If you're looking to pick up a book to read on this International Women's Day (8th March), we urge to pick up Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Forest of Enchantments. This is one of the few pieces in the literary canon that aims to do justice to the women who have long been ignored. The Forest of Enchantments is a novel that explores the females of Ramayana. We caught up with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and present her side of the story. Before anything, Divakaruni tells us why she chose Sita to tell a tale of.
"There’s a lot of strength and complexity to Sita’s character in Ramayana – which is what I wanted to bring out in The Forest of Enchantments. She’s a much stronger character than we have traditionally been led to believe. The perception of Sita is meek and passive, things just happen to her. But no, she’s actually an active decision-maker with a lot of inner strength in difficult situations and I wanted people to see that, especially women readers. I want them to see that and relate to that. The hope is that it’ll give them strength in their difficulties. While my primary audience has been women in the past, but I very much invite men to come and read. I feel it is very healthy for men to read literature that is women centered – women have been doing that for a long time, you know, reading books that are male centered."
Just because it is Sita's perspective that dominates the novel, doesn't mean it is all about her. Kaikayi and Manthara get a bold voice in The Forest of Enchantments.
"I really wanted Kaikeyi and Manthara to get bold voices in the novel. Our epics are very male-centric. I guess that is just a function of how things were at that time. It was a very patriarchal time. The epics and even the revisions of the epics by other writers are basically set in patriarchy. But, as you pointed out, there are such interesting women characters, I wanted to bring them out in all their complexity. They interact with each other much more than what the epics have led us to believe."
Divakaruni supported herself by various odd jobs at the beginning of her career. Her substantial female characters are written with much compassion and empathy - did that come from someplace internal?
"The first place is from my mother. She brought me up and my younger brothers by herself. She was a strong woman who went through a lot of difficulties. She always encouraged me to sort of stand on my own. When I went abroad, I was pretty much on my own. These things just complemented each other."
Women, even today have to fight a lot harder than men just to get paid half as well. Writing and publishing are one of those professions where even getting your foot in the door is difficult.
"Does life come easy for men? I wouldn’t make a blanket statement such as this. I’m sure many men also have had their share of struggles. However, traditionally, yes, I think it is harder for women to be taken seriously. When a woman wants to write just a literary novel, it is harder for her. It is just something we have to fight and overcome. I’ve also faced it to a certain extent – in terms of getting reviews. If you look at some publications, 80% of the books they review are by men."
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Forest of Enchantments is now available on Amazon. With that, we, at in.com, would like to wish our readers a very happy Women's Day.
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