The Unknown Errors Of Our Lives: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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This book was published in the year 2001, but I got the chance to read this fabulous piece only now. Every time I came close to reading this book, it slipped out of my hand. But this time when it appeared before me I lost no time in reading it. And what a journey it was. A collection of short stories that focuses on Indian women and their immigrant experience . In many ways, the subject matter is similar to those of Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of the Maladies”. Many of the stories in in the book also deal with marriages of different sorts and in different stages: arranged marriages, engagements, deteriorating relationships, hidden affairs, and so on. But the one thread that runs in all stories is the feeling of empathy. No matter where or who, the woman in the story is shown to be empathetic and bound in Indian traditions. She does not give away her roots just to be planted in a new soil. She bears strong roots though planted in a new land.

 

The first story in the book is entitled “Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter”. This is a poignant, tender story that stirs your heart . It’s about an old widow who moves from India to live with her son’s family in America. Her son tells her “We want you to be comfortable, Ma. To rest. That’s why we brought you here to America.” Her efforts or attempts to share her stories of India and cook traditional meals and help out around the house are looked down upon  by her daughter-in-law.She begins to feel un-welcomed and a burden, and realizes that her visit was a mistake. Life with her son and grandchildren in America isn’t what Mrs. Dutta imagined it would be. Through Divakaruni’s writing, the reader can feel Mrs. Dutta’s hurt, ache and disappointment,  and alienation at the hands of her own family and the foreign land.
As in “Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter” the story “The Intelligence of Wild Things” brings up issues of keeping Old World traditions alive after immigrating versus becoming Americanized. “The Intelligence of Wild Things” is about a woman who visits her younger brother, Tarun in Vermont. She discovers that his girlfriend is an American girl with “freckled skin and reddish-gold hair.” She wonders how her brother who “had never wanted to come to America” has become so Americanized while she, who agreed to an arranged marriage in order to move to America, still clings to traditions she learned growing up in India.

“The Lives of Strangers”  is about Leela, a young Indian woman from America who visits her aunt in India. They go on a pilgrimage with a group of women. One of these women is Mrs. Das whom the rest of the women believe was “born under an unlucky star” and therefor shun her due to a fear that her bad luck may rub off on them. Divakaruni does a fantastic job in this story portraying Leela’s struggle with guilt and a conscience that is telling her to do what is right despite what others say.

 

Other stories include “Love Of A Good Man,” a tale of a happily married Indian woman who must confront her past when her long-estranged father begs to meet his only grandson;  “The Blooming Season For Cacti,” where two women, uprooted from their native land by violence and deception, find unexpected solace in each other; and the title story, where an artist faced with her fiance’s past a week before her wedding must make an important decision.
Some stories in this collection are definitely stronger than others, but overall, the book offered an excellent look at the Indian immigrant experience from the female point of view. Each woman was strong and opinionated about how she wanted to lead her life. Her decision was not influenced or forced. All characters are truly inspiring and caricatures of real life people. Surely a must read.

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