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January 22, 2017

ZEE JLF Conversations: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Text by Huzan Tata

“One of the ways I’ve kept in touch with my roots is through reading…”

Life lessons
“One has to find strength within oneself. I learnt that only after immigrating to the US because before that I was very much with my family, and then I had to learn to live on my own. I think that was a good lesson because it helped me tread out on my own path, do things I felt were important – and it ultimately also moved me into writing. It’s scary sometimes, to write ideas or characters that people might not like.

In touch with her roots
“One of the ways I’ve kept in touch with my roots is through reading. I’ve made it a point, as much as possible, to read writers writing in and about India. This gives me real insight into an India which is changing, but also an insight into ways people connect with a fast-changing culture.”

On her very first written work
“I wrote a poem on the death of my grandfather. He was the real reason I started writing.”

First book that had an impact
“When I was quite young, I remember I read Tagore’s short stories and loved them. A lot of them were set in rural spaces and I was familiar with them since my grandfather was from a village. They had women characters as heroines – that had a big impact on me.”

On criticism
“It depends on whose opinion it is. If it’s a critic I respect, I will listen carefully to what they’re saying, because I’m always thinking of how I can make my work better. If it’s someone who knows about literature, yes, I’ll listen. But if it’s just someone who doesn’t agree with what I write about, then I don’t care so much; I have to write about the things that are important to me.”

Acclaim in America
“It’s a mixed audience. Whether it’s about immigration in my works, or even The Palace Of Illusions, they really relate to them. A lot of women from different cultures come and say ‘we really appreciate your stories with women as heroines, those who go through conflict and come out stronger’. A lot of people have said that the books have given them inspiration to work through their own problems.”

On her love for Indian wear
“Except when I go to the grocery and to workout, I’m always in saris. I wear them when I go to teach too. Sometimes I wear fusion – kurtis with pants. I just like my Indian clothes!”

A genre she’d love to try
“I’m planning to work on a murder mystery. There’s nothing I’d never try – you never know!”

Favourite read of 2016
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I love how he portrayed a blind girl with so much ability.”      

Read our interview with Chitra on her latest book Before We Visit The Goddess here.

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