Special Connections Between Strangers: Viewing Chitra Divakaruni’s Fiction Through a Maternal Lens
Indian American writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has an enviable body of work. She has covered a range of themes, including the search for identity and heritage, immigration, mother-daughter dynamics, domestic abuse, palace intrigues, the impact of 9/11, mother-love, and the bonds between sisters. Through a nuanced exploration of the dynamics between strangers,she brings to the fore possibilities of love, cooperation, and emotionally sustaining interactions. The special connections have a soothing effect and, at times, a subversive edge. They can challenge hetero-normative conventions: two Indian immigrants discover the happiness promised by lesbian love. They can disregard the law: a young Indian woman develops an instant and irrepressible attachment for a lost child, whom she takes in without the knowledge of the authorities. They can counteract the forces of hate: a yoga practitioner stabilises an artist disturbed by 9/11 and its aftermath. The connections chosen for this analysis have a distinct maternal component, i.e., they involve holding, protection, nurturance, and what Sara Ruddick calls “attentive love”. Through an application of Ruddick’s concept of “maternal thinking”, I will examine and explicate the rationality of care that informs the interactions between strangers in Divakaruni’s fiction. After a broad engagement with Divakaruni’s oeuvre, this paper will take a deep dive into the short story “A Perfect Life” (1995) and the novel Queen of Dreams(2004). By forging unique connections between her characters, Divakaruni broadens the scope of what is possible. She also reveals the different ways in which the maternal can manifest itself.
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