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Diasporic Enigmas


Ashima Kaul

BEFORE WE VISIT THE GODDESS
By Chitrita Banerji
Simon & Schuster, London, Year 2017, pp.212, $15.99

VOLUME XLI NUMBER 5 May 2017

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a prolific writer, social activist and a teacher of creative writing skills. In her latest work Before We Visit the Goddess she has deftly chronicled the diasporic enigmas spanning three generations and showcasing the agglutination of Indian and American cultural identities. The title is a reflection on the ‘mythical ironies’ that connect the mortals to the immortal sacredness within them. This juxtaposition arouses interesting queries and provides a centripetal texture to the narrative. The book itself is an artifact. The jacket design by Grace Han imparts a mini-review in itself. The Simon & Schuster editions have petal and border print effects on the pages as well. An intricate cultural matrix emanates from the pages of the book. A parallel storyline and dexterous blending of the lives of Sabitri, Bela and Tara imparts a distinct flavour to the text. Durga, an absent-presence becomes the primogenitor of Chitra Banerjee Divakarunis’s characters. Durga’s daughter Sabitri tirelessly struggles for education in her life. She dies in loneliness being stigmatized in marriage and blamed for it by her own daughter Bela. Her daughter flees to America to marry her lover. Life under the penumbra of the American Dream has its nightmares for Bela as well. Her mother’s echolalia haunts her as she gets a divorce and is in turn blamed for it by her daughter Tara. The immigration in fact becomes a character in itself that has an impact on an Indian forlorn mother and an Americanized daughter. Bela’s own demons and life choices create havoc in the mind of her daughter Tara. She becomes the epitome of defiance and is a product of diasporic environment. Opting out of college, disowning her parents but ever yearning for Indian roots ultimately reunifies the catena of resilience in the women of her bloodline. Her visit to the Meenakshi temple in an American city is decisive in unlocking the cleansing process required to confront a Goddess. The echo of the opening verse from Manusmriti 3/56, 100 CE ‘yatra naaryasto poojyante, ramantay tatra devata / Where the women are honoured, there the gods are pleased’, reverberates throughout the text.  The Goddess remains ensconced in the altar of the minds of the characters. What is bequeathed by the women is the consistency to accept challenges and fight back. The author has retained equipoise between the Indian and American landscapes. The novel spans three generations wherein the ...


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