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Establishing Self Identity In The Alien Land: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’S

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The diasporic literature is one of the emerging types of literature in this postmodern world. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an Indo-American writer. She established herself as a diasporic writer through her short stories and novels namely, The Arranged Marriage, The Mistress of Spices (1997), Sister of my Heart (1999), The Vine of Desire (2002) and Queen of Dreams (2004). Since she is an immigrant, most of her work is partially autobiographical. She uses modern narrative techniques to give the perfect insight into the characters. The journey of immigrant characters in The Vine of Desire can be divided into four phases alienation, self-realization, self-transformation and establishing the self. This paper will concentrate on Sister of My Heart and The Vine of Desire. The Vine of Desire is sequel to Sister of my Heart. The main objective of this paper is to explore the diasporic life of Anju and Sudha. Key words: Diaspora, immigrant, alienation, expatriate, realization, transformation, establishing, self-identity

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The diasporic literature is one of the emerging disciplines. In this globalised world the words such as diasporic, immigrant, migrant and expatriate have become very common. The life of immigrants in alien land is binary opposition to the life in their homeland. The cultural, social and economical structures are different from country to country. The alienation is the factor that makes immigrants to write. Through their writing they transform their experience into words. They get a sense of relaxation and sharing through the art of writing. The main reason behind their writing is to make their existence recognized.

There are two types of diasporic literature. Firstly, the author explores the beneficiary transformation of the characters. In this type, even though the characters have common diasporic problems they will overcome and establish their self. The characters will successfully establish their identity if they undergo amalgamation of the culture. For instance, the characters Anju and Sudha in The Vine of Desire. Secondly, the author throws the light upon the immigrant character, who laments on the alienation. Such characters experience the cultural dilemma and cultural clashes. The extreme clashes may affect the character’s psyche. For instance, Dimple in Bharathi Mukherjee’s Wife. The second is a phase in which one is busy adjusting to the new environment that there is little creative output. The third phase is the shaping of diaspora existence by involving themselves ethnocultural issues. (Uma 165)

The Vine of Desire is sequel to Sister of My Heart. The novel, Sister of My Heart can be considered as a bildungsroman, because this is coming-of-age story of Anju and Sudha. This novel throws light upon the sisterly love between Anju and Sudha. They both consider each other as the sister of their hearts. As Anju says …she is my other half. The sister of my heart. (24) Anju is a bold and argumentative girl. Her dreams are all about her higher studies. Sudha is neither conventional nor rebellious. She doesn’t have interest in doing higher education. Sudha sacrificed her own love (Ashok) for Anju’s good future. Towards the end of the novel, when she is divorced, once again she gets a proposal from her first love, Ashok. She refuses his offer because she is going to America for Anju. Anju is psychologically affected by her child’s death. So, Sunil thought that Sudha’s presence will help in the betterment of Anju’s mental and physical health. So, once again she sacrifices her life for the sake of Anju’s welfare. The reason behind Sudha’s sacrifices is not only pure love but also guilt, which she carries from her childhood. But here now is a wondrous thought that has just risen inside me like the sun after a stormy night: if my father did not kill Anju’s, then I need no longer carry the guilt which has been with me so long that I have forgotten it once was not a part of me. I need not pay her back with my life for the one her father lost. (339)

The Vine of Desire is a diasporic writing. Unlike the previous novel, in this novel author shows the complexities of relationship between Anju, Sunil and Sudha. Sunil have obsession towards Sudha, Sudha passively accept his attraction and this leads to Anju’s mental turmoil. As in any other works, here also Divakaruni described America as a land of opportunities and freedom. As Anju says, when he describes America to me, it seems almost as amazing as the fairy kingdoms of Pishi’s tales. ‘You can be anything in America, Angel’. (179)

India is land of tradition and customs. A woman cannot divorce her husband just like that; she must answer the piercing questions of the society. In America no one will question her. Sudha says, America has its own problems, she said, but at least it would care that I was a daughter of the Chatterjees, or that I was divorced. I could design a new life, earn my own living, give Dayita everything she needed. Best of all, no-one would look down on her, for America was full of mothers like me, who had decided that living alone was better than living with the wrong man. (294)Even though Ashok proposes her, she refuses to remarry him. She wants to lead an independent life. In America, she achieved independence and freedom. She got new friends and she happily entered her new life. She started practicing the American way of life. Both Anju and Sudha are balanced about both Indian and American culture. They wear jeans, but they never hate saris. We could see the impact of American culture in Sudha, when she says “live for yourself”. “Live for youself”, Sudha continues, as though she hasn’t heard him. I’m not sure I know how to do it and still be good person. (177)She has decided to forget the bitter past. She also wrote a letter to Ashok, in which she insisted him to forget her. When I seal this envelope, I’m going to forget you. you must do the same. Believe me, you’ll be happier for it. (170)

The first phase of immigration is alienation. Sudha suffers from alienation when Anju started going college again. Sunil have obsession towards Sudha, from their first meet. So, Sudha deliberately avoid being alone with Sunil. But unfortunately, they commit adultery in the absence of Anju. This leads to Anju and Sunil’s divorce. Sudha admits that she didn’t refuse Sunil. Towards the end of the novel she confesses this to Ashok. Sunil made me have sex with him. No, it’s wrong to say it that way, putting the blame on him. Because I didn’t fight it. Why else did I lie down his bed? And when it happened, I enjoyed it…(336) After this incident she is in confusion. She has many questions in her mind. At one point she says that I want Sunil. (87) Then later she regrets that, I have done that which I shouldn’t have…. i ‘ve kissed your husband and like it. (108) She feels guilty for her act and decides to leave Anju’s apartment. Here, she realizes her unconscious desire. So this is the second phase, self-realization. My presence saws at the prayed rope that Anju and Sunil. But I can’t bear to be the reason. (104)

Then in third phase, she takes the assistance of Lupe, who is residing in the nearby park in America. Lupe helps Sudha to get a job. She decides to accept the job as a nurse for an old man. The old man is father in law of Myra she has no time to take care of Mr. Sen, so she and her husband Trideep appointed Sudha as a caretaker. Sudha gets a separate room in her employer’s home. Sudha is no longer a woman of hesitant nature; she becomes brave after getting her own job. She feels empowered when she gets her first month salary. The opening of new bank account made her independent in the alien land. It is not easy to face challenges individually in a foreign land, but Sudha feels determined to face challenge. In this phase the reader could trace the transformation in Sudha’s character. So this is the phase of self- transformation.

She established her identity, when she is bold enough to face all the challenges individually in the alien country. Sudha is no longer the victim of the patriarchal hegemony. She proved her self-identity, when she says Ashok, when he went to America to take her back,“I have never said I’m going back with you”“ But why not? What reason do you have to remain here, now that you are not helping Anju anymore? …I don’t like people making high-handed decisions without consulting me”(337)

Anju is also an independent woman in the foreign land. She is the person, who loved and cherished her past. But what if, shrugging off my old life, I faind I am not a snake but an onion instead? Peel after peel after peel, and then nothing. (169) She underwent mental turmoil and internal clashes, because of the act committed by her husband and Sudha. She is the one who invited Sudha to America, inspite of Sunil’s attraction towards her. When she comes to realize they committed adultery, she has lost the confidence in the idea of relationship. They three are unable to communicate freely with each other. They live as alienated beings within the four walls. A tableau of silence: three people, inside their chests small black boxes,…secrets packed in secrets…(70)

Another important problem put forth by Divakaruni is the failure of relationship. There is no single couple in the novel lived happily till the end. Failure in communication is clearly an indication of deterioration in relationship. They all suffer from restlessness they didn’t take any steps to get rid of it. The forces of separation prove stronger than the power of unification.

The author used persuading narrative techniques in both the novels. Sister of My Heart is narrated from the perspectives of Sudha and Anju. The author used first person narration. Through this first person narration, the readers get deep insight into the characters. The dreams of Anju for her higher education, her fondness towards books and Sudha love for Ashok and her guilt all are explored through this first person narration. The flash back of the girl’s fathers is narrated by Pishi. Apart from this there are letters of Ashok and Sudha’s father (Singhji). In The Vine of Desire, author had harmoniously blended the third person narrative and first person narrative techniques. Through these techniques readers understand the secrets, real motive of the characters, and the face behind the mask of the characters, lies and truths. Along with these two narrative techniques, the author employed the stream of consciousness technique, letters, assignments, and dreams for readers’ better understanding. So, both the novels are narrated from multiple perspectives or points of view.

To conclude, Sunil and Anju were established their identity as a worker and a student respectively in the foreign land. Sudha, an Indian wife also established her identity as a postmodern woman, amidst all the obstacles. The immigrant’s heart marches to the beat of two quite different drums, one from the old homeland and the other from the new. The immigrant has to bridge these two worlds, living comfortably in the new and bringing the best of his or her ancient identity and heritage to bear on life in an adopted homeland.

18 May 2020

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