Transcript of a chat with Sister of My Heart Author Chitra Divakaruni. February 22, 2000–9 P.M. EDT
Scott: Welcome to the chat room, Chitra
Joanna: Hi Chitra!
Chitra Divakaruni: Hello everyone, I am pleased to be here with you
Vev: Hello Chitra! I loved Mistress of Spices and Sister of my heart!!!
Vev: When can we expect your next book?
Chitra Divakaruni: Thank You
Chitra Divakaruni: I am working on a collection of stories, it is titled The Unknown Errors of our Lives. It will come out in January 2001.
Vev: I have to put a reminder on Amazon to remember to get it!
Vev: I also want to read Arranged Marriage
Tata: do young men in India experience the same ceremonies of life as the young women.
Chitra Divakaruni: Tata – when we talked about young men and young women, we have to remember that there are many different kinds of lifestyles that they are leading in India from the very traditional to the very modern. Overall I’d say that the rituals and ceremonies undergone by young men in traditional lifestyles are different from those that women undergo. In modern families, though, there are very many similarities. In Sister of My Heart I am portraying a very traditional family. In Bengal, so the rituals are quite unique.
Vev: Chitra, were did you get the inspiration for Sister of my Heart?
Chitra Divakaruni: That’s a tough question, I think partly from growing up in Calcutta in a rather traditional family partly it was from reading about the mis-uses of amniocentisis to select and abort female fetuses. The two characters, Sudha and Anju, came from my imagination.
Tata: Is it true that the misuses os amniocentisis will give India a severe shortage of females in 20-30 years?
Chitra Divakaruni: It is hard to say. The womens movement has been fighting against this and has had a law passed to abolish the abortion of female fetuses, however some abortions do occur in secrecy. One has to remember that this occurs in only a small percentages of pregnancies, however I feel that even one such abortion is too many and that is why it was important for me to write about it.
Joanna: Can you talk a little bit about the women’s movement in India?
Chitra Divakaruni: The women’s movement in India has gained a lot of strength in the last twenty years. Unlike the western feminist movement, there are two distinct branches: Urban and Rural – the urban branch consists mostly of educated middle class or upper middle class women, and the rural movement is a grass roots movement, often involving women who might not have had any formal education at all, who are forming co-ops.
Vev: Chitra, i really like a foreign film I saw afew months back called Fire-I believe it is part of a trilogy are there any plans to bring Sister of my heart to the screen?
Joanna: Are you affiliated with either branch?
Chitra Divakaruni: Just a moment. My previous novel, Mistress of Spices is being made into a movie and I am pretty excited about that. We don’t yet know about Sister of my Heart.
Vev: for the big or small screen?
Chitra Divakaruni: Big Screen
Chitra Divakaruni: I am involved with a couple of womens groups in the US, since I live here full time.
Scott: The novel has an epigraph from Chinua Achebe "It is only the story . . . that saves our progeny from stumbling into the spikes of the cactus fence." Does this point to the purpose of novel, and/or your view of writing in general?
Joanna: The Mistress of Spices seems like a difficult film to make into a movie, don’t you think? But with the right director/screenwriter, it could be great!
Chitra Divakaruni: Scott–this points particularly to Sister of My Heart, which is a novel in which storytelling takes on a great signifigance. The two women are brought up on traditional tales and myths by their aunt. This affects their visions of the world and their place in it. Later, when they through times of trouble they will re-tell these stories to each other and gain strength from them.
Scott: were you exposed to the same kind of stories in your youth?
Chitra Divakaruni: I was very fortunate to have a grandfather who told me a lot of the traditional folk tales and some of those tales are the same ones I have put into Sister of my Heart.
Scott: one of the most fascinating things about SoMH was the mix between folk tales and other traditions — Virginia Woolf was quite important. Did her work play any framing role for you as wrote the novel?
Chitra Divakaruni: Because I have studied both eastern and western literature, I also like to bring the two together in my writing. I feel it is a way to enrich both traditions. I have been influenced by many of the feminist ideas of Virginia W. as I was growing up, somewhat in the same way that Anju was influenced by them. The central idea that women need to have a room of their own is an important concept in Sister of My Heart, particularly as such an idea is foreign to traditional Indian society
Tata: Who are popular female writers in India
Chameli: TypeChitra, where are you located. I read one of your books about arranged marriages. I was wondering if you could come to my Human Behavior class (graduate school) to present something.
Chitra Divakaruni: There are writers in many different languages. Some of the ones from my languages, Bengali, are Mahasweta Devi and Bani Basu and Taslima Nasrin, among women writing in English. Either here or in India are Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee and Arundhati Roy.
Scott: Do your books sell back in India? It seems to me your books present a compelling voice for reform.
Chitra Divakaruni: Scott – the books have been published in India and widely reviewed. I would like them ultimately translated into the Indian languages. I have had a few pieces translated, but I am always looking for more.
Scott: You have a great sense of detail, in particular when it comes to cooking and food. What’s your background in, well, cooking and eating?
Joanna: Chitra, many of our members posted questions for you on the forum.
LongNLean: Chitra what do you have to say about so-called western perceptions of the traditions of India?
Chitra Divakaruni: I just love food Scott, and I am interested in herbs and spices for many years. That is what led me party to write The Mistress of Spices.
Chitra Divakaruni: Any other questions?
Scott: When you teach writing, What advice do you give to young writers?
Chitra Divakaruni: I tell my students to read wisely, to take a lot of time with their writing, to revise carefully and to take risks.
Scott: When did you decide to become a writer?
Joanna: Okay Chitra — Maritav asks if you are planning a sequel — she feels SISTER ended "abruptly" and wonders if this was youur intent.
Chitra Divakaruni: I started writing about 13 years ago, that was many years after I came to this country. Unlike some writers who know right from their childhood that they want to write, I discovered it much later, after I had finished my education and started working.
Chitra Divakaruni: I wanted to end Sister on an open-ended because as a reader, that is what I like. Stories that a reader keeps on thinking about the characters after the book ends. However I do think I will continue the story of the women, just because those characters have taken hold of me and I can’t seem to forget them.
Chitra Divakaruni: The background out of Calcutta comes out of my experience–all of the concerns with the challenges that women face both in India and in America are of course, very close to me. Other than that, the rest of the story is imagined.
Joanna: JasmineDoe asks what you see as the biggest challeneg for American women today and how that challenge differs for the crosscultural woman.
Chitra Divakaruni: I think a real challenge for both main stream American women and bi-cultural American women is balancing the roles, the many roles, that we have taken on–Roles in the home and outside the home–Roles as professionals and as mothers.
Scott: Do you make it back to india often? there must be some strange moments of disjunction between Calcutta and Houston.
Chitra Divakaruni: I do go back to India regularly, my mother lives there. It is a strange experience to go back, I love India, but I am not at home in it the way I was before I left. I see things with an outsiders eye, and of course that is my experience in Houston as well.
Chameli: Scott, in fact both has advantages and disadvantages.
Chitra Divakaruni: Are there one or two last questions?
Chameli: In fact, outsiders become outsiders everywhere, no matter how much you acculturate.
Scott: Thanks very much for coming tonight Chitra.
Chitra Divakaruni: It has been a pleasure chatting with everyone and I wish all of you much good reading. For me, reading has always been a way to enter life and experiences that otherwise I would never have known about. I hope my books will do that for you, no matter what background you come from.
Chitra Divakaruni: Good night to all of you.