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Abstract:
Magical Realism is an aesthetic style or a genre of fiction in which magical
elements blend with the real world. It portrays fantastical events in an
otherwise realistic tone. It brings fables, folktales and myths into
contemporary social relevance. Fantasy trait is given to characters, such as
levitation, telepathy and telekinesis help to encompass modern political
realities that can be phantasmagorical. In the galaxy of women writers of
Indian Diaspora, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni who can be placed in the category
of Indo- American writer has a distinctive position of her own for her fairy
like imagination, profound concern for the emotional crisis of Indian immigrant
women, the craving for belongingness with native cultural ideologies,
affirmation of feminine sensibility and also the narration of major socio-
political events taking place at the global level rocking the foundation of
human society as a whole. With her eight novels of diverse currents and the
host of poems and children stories, she has inaugurated a new era of magic
realism corresponding with diverse cultures and sensibility. Divakaruni’s The
Mistress of Spices invited lot of appreciation and attention for its extra
ordinary brilliance in presenting the multiplicity of themes. Its basic
framework is constructed on the lines of magic realism. This paper attempts to portray the
fine fusion of fantasy and harsh realities of life of the women immigrants who
were placed in a critical situation.

Keywords:
Quest for identity, Alienation, Problems of assimilation, Self revelation,
Suppression of Women and Magical realism.

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            Magical
Realism is a genre of narrative fiction that encompasses a different concept
and expresses a primarily realistic view of the real world while also adding or
revealing magical elements. It also refers to fiction and literature in
particular, with magic or the supernatural presented in an otherwise real world
or mundane setting. This concept relies upon the presentation of real, imagined
or magical elements as if they were real. Magical realism relies upon realism
which can only stretch what is acceptable as real to its limits. Postmodernism
and magical realism share the common themes of Post colonial discourse, in
which jumps in time and focus cannot really be explained with scientific but
rather with magical reasoning; textualization (of the reader); and metafiction.
There are few difference of opinions based on these two concepts. Magical
realist works do not seek to primarily satisfy a popular audience, but instead,
a sophisticated audience that must be attuned to noticing textual “subtleties”.
While the postmodern writer condemns escapist literature (like fantasy, crime,
ghost fiction), he/she inextricably related to it concerning readership.

            As magic and myth have been
perpetual source of themes for literary writers all over the world since times
immemorial. Therefore, magic realism is an artistic genre or style of fiction
in which magic essentials combines with the real world. In this technique the
story explains these magical elements as real episodes presented in a direct
way places fantastic and the real in the similar stream of thought, it is originated
in the German art criticism of painting of Weimer republic and invented by
Franz Roh. Hypothetically, the term was born in the twentieth century linking
it to post modernism and for this reason it is used in modern fiction to blend
fantastic and fabulous events in a narrative to uphold reliable tone of
objective genuine report. It ascribes a novel the characteristics like fable,
folktale, legend, myth, fantasy, romance, dream, metanarration, mysticism,
especially related to the culture.

            In
any appraisal of the Indian English Literature, an appreciation of the writing
of its women is essential. The women fiction writers got the desired
recognition and status with the arrival of writers like R.P.Jhabvala, Kamala
Markandaya, Nayantara Sahyal, Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Shashi Deshpande,
Meena Alexander, Manju Kapur and Jhumpa Lahiri. These writers are working on
the cultural set-backs that determine the women’s life. Dispersion, going away from the
native location and departure of cultural context are the main thematic
concerns of these writers. Their concerns are global concerns as today’s world
is afflicted with the problems of immigrants, refugees and all other exiles.
Their works are replete with the diasporic consciousness, which strongly witness
social realities, longings and feelings in addition to the creativity of the
writers. They experience diasporic problems which portray different aspects and
concerns, although these vary as per their generations, perceptions, attitudes
and specific identities. Many writers write in their mother tongue, producing
literature primarily for the reading public in Middle East or diaspora
community while others switch over themselves to write in the language of host
country. In both the cases, the distance from the homeland often encourages
these writers to tread new grounds, experimenting and exploring with new themes
and forms, breaking taboos prevailing in their countries and developing new
ideas.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an
Indian American writer who emerged as the outstanding novelist in the genre of
South Asian Diasporic literature. She has written poetry, short stories and
novels. Her works have been
translated into eighteen languages and two of her novels have been made into
films. Her writings have appeared in various publications including The Atlantic Monthly and The Newyorker.
She has co-founded MAITRI an organization that works with South Asian Women
dealing with situation of domestic violence. She explores various themes like
Women’s issues, immigration, history, myth and the joys and challenges of
living in a multicultural world. She has struggled with contemporary subjects
and a range of themes- marginalization, marriage, motherhood, conflicts, women
as mother, wife, sister and lastly yet considerable woman as a human being not
just as a second sex or sex object. She seeks cynical about customs and
tradition, yet she finds out in their heritage the keys for the longings and
needs of women in current time.

Divakaruni’s originality and talent
lie in her technique of narration. She has used various techniques in writing
such as alternative narrative, first and third person narrative, stream of
consciousness, letter and diary writing, myth and magic particularly to express
disordered and tragic condition of Indian immigrants while establishing
themselves to the new civilization. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, with the
strength of her creative imagination in her stories, captures the intense and
crucial moments of the life of immigrants who seem to be caught between past
and present, allurement of the west and the longing for the spiritualism of the
east. The traumatic effect of the contradiction of tradition and modernity
constitutes the essence of immigrants’ psyche in her novels.

Divakaruni’s magical realism is to
bridge the gap between present and past state of affairs and its prolific
entreaty for Indian immigrants who suffers from miscellaneous kinds of tensions
is actually a phenomenon. She successfully used magic realism in her first
novel, The Mistress of Spices. She reveals characteristics like self-
presentation, visions, eclecticism, mythology, folktales, discontinuity,
multiplicity, fables, Bengali culture and tradition to assert appropriating her
identity all over the world.

            Divakaruni’s
first novel, The Mistress of Spices, is an experiment in magical realism and
combines Hindu myths, fables, and superstitions with contemporary American
social problems including interracial tension, ethnic identity, immigrant
assimilation, spiritual emptiness in the lives of “rich Indians”, teenage
rebellion and angst, forbidden interracial romances, and abusive and broken
marriages. The allegorical novel tries to dissolve the boundaries of prose and
poetry. It is a fable that deals with magical powers of an ageless mystical
Indian woman- Tilotamma, known as Tilo- who originates from a spice island in
the Indian Ocean, and runs a store in Oakland, California, selling Indian
spice. She is a healer and spice seller, and through her telepathic powers, she
diagnoses her multiethnic and multigenerational customers’ physical and psychic
illnesses, which she attempts to cure with her secret spices (usually without
their knowledge). In the course of novel, Tilo administers herbs and Spices to
the customers who visit her shop- the troubled teenage boy fetching spices for
his mother, the young woman whose father forbids her to marry outside her race.
When Tilo thinks about Turmeric, Ahuja’s wife comes into her store. Her name is
Lalita but when Tilo wants to call her by her name, Lalita, She prefers to be
called Ahuja’s wife. She is from Kanpur and she is married to an Indian boy
living in America. She loves to do needle works but she is not allowed to do by
her husband. She has child-longing and is suffering from it too. Tilo
administers turmeric to her with the words of healing whispered into it. Later,
when she doesn’t want to lie with her husband, Tilo asks her to take the spice
fennel to get mental strength. Tilo uses Spices to help others in difficulties,
however when Tilo begins bending the spices to her own will, ignoring what they
say she should prescribe, she discovers how quickly the spices can turn their
magic against her. As she ministers and treats people’s problems, she falls in
love with a handsome young male customer, Raven, whom she privately calls “My
American,” and who is eventually revealed to be half Native American- and
hence, a different kind of “Indian”- struggling to define his own racial and
bicultural identity. As she plans to return to Shampati’s fire to renounce her
earthly desires, and to be purified, she describes her powers:

Spices what does this mean.

“But I have no leisure to ponder it
now… I bring all that is left in the store- spices, dals, sacks of atta and
rice and bajra- and make a pyre in
the centre of the room. Over it all I springle my name- spice, sesame, grainy til to coat and protect me from my long
journey. I let fall the white dress, shivering a little. I must take nothing
from this life go from America naked as I came into it… I draw my mind back
from all that I have loved, and as it empties I feel a surprising peace.” (316)

            At
the end of the novel, in this ethnic rewriting of a fairy tale romance, Tilo,
who is renamed Maya, torn between the mortal love’ of one man- who wants her to
run away with him to an “earthly paradise”- and eternal life and knowledge by
returning to her role as a community helper.

            Spices
play a very important role in this novel. India is the land of various spices
such as chilly, Sesame, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Asafetida, Tulsi, Fenugreek, etc.,
for Tilo, these are nothing but characters similar to human beings who speak to
her. The first and last chapters, however, are named after the “Mistress”-
identified as the Indian “Tilo” in the opening, and reincarnated as the Indian
American “Maya” at the end. The novel’s weakness lies in its unrealistic plot
and overly stylized and sexy, spicy appeal in which the alien “Mistress” and
her immigrant culture seem exoticized for mainstream consumption. Thus, here
the use of legendry stories juxtaposing with spices relates to different
cultural stories. The author strikes a balance between fantasy and realism in
her first novel.

Divakaruni’s fictional world is made
out of the fine fusion of fantasy and harsh reality of life. The novel,
designed on the lines of magic realism, is the imaginative account of the
experiences of a woman who being well equipped in the secret properties of
spices is universally known as mistress of spices. Through her customers, the
mistress of spices tries to discover the pain and anguish of immigrants. In the
background of myth and romance, Divakaruni presents a wide spectrum of human
experiences with the special focus on the plight of existence of the life of
immigrants. However, Divakaruni’s The Mistress of spices gives plenty of
sources on diasporic grounds. It enhances the Indian glory, into the past and
present world. The intermingling of both cultures reflects more on immigrants,
who are curious of Indian land. The magical realism of the east, the exotic
land viewed by western eyes, glance the Indian beauty of spices and their
magic.

References:

1.
Divakaruni,
Chitra Banerjee. The Mistress
of Spices. Great Britain: Black Swan, 1997.

2. Agarwal, Beena. Women writers and
Indian Diaspora. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2011.

3. Merlin, Lara. Review of The Mistress
of Spices.World Literature Today 72.1(1998):207.

4. Agarwal, Beena. Chitra Banerjee
Divakaruni: A New voice in Indian English Fiction. New Delhi: Authors Press,
2016.

 

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