger voices are being added to this mix of literature. New writers are addressing them in different ways, style and language."

One Amazing Thing

After a hard-hitting feminist work, the author has come up with an interesting new chronicle of human behaviour -- One Amazing Thing.

"The story is about what people do when their lives are threatened," she says.

One Amazing Thing is about nine characters who go to the Indian consulate in the US and on the same day a major earthquake strikes trapping them in the basement. It's a story about how they come together to form a community.

"I have a wider range of topics and for the first time I have major male characters.

"Unlike novels with a hero or two heroines, in

One Amazing Thing

all the characters tell stories they've never told anyone before, so all the voices become equally important," she elaborates.