Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the story of three sisters

Chitra Banerjee’s new book Divakaruni Independence (HarperCollins) it is a trip that one hopes will never end. While it may be the story of three sisters against the backdrop of India’s independence, it takes the reader through many twists and turns while keeping the characters as human as possible.

Priya, Jamini and Deepa are three sisters who are very different from each other but bound by a fierce sense of loyalty and love. The story follows their lives as they revel in small joys, carry ambitious ambitions, and stick together through all the challenges they face.

The men in the novel are also great allies and offer strong, silent support while the women falter, pick up the pieces, and move forward with courage and fortitude.

Chitra is an Indian-born American author whose book Pre-defined wedding won an American Book Award. Two of his novels, The Spice Lady and Sister of my Heart they have been adapted into films. Notable books by him include The forest of enchantments, the arranged marriage: stories, the last queen, the palace of illusions and more.

Chitra of Independence

In a conversation with His own story, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni speak dives deeper into writing Independenceits heroines and what’s next.

His own story (HS): Your latest novel was one of love, betrayal, passion and loyalty, centered around a lesser-known queen… this one is set nearly a century later. What made you write Independencethe novel?

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (CBD): When I wrote The last queen, it was overall a very sad experience for me. The heroine of the novel, Maharani Jindan Kaur fought valiantly against the British, but in the end, due to her betrayal in her kingdom, she failed to defeat them.

This was a tragic moment in our history. I couldn’t bear to end the story of India there, so in my new novel I describe the time when the British are kicked out of India and my homeland gets its freedom. This positive result was very important to me. So, Independence is a sequel to The last queen.

HS: How did you flesh out the characters of Priya, Jamini and Deepa, highlighting each one’s uniqueness?

cbds: It was a challenging task to imagine each of these three sisters and give them very different characteristics while keeping each one authentic to 1940s Bengal. I had to think carefully, taking time to mold each sister with their own passion and goal and desire for autonomy.

I knew their lives had to take several dramatic turns and still be realistic. An added challenge was to make them all complex and encompassing in different ways. I hope I succeeded, although I must confess that I have one of the three favorite sisters. But I’m not going to divulge which one I like better! I want readers to form their own opinion.

HS: Which sister was it more difficult to write about?

cbds: I don’t want to influence readers’ responses in terms of which character they like best. But I will say this: Jamini’s character was the one I found most challenging to write.

Jamini has a lot of problems, both physical and attitude-wise. But I really wanted readers to understand where it came from and why it is the way it is.

In the end, I also wanted them to sympathize with her and believe in the changes she goes through.

HS: You also beautifully brought out each sister’s flaws, making them as human as possible. Did you also want to portray that the characters don’t have to be overtly larger than life, and it’s always their human side that wins over the readers? You have done this so brilliantly in all of your other books as well.

cbds: Thanks for the kind words. It is always my intention to portray my characters, especially the women, in all their complexity, always human and always flawed, just like all of us are.

I really tried to show that to every sister. I hope they also turned out to be brave and surprising.

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HS: While you told the story against the background of the events leading up to India’s independence, intertwined with historical events, where did you draw inspiration from for the characters?

cbds: My main characters are from my imagination; the three sisters, their parents and their love interests were all created by me. However, while writing this novel, I was deeply influenced by the stories my mother and maternal grandfather told me about the 1940s growing up.

I’m pretty sure that on some level, perhaps subconsciously, the stories I’ve heard — and the people in those stories — have found their way into my novel. Of course, some of the harrowing incidents that happen to the three sisters in Independence that happened to a lot of people in the 1940s.

I was also inspired by the character Anandibai Joshi, a doctor who trained in the United States in the 1800s. He has an important and unusual role in this novel and inspires one of my main characters to follow his dream.

HS: The three sisters show their sense of freedom and independence as they face different challenges and situations. Is it also a metaphor for the struggles the country was facing on the path to freedom?

cbds: You’re right. On the one hand, the sisters’ challenges also reflect and symbolize the struggle for freedom that Mother India was facing at the time. They also reflect the challenges of real-life women freedom fighters and depict the inspiration these women have provided to the rest of the country.

On another level, however, the sisters’ struggles are their own, and sometimes stem from their own character flaws and their deep longing for things that aren’t necessarily good for them.

HS: You’ve also captured the male characters in the book beautifully, whether it’s his father Nabakumar, with a quiet and strong determination, Amit who is singularly focused on love in the beginning, and then the pain and confusion take over windward, or the substantial supporting pillar, Somnath babu. In different ways, they are all allies of the sisters. What did you think when you sculpted these characters?

cbds: I’m glad the male characters in the book spoke to you. I spent a lot of time and difficulty imagining them and thinking about the roles they would play in the novel. I am very fond of the older men of the novel, Nabakumar and Somnath. In a way, they are influenced by my grandfather, who was a village doctor and also involved in the freedom struggle.

Amit, in particular, was a character that I wrote and rewrote in my desire to play him right: at once a support for women, but also someone who complicates their lives in many ways. He’s one of the major love interests in the novel, so I hope he’s attractive and romantic too!

HS: The book is also about sisters making a name for themselves. For example, Deepa whose voice soars above her fear and insecurity leading to her artistic and spiritual growth… Did you build the characters to be strong enough to face the finale?

cbds: Much of what you say happened serendipitously as the novel progressed and I learned more about the characters and understood them and their motivations.

I don’t always know what’s going to happen in a novel when I start it, so I’m often pleasantly surprised by the way the characters change and grow and transform each other. This was certainly true for Independence!

HS: What is your future in terms of books?

cbds: My next book will be a foray into a new adventure: non-fiction. I’m exploring a couple of lives that I hope will be both instructive and inspiring to my readers.

My editor will announce who these people are soon. Until then, you’ll have to stay curious!