Queen of Dreams

by Cookie Maini

The warp of immigrant’s lives
by Chitra Divakaruni.
Abacus, London. Pages 307. £ 5.50.

IN an immigrant’s repertoire of dreams, the scenario "back home" bobs up the most. The familiar whiffs of seasonal breezes they grew up in, the authentic flavours of the cuisine and a topography, which was a part of early consciousness, remain an integrated part of the immigrants’ being, no matter where they go. This part of their persona may get submerged in the subconscious, yet it inevitably surfaces in their dreams or in their writing, whereas for their progeny, "back home" is merely a parental construction for them to conjure up in the hues they are depicted to them.

Chitra Divakaruni, an NRI woman of Bengali origin, has carved a niche for herself like Jhumpa Lahiri and Bharati Mukherjee, two others of her ilk. They recreate a backdrop in which they seamlessly transcend between the two cultures, this peripatetic pattern in their writing would be similar to their thought processes, which would surely be moving from their country of origin to the adoptive country.

I would suspect, on the one hand they give vent to their nostalgia, as they write, and on the other, juxtapose the country of adoption to ease the guilt of adaptation. Most of their renditions are peppered with flashbacks of which ethnicity or spirituality is an ingredient.

In the book, apart from oscillating between the West and the East, we are privy to two worlds—the mothers, as a first generation immigrant, and the protagonists, as an Indian born American. Chitra’s book unravels a binary strategy of using her dreams and her pen, her narration of dreams are apparently culled from her personal experiences.

To her description of the latter as "a telegram from hidden world", I would like to add "a world fraught with our suppressed desires". This is Chitra’s sixth novel and she expounds her obsession with her immigrant experience in a post 9/11 US. The story begins with the unveiling of a dream of the protagonist Rakhi’s mother, who is an interpreter of dreams. Rakhi, is a second-generation immigrant, an artist and a divorced single mother, who runs a quaint little teashop.

After Rakhi’s mother’s death in a car accident, she discovers her journals and begins to resurrect her own personality, identity and cultural moorings. The reader would assume that in the plot would be ensued the perennial conflict between two cultures, but instead we contend with Rakhi’s tangled life in the US. One knot is her confused relationship with her father versus his tremendous affection for her and her inexplicable split with her husband.

The novel moves along two separate strands—the magical warp of her mother’s dreams along with the weft of ground reality of mundane problems governing the lives of the central characters.

The earlier part of the book recreates an aura of mysticism and spirituality via Rakhi’s mother’s dreams, as she reads through the journals. Divakaruni has crafted deft descriptions, making the imagery life like, interwoven into the simple narrative, making the book an easy read. The smooth flow of the text is disrupted by certain inexplicable events quite out of sync with the plot—the breakdown of Rakhi’s marriage, her relationship with her father and the relevance of the mysterious occasional apparition

The cover has Indian overtones to visually entice an occidental clientele, the likely focus of Chitra’s endeavour and an ideal marketing strategy of publishers and writers, as they sell oriental colours and flavours respectably packaged in a book.