I love reading books that have female as protagonist, especially powerful women who rise from humble background to greater heights through their self confidence and their will to be self reliant. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has three such women (grandmother, daughter, grand-daughter) laced together across three generations from Rural Village of India to Austin in Texas, each living an interesting life through love, longing and loneliness. It is delightful read and Chitra is the kind of author who had potential to keep you engaged in such a way that you begin to walk into their lives.
I love her style of writing and beautifully framed sentences.
“Push away the past, that vessel in which all emotions curdle to regret’”
“Life is lines of dominoes falling. One thing leads to another, and then another, just like you’d planned. But suddenly a domino gets skewed, events change direction, people dig in their heels, and you’re faced with a situation that you didn’t see coming, you thought you were so clever” Page175
The book begins with Sabitri, who starts to write letter (on request from her daughter Bela seeking help from her mother to guide her daughter) to Tara, who she has never met but wants to advise her on the importance of education. But Sabitri fails to find the right words, writes instead her own story of struggles, love, disappointment and her sense of achievement.
Sabitri’s dreams were audacious, unseemly for the daughter of poor village priest. People around her were determined to crush them. The rules her mother wanted her to live by, proverbs for good women, were too simple for her. She could not accept them.
Good daughters are fortunate lamps, brightening the family’s name
Wicked daughter are firebrands, blackening the family name. page 205
The meaning of ‘fortunate lamp’ she finds when she works on a unique recipe day and night till she got it right, the taste that she finally achieves without having to depend on anyone else. She discovered that she had a special talent that nobody could take it away, that there is a sense of achievement and satisfaction on getting that success. It is that ‘Fortunate lamp’ she wanted from Tara and Bela too.
That is the message she wanted to pass on to Bela (who elopes to America illegally to join Sanjay but struggles and leads a lonely life) and Tara (the new generation American, completely cut off from Indian culture roots). More than education, a talent is important, a will to work hard, to rise above failures, disappointment and having a faith in oneself to succeed once again.
Although the story revolves around three women, other characters that come into their lives also play the crucial role in steering their journey towards proper path. Each character has an important role to play. Nothing is out of place.
Senior woman, Mrs Mehta, who Tara was to supervise while son and his wife go for a tour surprised me the most with her jest for life and her complete make over from woman clad in white sari to fancy skirts, jeans and short tops and bob cut hair.
Kenneth, a gay neighbour, who changed Bela’s life by encouraging her to hone on her culinary skills and becoming a successful food blogger and writer
Bipin Bihari, a best friend to Sabitri helps her achieve success at Durga sweets
Dr Venkatachalapathi who influence Tara to go back to completing her education
The story moves back and forth, narration shifts from first person to third person, which is confusing at times, especially if you are not reading at one go. But the loops interlock easily, taking the story to a meaningful end.
The last chapter of the book ‘A thousand words’ sums up the whole story through photo albums, letters and notes. It the most touching chapter, full of redemption, where Tara finally understands the true meaning of life after she reads the letters addressed to her by Sabitri
However, I read this book twice, the first time in parts (over the span of 15days with breaks in-between) and second time in one go…. And enjoyed it both the times.