The Wait is and is Not
- Nitasha Kaul
You Don't Mess with Viru - Jayant Kripalani
The Last Journey Home - Siddhartha Gigoo
Family Trip - Mihir Vatsa
For the Longest Time - Mridula Koshy
The Tree's Passport - Sumana Roy
I Try to be so Buddhist - Robert Sugg
Oh God, My God - GB Prabhat
Stroke at Noon - KL Chowdhury
Unbroken Awareness - Tendair Mwanaka
Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Nayomi Munaweera
My Hungry Workers - Sourabh Gupta
The Stone - Anupam Choudhary
The Return - Shirani Rajapakse
The Unsent Email - Shyama Laxman
Poetry: Naseer Ahmed Nasir
(Translated by Bina Biswas)
Dr Bhikbab Changes His World - Sheela Jaywant
The Pillar of Society - Manju Kak
- Attia Hosain
London Company - Farrukh Dhondy
The Cripple and His Talismans - Anosh Irani
Their Language of Love - Bapsi Sidhwa
(Arjun Raj Gaind)
Silk Fish Opium - Jaina Sanga
The Blind Man's Garden - Nadeem Aslam
The Almond Tree - Michelle Corasanti
Nobody Can Love You More - Mayank Austen Soofi
Along the Red River - Sabita Goswami
Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy - Som Nath Dhar
Che in Paona Bazaar - Kishalay Bhattacharjee
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning writer, poet, and teacher. ELJ interviewed her about her latest book, Oleander Girl.
Suneetha Balakrishnan on behalf of ELJ
ELJ: Oleander Girl, published in 2013, is your fourteenth book in the fiction genre. But we believe you started out with poetry. How did writing happen to you? And is poetry still one of your Muses?
CBD: I started with poems, yes. I loved the way poetry focused on images and on the moment. The very first poem I wrote was about my grandfather, who had passed away at that time. I still love poetry – writing and reading it. It has greatly influenced my prose style in writing novels because I take a lot of time thinking of the right image to convey emotion. I do still write poetry – recently a poem of mine was published in the Texas Monthly.
ELJ: You were a woman, an immigrant, and in a land where you were not writing in your first language. How tough was this? How did the first ever publication happen?
CBD: It was tough – though not the writing in English part, because I grew up bilingual. When I started writing, there weren't too many Indian American writers around. I sent out stories; they got rejected; I lost heart, but something inside me kept pushing and wouldn't let me give up. Finally, after many revisions, my work started getting published. Soon after that, the professor in a class I was taking sent three of my stories to an agent. The agent really liked the work and offered to work with me. She took the stories to New York and was able to find me a publisher. I wrote some more stories over the next year and that became my first collection, Arranged Marriage.
ELJ: Your stories have been spun around the themes of immigration, women, myth and the South Asian experience. How has your social commitment in helping immigrant South Asian women helped you to write around these themes?
CBD: My work with domestic violence survivors has made me more sensitive to women's predicaments. It has also exposed me to women with amazing courage and dignity. I try to show all this in my work. But I am very careful never to use any one person's situation because I know how important it is to preserve confidentiality.
ELJ: How do you see the label of Diaspora writers? Does it help you reach out to readers better or do you think it is restrictive?
CBD: Sometimes the title helps; sometimes it restricts. I don't worry too much about labels. The whole point of writing for me is to break down barriers, and labels can be barriers. I just write the best stories I can, and I write about issues that touch me deeply.
ELJ: You started out with the 1995 American Book Award and have not looked back. How do you see awards? Which was the one you felt the happiest about and why?
CBD: I'm always honoured and appreciative and a little surprised. I think the American Book Award, the South Asian Literature Association's Distinguished Author award, and the Light of India Award made me the happiest.
ELJ: Intra-gender and psychological conflicts are strong points in your stories. Why? How do you look at inner (psychological) conflict in your characters, and to what extent does that conflict define your characters? Does it play a greater role in your writing than other things?
CBD: I'm very interested in character and psychology. In fact, that is the aspect of writing that I'm most interested in. During graduate school, though I was an English major, I used to sit in on psychology classes. I think that psychological conflict deepens our depiction of character. I'm always trying to portray such conflicts better. I try to show different sides to a character, both admirable and negative. I try to show how a character sometimes battles with himself or herself. Another level of conflict is between different characters. I'm interested in that as well. In novels such as Sister of My Heart and Oleander Girl, different characters have different beliefs about what is right and what is wrong, and this leads to tension between them. A strong conflict furthers the plot.
ELJ: Tell us about your writing process. How does writing work progress amidst a busy schedule of book tours, readings, public appearances, teaching and of course family time?
CBD: I can't really write when I travel. I need the home environment. At home I write for several hours at a stretch, at least three days a week. I like to write in the morning, after I meditate – that clears my head. I have a writer's notebook where I make notes, and jot down my ideas, but I compose directly on the computer. The support of my husband Murthy and two sons Anand and Abhay has been crucial to my writing. They put up with a lot of frozen dinners!
ELJ: Christopher Marlowe was the subject of your PhD dissertation. Why did you choose Marlowe?
CBD: I love his passion, his poetry, his use of dramatic situations, and his fascination with complex and not altogether positive characters.
ELJ: Any author would be proud of being translated into twenty-nine languages. Which was the very first translation, and in how many Indian languages has your work been published? Which language has given you the highest number of readers?
CBD: German was the first language into which my books were translated. In India, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu and Bengali, for stories, poems and novels. I'd love to have more translations into Indian languages. I have a lot of Italian readers – I think that's my biggest readership outside of English.
ELJ: You teach Creative Writing at the University of Houston. How do you think a CW course creates or moulds a writing talent?
CBD: A CW course polishes your craft, teaches you about strengths and weaknesses, widens your reading. Pushes you to do your best. Provides you with a writing community to critique your work. I recommend it strongly. Writers can learn such things on their own, but it will take a lot longer, and sometimes without the feedback you might never push yourself to revise as diligently.
ELJ: Would you attempt more novels based on mythology? Like Palace of Illusions, and do you have any favourite mythical characters you would like to put at the centre of those novels?
CBD: Yes, I'm planning a novel with Sita at its centre. That is my next project. I'm doing the research for it.
ELJ: How much do you relate to the film adaptations of your novels? Have the scripts been done with a free hand or been asked to follow your story line? Has this new medium for your tales brought you more readers? What feedback have you received on the difference between your novels and the films?
I'm always happy when a book is chosen for a movie, as with Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, and The Word Love, which was made into a bilingual film, Amaar Ma. I know movies are going to be very different from books, and I'm at peace with that. Yes, movies have gained me some new readers – though it's hard to gauge how many.
ELJ: What is the importance of Oleander Girl in your life? Is it a special book? If so, why?
CBD: Yes, it symbolizes for me the hero's journey in search of self. It brings together America and India. It examines religious violence. It underlines the importance of loving coexistence in today's multicultural world. It is also important to me because it explores the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, and that is a relationship that has meant a lot to me.
ELJ: Who are your literary influences, and which one Indian writer have you read lately and enjoyed?
I recently re-read and enjoyed Toni Morrison's Beloved. I love Anita Desai, Amitav Ghosh and Rohinton Mistry. I learned a lot from Bharati Mukherjee. I love multi cultural voices – Louise Erdrich, Sandra Cisneros, Cristina Garcia. Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo is a novel I find most intriguing.
ELJ: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?
One Amazing Thing has been optioned by Hollywood! I'm excited to see how that project develops.
Also, I wanted to tell your readers about my new children's book – my very first picture book, Grandma and the Great Gourd. It is the retelling of a Bengali folk tale my grandfather used to tell me. I had a lot of fun with poetic elements – rhythms, rhymes, repetitions, and onomatopoeic sounds.