‘Each time I finish a book, I feel I won’t write anymore’

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Chitra B Divakaruni
Chitra B Divakaruni, 57, Writer

What appeals to you about writing fiction?
When I was writing the immigrant stories in Arranged Marriage and volunteering in the field of domestic violence, I realised the power and importance of telling stories that are hidden, that people were afraid to discuss, that upset comfortable stereotypes. I felt a great need to bring them to light.

How has the narrative of domestic abuse changed in the recent years?
The narrative of abuse is always changing, and yet in some ways it is similar. So many women are made to feel it is their fault for angering the abuser. They’re afraid to leave abusive homes because of the repercussions their families will feel, or because they’re afraid they will not be able to provide for their children. But in recent years, I have come across more women who are willing to speak up.

Do you feel the ideas that constituted feminism in its initial years were more radical than what it has come to mean today?
The beginning of a movement is always more radical because it is pushing against age-old preconceptions. It’s the same with feminism, though I believe that the term means different things to different people. The response by women to the heartrending Delhi rape case shows that feminism — the belief that women deserve to be treated with respect — remains alive and strong and radical.

The angst of the South Asian immigrant is at the centre of your novels. How much of your own self can we find in your narratives?
My concerns about the world form the germs for many of my books. But the characters are imagined. Even when, like Draupadi in my novel The Palace of Illusions, they come from another text, or when, like the grandfather in my latest novel Oleander Girl, they are loosely based on my relatives, I create their most important aspects in my imagination.

A fear you find difficult to overcome?
Each time I finish a novel, I am afraid I might not write another one. What if inspiration dries up? What if my ability fails? That is truly frightening because writing enriches so much of my life.

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