Author Chitra Banerjee’s new novel Divakaruni explores courage and solidarity in sisterhood

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

One day, a kantha the business sari was kept on the desk of author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s office at the University of Houston. He didn’t know who it was from or why he was there. But the sari itself would eventually prompt her to write her latest novel Independence (published by Harper Collins India). Like a hand pulled kantha saree, the book weaves the dramatic embroidery of India’s history, the West Bengal diaspora, women artisans and their imaginations.

Sing West Bengal art is created by the women of the region and is very important for their livelihood, creativity and artistic growth. Especially in times of trouble, that’s something they fall back on, and that’s true in the novel as well,” says author who was recently in Chennai at The Chambers, Taj Coromandel, for the book launch.

The cover of the book has an embossed photo kantha work and comes at a time when India is celebrating 75 years of independence. Chitra was in conversation with author and translator Nandini Krishnan.

As the conversation unfolds, the author’s fiery lights fill the room. “As a child born in free India, I took independence for granted and my mother wanted me to understand that many people have given up many things, including their lives, to gain this freedom,” says the author.

The novel revolves around the lives of sisters Priya, Deepa and Jamini. Set in the tumultuous years of Partition, the fierce sisters grapple with their dreams, love and loss, while the streets ahead of them keep changing without warning. The book contains some autobiographical elements. Nabakumar’s character is loosely based on the author’s grandfather. She known for creating compelling female characters, Chitra, in Independence, it presents the audience with equally sensitive and layered male characters who give color to the storyline. Chitra explains, “My other books are focused on women, but in this one the relationship between men and women becomes problematic for each other. Not because they don’t love each other, but because they love each other. They become something the woman has to choose over other things. So much of the drama comes from the difficult choices women have to make in relation to the men in their lives. “

Independence it also explores the contours of a woman’s quiet courage against the backdrop of India’s tumultuous history. The woman here is one who has been left behind. She explores “The kind of price women have to pay when men become heroes,” adds the author.

When asked what independence means today, the author emphasizes the need for secular and peaceful environments. The conversation concluded with an interpretation by Rabindranath Tagore Ekla Chalo Re (If no one walks with you, you’ll have to walk alone) sung by Hemanta Mukherjee. The song is poignant because Chitra says, “This is a lesson women of history will have to learn because the title has a double meaning. These women need to learn what it’s like to be independent and sometimes that means you have to walk alone.”

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