Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
August 20, 2006
REVIEWS: The interpretation of dreams
By Reviewed by Mamun Adil
MANY of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s short-story collections (The Unknown Errors of Our Lives, Arranged Marriage) and full-fledged novels (The Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart and its sequel, The Vine of Desire) have explored the many complexities faced by the Indian diaspora living in the United States. Her recent tome, Queen of Dreams, is no different in that aspect.
The protagonist of the novel (I refuse to call her heroine, it seems rather clichéd and Bollywood-ised), Rakhi, is a young, struggling artiste and a divorced mother who runs a chai shop in sunny California with her best friend Belle. (But perhaps it is impossible to refrain from a Bollywood reference, considering the fact that the book is called Queen of Dreams which is a literal translation of the famous song “Mere sapno ki rani” from the movie “Aradhana”, starring Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna.)
Although the novel has many interesting themes, perhaps the most prominent one is that of the relationship between Rakhi and her mother, who doesn’t sleep with her father at night because, as she tells Rakhi, her “work is to dream” so she can “help” other people.
The novel has been written in three diverse ways. Firstly, in the form of Rakhi’s mother’s mystical dream journals where her experiences of being a dream interpreter are recorded, which carry gems such as: “If you dream of a closed door, you will ultimately be successful in gaining whatever you desire, but it will take much effort. A dream of milk means you are about to fall ill.
A mirror stands for a false friend, a pair of scissors for a break in marriage. In your dreams if someone presents you with sugar, beware. Such a person is not to be trusted.”As a result of these interpretations, the novel will definitely be of interest to those who attempt to interpret their own dreams, since many (supposed) secrets to dream interpretation are revealed.
Rakhi’s first-person narratives, as well as Divakaruni’s storytelling, comprise the remainder of the novel, and all three forms of storytelling make a novel that is fleetingly ethereal and trivially realistic at the same time.
In novels that deal with the Indian diaspora, the characters belonging to the younger generation are usually at loggerheads with their parents because they want to be American and to not adhere to their Indian culture and roots. What makes Queen of Dreams all the more different and, as a result, interesting, is the fact that in this case Rakhi is actually hungry to connect with her Indian roots. Her interaction with Indian culture is limited to the desi food that is consumed in her household and her parents rarely speak of India despite Rakhi’s constant attempts.
This causes a rift between Rakhi and her mother, one that is widened due to the fact that she hasn’t inherited her mother’s gift of dream interpretation and constantly feels inadequate as a result.
The death of the mother is mentioned in the opening chapter, so one really isn’t giving the plot away if the readers are told that after her mother’s death, Rakhi begins to form a real relationship with her father and discovers, to her surprise, that he is not a no-good alcoholic as she had thought. She realises that because of her mother’s stronger presence, he had forced himself into the background, not unwillingly.
Rakhi’s relationship with her ex-husband, Sonny, and daughter, Jona, are explored as well. What also constitutes of a major chunk of the novel is her struggle with running her chai shop successfully despite facing the hazards of dealing with competition from a Starbucks-like franchise opening across the street.
At times the narrative drags, especially towards the end when Divakaruni plays on the post-9/11 effect on the Indian family. It seems unnecessary, since most of the novel passes by without any mention of politics and the theme seems abrupt, and is not explored fully; rather it is just glanced upon and does not do anything to evolve the story further.
However, that is not to say that Queen of Dreams is not worth a read. It is definitely a book that is mystical and captivating. However, for avid Divakaruni fans who love and savour her previous works, this one may be somewhat of a disappointment, since it is not at par with her short story collections or even Sister of My Heart and The Vine of Desire.
Queen of Dreams
By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Abacus. Available with Liberty Books (Pvt) Ltd, 3 Rafiq Plaza,
M.R. Kayani Road, Saddar, Karachi