WOMEN TODAY AND EDUCATION
THE BREAKING OF GOLDEN DAWN WITH EMPOWERMENT OF EDUCATION:
A RECURRING MOTIF IN DIVAKARUNI’S “BEFORE WE VISIT THE GODDESS”
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
GITAM INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
E-Mail ID: [email protected]
CELL NO: 09502605428
Gone are the days when women were merely confined to the four walls of their house. In the present scenario, in each and every field, whether it is politics, space, science, entertainment or edutainment, women have carved a niche for themselves. This centripetal space, however, is not gained by them by crossing the periphery of societal norms. They have proved their skills not by labeling them as outsider but very much as insider. To be precise, to live their dreams, they never discard their culture and tradition and mostly their home. Proving the fact that home is a place where one gathers grace, women have finally come to the limelight of global world by carrying the spirit of unbounded love and trust entrusted to them by their dear ones back at home. A writer for South Asian women, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, is one such writer who has crossed a milestone to advocate for the cause of women empowerment through education. The present paper entitled “The Breaking of Golden Dawn with Empowerment of Education: A Recurring Motif in Divakaruni’s “Before We Visit the Goddess”, is a conscious attempt to break the stereotypical images of a woman and portray her as a pillar not only for her family but for her own enduring and innermost self.
Key Words: Self-exploration of woman, Stereotypical images, Humanistic Values, Centripetal Space
The Breaking of Golden Dawn with Empowerment of Education:
A Recurring Motif in Divakaruni’s “Before We Visit the Goddess”
Spanning three generations of grandmother, daughter and granddaughter, Divakaruni seems to lay the foundation for her latest novel Before We Visit the Goddess (2016) on the UNESCO’s four pillars of education- Learning to know, Learning to do, Learning to live together and learning to be. Complying with Dr. J. E. Kwegyir Aggrey’s ideology of “…If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family”, Divakaruni through this illuminating novel introduces education as a weapon for her vibrant and dynamic women protagonists to fight the age old dogma of treating women as lesser beings. The surge of knowledge she believes will endow her women protagonists with an ability to prove themselves by achieving a unique status on their own terms without depending on others. Although, she stresses on the value of education, she makes it clear that it need not be the only means to achieve desired results. Her point of focus is that as a woman one has to explore a unique trait in one’s self which will empower one with either self-employed skills or the other valuable resources for the economic development of one’s family.Through her fictional work, she makes an attempt to induce in her Protagonists Sabitri, Bela and Tara the powerful currents of being self-governing which will help them traverse the obstacles of life.
Wrought with the fragrance of Indian ancestry, twenty first century ideologies, transnational as well as transgender complexities, the novel beautifully blends the value of education with the powerful spirit of the divine to incarnate the second selves of her protagonists. Filled with a vibrant drive to succeed but an easy going attitude and irrational thinking, the distinct protagonists of Divakaruni get caught between the longingness and loneliness of exile. The only possible way out now from this distressed life is to refine theirinner sanctum by taking refuge in the realm of spiritual pleasures and philosophy of education which once again seem to fall in the pathway of David R. Vago and David A. Silbersweig’s framework of S-ART.
Employing UNESCO’s four pillars of education under the scaffold of Vago and Silbersweig’s’s self-awareness, self-regulation and self-transcendence, Divakaruni makes a successful attempt to reshape the lives of her characters. The first pillar being ‘learning to know’ falls under the first aspect of discovering one’s self, that is, self-awareness. Establishing itself as the soul of self-awareness, the prime focus of first pillar of education is to concentrate on personal as well as community development. Regarded as both a means and an end of human existence, ‘Learning to know’ focuses on how to learn by developing three skills, concentration, memory and the ability to think. Through these skills, it widens the scope of exploring an innate talent which is hidden somewhere beneath the ocean of life storms. Assessing Divakaruni’s women protagonists on the similar hypothesis of ‘Learning to know’, it has been observed that her fictional characters Sabitri, Bela and Tara from her latest novel also swing to rhythm of its preferences. To interpret Sabitri on similar grounds, alike her mother Durga who is famous throughout the village for her sweet delights, even she desires to achieve that acclaim for her. However, unlike her mother, she yearns to welcome that praise for her by means of education. She aspires to be a teacher to gain dignity and honor in the society. Being very particular about how people look at a woman without education, she always choses to be independent. However, owing to her own follies, it takes a life time for her to achieve that independence but not as a teacher but as a successful owner of Kolkatta’s famous sweet shop Durga Sweets named after her mother Durga. The inherent skill of preparing dessert seems to have passed on to her from her mother. Although, she never gives a second thought to this art of sweet making, she takes a special pleasure in preparing them. To be exact, she might have never given much importance to this art of preparing sweets but seem to have unconsciously registered the exact proportion and the flavour with which they are prepared. It is this aura of confectionaries through which she provides a significant meaning to her life.
However, to reach this stage, she goes through innumerable vicissitudes of life. In early years, to fulfil her yearning for education, she is invited by Mittir’s wife Leelamoyi, the wealthiest family in a village, to town but her one misstep of falling in love with Mittir’s son Rajiv ruins all her desires of getting educated. On account of her broken love and forced by her deceptive thoughts, she ends up meeting her teacher, Professor Bijan and instead of revealing the truth to him entraps the professor in her love with her scheming nature. Soon they get married and Sabitri gives birth to her daughter, Bela. If Sabitri had forgotten her insult at Mittir’s house, her life would have taken altogether a different turn but her obstinacy to prove herself and her stature, causes a drift between her and her husband. Owing to her obsession to avenge Mittirs, things start falling apart with her husband discovering her hidden past and the real reason of their marriage. Slowly the gap between the husband and the wife widens and their daughter Bela becomes the victim. Before Sabitri could sort out things, her husband dies in a fire accident of National Oil Company where he was appointed as manager.
With the death of her husband everything comes to a standstill bringing Sabitri once again to the cross roads of life. This, however, could not hamper her spirits and soon she is all over the news with compliments for suing the company demanding compensation for her husband’s death. As if she has begun the second innings of her life, soon she ventures into opening a sweet shop with her mother’s name entitled ‘Durga Sweets’. The shop reflecting her will-power and commitment despite the hardships she is made to face explores the first aspect of first pillar of Education ‘Learning to Know’. The opening of the shop leads her to discover a hidden skill in her which she has imbibed from her mother. Slowly, at snail’s pace the business starts picking up with the assistance of Bipin Bihari, the manager of Durga Sweets. The shop, thereby, becomes a sole means for Sabitri and her daughter Bela, through which they weave the quilt of comfort for their fragmented lives. Once her reputation in society is established, Sabitri once again falls into the rhythm of life but this time with utter care and responsibility by enabling her daughter, Bela to finish her education.
However, as the saying goes, one is responsible for one’s own fate, Bela tangled in her own world of foolishness leaves her education in between and flies to the US to unite with her love Sanjay. There she gives birth to her daughter Tara. However, alike her mother even she becomes the reason for causing a drift between her and her husband Sanjay disrupting her peaceful life. Consequently, Sanjay applies for divorce and leaves her. The divorce creates an irreparable rift between mother, daughter and father making each of them struggle with their lives of despondency.
In case of Bela, unlike her mother who discovers her hidden skills quite early in life, she takes a life time to unearth the hidden talent in her. She might be between her forties and fifties when she learns that even she inherited the spirit of her ancestral legacy of culinary art and thus starts embellishing her culinary delights under the guidance of her close associate, Kenneth- a gay. After the initial hiccups, she, starts giving demonstrations of her culinary art to the people around and soon her cookery lessons become a hit. The culinary art which she takes over from her mother, thus, becomes a weapon for her to free herself from the shackles of old memories and their blemishes.
Fallen apart due to the stark choices made by her parents, Tara, Bela’s daughter finds it difficult to continue with her studies and drops out of University. A Prototype of second generation immigrant, much like Rakhi from Queen of Dreams, even she hankers for her ancestral past. However, the divorce of her parents snatches all her dreams from her, throwing her into a dark pit of bad company as well as the habit of drinking and drugs. She further develops a tendency of stealing due to which she continues to switching jobs one after another out of fear for being caught and sometimes due to suspicious glances in other faces. Akin to her grandmother and mother, she also continues vacillating in the valley of sorrow and despair for quite a long time. In the later years of reconcilement between mother and daughter, when Tara is asked by her mother why she steals? She responds by saying,
Do you want to know why I steal? I take things that I should have had but didn’t get. Things that mean happy memories. Things that stand for love and commitment. But sometimes I steal things that mean nothing. I steal them because there’s a big hole in the middle of my chest and stealing fills it up for a moment. (205)
Although it is difficult for Tara to get away from her old habit of stealing, a chance meeting with Dr.Venkatachalapathi, an economist from India and a visit to Meenakshi Temple in Pearland followed by a car accident bring a drastic change in her life. She could not remember the exact details of that hot afternoon but soon after that incident she gradually starts fixing things in her life. The incident empowers her to finish her studies by restoring her with progressive ideologies which her grandmother as well as mother has always yearned for.
As discussed earlier, all the three protagonists of Divakaruni seem to traverse the contours of the said pillars of education though not in a denotative but in connotative terms. Although in the path of receiving their education, they come across many ups and downs, they finally succeed in acquiring their degree and mostly attained its purpose by going through all the hardships of life. By exploring the essence of education in their lives, they gradually delve into the inherent traits of culinary art in them and excel in exhibiting their talents before the world with fruitful results. By reincarnating their second selves, the three women, thereby, succeed in discovering the first pillar of education ‘learning to know’. The inherent skills, thereby, introducing the protagonists with their inner selves explore the first attribute of S-ART, that is, self-awareness. Once acquainted with their innate capability, the protagonists move further to transform their certified skills as claimed by Jaques Delors into personal competencies. It is a competence which according to Delors “…is assessed by looking at a mix of skills and talents, social behaviour, personal initiative and a willingness to work. These are often referred to as interpersonal skills or peoples’ skills…” and achieve perfection in their art of culinary delights exploring the second pillar of education ‘learning to do’. To begin with Sabitri, she attains perfection in the form of a conch shaped dessert named after her departed mother, titled as ‘Durga Mohan’. It is a unique dessert which she has perfected after spending days of great effort and dedication and that too without relying on anyone. Now after years of spending her life in a solitary world, she expects the same kind of independence and self-regulatory ideologies in her daughter Bela as well as granddaughter, Tara.
Coming to Bela, she acquires that independence in the form of her culinary blog Bela’s Kitchen. After witnessing the hidden talent in her, she kick starts her career by posting the flavours of Bengali cuisine on her blog. The blogs seem to be her only souvenir through which she redeems herself from the clutches of negativity and gloom. As a result of this self-sufficient wealth which she has acquired on her own potentiality, she gains an immense pleasure which finally lets her drop her habit of drinking. Most importantly, to gain her lost self and to fit in her old dance costume, she loses her weight by changing her diet and acquires altogether a different stature to suit her present life.
To Bela’s daughter, Tara, perfection is acquired not through the culinary delights of her ancestral world but with the pleasure of gaining education. The second pillar of education ‘learning to do’, there by, focusing on the essence of perfection in the individual task held by the Divakaruni’s three women, traverses the second parameter of S-ART, that is, self-regulation.
The foundation of education, however, cannot be built by merely two pillars of education, viz. ‘learning to know and ‘learning to do’. To build a strong world of education, one need to rely on the other two pillars of education, namely, ‘learning to live together’ and ‘learning to be’. As a matter of fact, the means of survival acquired by Divakaruni’s protagonists could not be possible without the humble acquaintance of other fellow beings who play a significant role in their lives. Assenting with UNESCO’s proposal of ‘learning to live together’ by inculcating a spirit of non-violence, cooperation, self-less attitude, developing ethical values, Divakaruni seems to infuse a positive outlook in her protagonists towards their companions in particular and world in general. Through them she makes an attempt to discover a pathway for the endurance of humankind by shedding all the differences and prejudices in the name of caste, creed, culture and gender. To be apt, she endeavours to dissolve the pessimistic ideologies in the ocean of love and empathy to finally bind an individual with the universal whole. Wrapped in the warmth and comfort of genuine otherness of their companions and sometimes their acquaintance, the author finally makes her protagonists to come to terms with their dishevelled selves leading them to transcend beyond their own selfish motives. To be exact, in their journey of attaining full-fledged accomplishment, they are accompanied by few acquaintances who help them in invigorating their distraught spirits. They not only escort them in their troubles but also help them in reframing their inconsiderate and insensitive ideologies.
To begin with Sabitri, in her journey of navigating the labyrinth of life, is assisted by Bipin Bihari, the sales manager of Durga Sweets to establish a stature for her amidst the society. Under his comfort, she attains the perfection in the form of a conch shaped dessert Durga Mohan which speaks about her independence and self-determination. The similar legacy of her ancestral spirit, she longs to pass on to her daughter, Bela as well as granddaughter, Tara. But when she comes to know that her daughter got divorced and her granddaughter has dropped out of school, she writes a letter addressing both of them in which she discloses her flaws, weaknesses and strengths and breathes her last. With this letter her only hope is to make them understand the importance of education in a women’s life, so that they become self-governing and self-regulatory. The guiding and leading sentences penned down by her in her last letter are worth mentioning in this context.
One day in the kitchen at the back of the store, I held in my hand a new recipe. I took a bite of the conch-shaped dessert, the palest, most elegant mango color. The smooth, creamy flavour of fruit and milk, sugar and saffron mingled and melted on my tongue. Satisfaction overwhelmed me. This was something I had achieved by myself, without having to depend on anyone. No one could take it away. That’s what Iwant for you, my Tara, my Bela. That’s what it really means to be a fortunate lamp.Pg 20
However, if it is not for the genuine heart of Bipin Bihari, the letter would have never reached Bela and Tara. Although the letter takes almost a decade to be discovered by them, Bipin makes every possible attempt to see to it that the letter reaches its destination. Her generosity with which he tags himself with Sabitri for a life time has no bounds. Though they get acquainted in the middle years of their lives, their amity continues till the last breath of Sabitri and goes beyond the remains of physical world. When all her relations break their individual ties with her, it is Bipin who comes to her aid to lay the foundation for her sweet shop. Despite the fact that Sabitri is a widow and has a daughter by name Bela, he falls instantly in love with her strong and determined self with which she moves ahead in her chaotic life. In true sense Bipin is the most genuine and humble person in the story line who offers his services to Sabitri without expecting anything in return. The seamless patience with which he carries out his duties as well as responsibilities makes him the epitome of humankind. In him one can observe the greatest achievement of generosity. When Sabitri breathes her last and her daughter Bela is not around to carry out the cremation rites, Bipin takes it on him to light the funeral pyre of Sabitri and later scatters her ashes into the river. Furthermore, he also sees to it that the letter written by Sabitri should reach Tara, her granddaughter in every other possible way. He wants her to know that her grandmother spend her last hours thinking of her and her mother Bela. Mostly he does not want the real purpose of Sabitri’s letter through which she urges her granddaughter to finish her studies and carve an independent place for her in the society without counting on anyone go astray. Nevertheless, it is another thing that he never gets to know whether the letter ever reached Tara or not.
The letter, however, never gets discovered by Bela and Tara throughout the duration of the hardships subjected to them due to their own follies, but its vibes make a remarkable change in their distracted lives. Alike Bipin, the vibes of the letter seem to acquaint them with the humble souls in the form of Kenneth, Dr.Venkatachalapati and Mrs. Mehta who share the genuine self in them with Bela and Tara. These humble souls are believed to be the guiding spirits who direct them towards the pathway of self-regulation by enabling them come to terms with their distracted selves. Under their refuge, Bela and Tara discover the very essence of living together. The sanctum of peace, in case of Bela, is attained when she stumbles upon Kenneth, a gay who introduces her to her second self. Through Kenneth whom she assumes to be her son, she rejuvenates her self by discovering a hidden talent of demonstrating her culinary skills in public. He is the one who suggests her to start writing a cookbook by initiating a blog of her own which he would set for her. Soon she acquires a widespread fame for her Bengali cuisines and initiates a blog by name Bela’s Kitchen. As a result of this self-sufficient wealth which she has acquired on her own potentiality, she gains an immense pleasure and acquires altogether a different stature for her present life. She herself expresses her gratitude to Kenneth. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him. I’d probably be dead.” (193). It is he who reunites her with her old self that took pleasure in performing Kathak and Rabindra Nritya. The performance, she believes revives her spirit by making her forget the whole world even if it is for few minutes. But after travelling across the oceans, she never gets the chance to wear that apparel. And now with her growing age and hefty personality she could no more fit into that apparel. However, under Kenneth’s guidance she puts herself on diet, grows innovative with her dinner and then on one fine day performs before Kenneth wearing her dance outfit. In the whole process one good thing happens. Although Bela does not lose much of her weight, she gives away her habit of drinking and comes out of her gloomy moods. She realizes that she cannot afford to waste her life anymore and thus decides to let out the sides of her dance costume which otherwise would never fit her. Kenneth is the first person to whom she opens her life and confesses all her deceptions owing to which she got parted from her husband. The encounter with Kenneth also brings forth Bela’s positive approach and open-mindedness with which she humbly accepts him in her life despite knowing the truth about his identity.
To Bela’s daughter, Tara, the vibes of the letter acquire altogether a different form. Although Sabitri is not there to assist her granddaughter when she needs her the most, it seems as if she sends an aura of hope for Tara first in the form of Mrs. Mehta then in the form of Dr.Venkatachalapathi. Through an old Mrs. Mehta, whom Tara assists as a care taker for a week, she learns the worth of being together as a family. In Mrs Mehta, Tara gets the possibility of discovering her old self who always yearns to spend her time with her family, listening to bedtime stories. Mostly, through Mrs. Mehta she makes an attempt to fill the emptiness in her which always craves to meet her grandmother, Sabitri but denied an access by her mother. The absence of that filial touch from her parents develops restlessness in her which slowly results in getting herself addicted to stealing. It continues and grows into an obsession.
Later, when Tara switches job and starts working part-time in University Transportation, an encounter with Dr Venkatachalapathi, also regulates her thought process. An economist from India and a visiting Professor whom she has to ride to the Meenakshi temple in Pearland and then back to the airport, the Professor seems to have developed a special liking for Tara. He sees the image of his deceased daughter, Meena whom he loses out of his own prejudiced reasons. Knowing the truth about her love, he never gives Meena his consent to get married and when she tries to persuade him, he blocks her number. Next comes the news of her death. The stubborn and inconsiderate approach of Tara reminds him of his daughter and fills him with a sting of uneasiness. He could not take in a fact that Tara has dropped out after her first semester and has no intentions of finishing it. Besides, he could feel a sense of hollowness in her and thus offers a prayer in the temple on her name along with his daughter, wishing luck and blessings for her in this as well as next life. Soon after on their way to the airport their car meets with an accident. Watching death on close quarters, something shifts in their inner realm leading them to share their pain and sorrows with each other which otherwise would have never come out of their frozen heart. Tara blurts out that she had an abortion two years ago and how even now the guilt of killing her baby fills her with heaviness. In response, the professor expresses his grief on how after his daughter’s death, he has been avoiding any topic related to her out of the guilt of causing her untimely death. The angst and sorrow confessed by each other, thus, make them feel light. Their condition does not improve exactly but they start feeling less lonesome. As if the Goddess of the temple has started spreading the aura of her divinity, soon after the car incident things start sorting out in Tara’s life. On the insistence of the Professor or is it because of Temple’s aura, soon Tara finishes her studies, marries Gary, gives birth to their son Neel and secures a decent job for herself. Alike her great grandmother, grandmother and her mother who excelled in the art of confectionaries and Bengali cuisine, now even Tara has her own goals but they are not as huge as theirs. In her own words.
I do have ambitions; they’re just not the same as hers. I want to be able to hold on to my job, bland as it is, in the human resources department of my company. I want to be the kind of mother Neel will call from college. The kind of wife Gary will never want to leave. I have one ambition, in particular, that only Dr. Berger knows about: I want to cure myself of the disease hiding inside me like a canker curled up in the heart of a rose. (186)
The above lines reflecting the loneliness in Tara underscore a point that unlike Sabitri and Bela, Tara too has her individual goals but she does not want to attain them at the risk of losing the love and affection of her family which she has hankered for throughout her growing years. She wants to compensate for all the losses she had earlier in the form of living a happy and contend life with her husband as well as son. Unlike her mother, she does not want to be the cause of creating any rift between her and her husband. Mostly, she does not want in Neel the mirror image of her which has always longed for a safe and united home.
The three noble souls, Bipin Bihari, Kenneth along with Dr.Venkatchalpathi and Mrs. Mehta, thus, prove to be the guiding spirits in the lives of Sabitri, Bela and Tara directing them towards the essence of small pleasures of life which does not lie in individual satisfaction but in the collective happiness of all. Attaining these small pleasures through the well-being of others, Divakaruni’s characters move on to construct the fourth pillar of education ‘learning to be’ exploring the third aspect of S-ART, that is self-transcendence. Through this pillar Delor aspires to attain a “person’s complete development – mind and body, intelligence, sensitivity, aesthetic appreciation and spirituality.” According to him, “All people should receive in their childhood and youth an education that equips them to develop their own independent, critical way of thinking and judgement so that they can make up their own minds on the best courses of action in the different circumstances in their lives.” Keeping in mind Delor’s point of view, it has been analysed that although Divakaruni’s protagonists do not receive their education in an appropriate way, the different occurrences in their lives and the people they encounter during that period introduce them to social, moral, aesthetic, spiritual, reasoning, logic and other values of lives. Once they experience these universal values, the protagonists move to the next level where they find themselves in complete harmony and peace with themselves as well as others in their family. They reach a stage where all the misconception as well as differences between them get dissolved. The nature of self-regulating harmony which Sabitri has always yearned for her daughter as well as granddaughter finally seem to have made its way in their infertile valley of silence and sorrows. After two decades, Bela and Tara at last seem to have reconciled with each other after gaining a self-governing stand for themselves. The time arrives finally for Bela and Tara to discover Sabitri’s letter. However, prior to it there are few more things that need to be sorted out which otherwise would leave unhealed wounds in their lives. Tara is at her mother’s home in Austin packing her mother’s belongings so that she can move her mother to Sunny Hills, a senior facility in Austin. While she is emptying the family room cabinets, she comes across a stack of photo albums making her rewind the life of her old self. At the same time, she also gets the chance, through these albums, to peep into her mother’s invigorated life where she is demonstrating her culinary art at various events. It is at this juncture that she comes across a few photos of her mothers’ where she looks out at camera with such pleased look as if the photograph is someone whom she likes. The thought of that person fills Tara with a pang of sickness. Unknown to the fact that the person on the other side is Kenneth whom her mother cherishes like her own son, throughout these longing years Tara harbours a negative thought in her mind that soon after divorce her mother has moved ahead in her life with another man without giving a second thought about her daughter. This is one of the reasons why Tara aborts her child. Earlier when she was not sure whether by aborting her child she was doing the right thing or not and had called her mother, Kenneth had received the call from the other side making her develop all the wrong perceptions about her mother. Consequently, even she moves on with her life by shutting all the doors leading to her mother.
There is yet another issue which has been eating Tara throughout these years like a worm. She believes that the divorce of her parents happened because of her mother’s betrayal. As communicated to her by her father, she develops this wrong notion that by betrayal of her mother, he means that she has an extra marital affair though the truth is something else. Her mother betrays her father but not in a way Tara assumes her to be. Bela, Tara’s mother becomes the cause of bridging the gap between Sanjay, Tara’s father and Bishu da, her father’s close associate as well as mentor. Since the beginning of their married life she detests the presence of Bishu da in her family. To cut him off from her family, she enacts in such a way that Sanjay comes to the conclusion that both Bela and Bishu da have developed a strong intimacy with each other. As such, he executes a plan of sending Bishu da far away from them. It is only after Bishuda’s death, when in Bishu’s will Sanjay is listed as next of kin and beneficiary on his life insurance, that for the first time Sanjay is filled with shame and remorse. Slowly, he could comprehend the real strategy of Bela behind all this. The truth is she is never attracted to Bishu da but has only pretended to create a rift between them so that out of jealous Sanjay break all his ties with Bishu. Accordingly, to punish Bela for her wrong deeds, he divorces her leaving her all alone with nobody at her side to comfort her. However, the divorce brings with it the storm of grief and hatred on the part of his daughter Tara. The only person she has depended on and has made the centre of her life has now abandoned her throwing her into the solitary world.
Oblivious to these occurrences in her parent’s life, Tara parts herself from them partly out of resentment for denying her rights to her and partly out of her own problems. Now after decades of separation she does not want to raise those issues once again but at the same time she cannot let her sheepish thoughts dissolve into a portal of time and thus asks her mother about the photographer as well as her act of betrayal. In response when she hears her mother’s part of the tale, she finds herself ashamed for ruining the small pleasures of her life due to her own misconceptions. At the same time she is relieved that this meeting with her mother has brought an end to all her delusions. However, all this melo-drama of reconcilement has to wait for some more time because before that world has set few more surprises for her. While packing, Tara stumbles upon her grandmother’s photo- a sepia-toned composition of a Sabitri with her daughter Bela. When Tara enquires about the photograph, Bela informs her that there was a big story about her mother Sabitri in the paper along with this photo. She sued the company her husband worked for demanding the compensation for her deceased husband who died in a fire accident. Although there is nothing else left to hear about, Tara is still bemused regarding that photo of her grandmother. To quote her,
I pick up the picture and peer at it. My grandmother looks out at me, her gaze lovely and cryptic. It bothers me that I know so little about her. I search the photo for clues to her character. Is she pressing down on her lip to keep it from trembling? Or is it a sign of determination? Is she holding on to the little girl for her own comfort, or to give her motherly support, or to make her behave with proper dignity? I want to keep staring until the photo yields its secrets to me. (196)
Since she could not discover those secrets on her own, she wants her mother to reveal them for her. But when she sees that her mother wants to keep that photo with her and is not willing to share anything regarding her mother with her, a familiar tingling begins in her hands and without the knowledge of her mother she steals it from the album. While stealing, she hears a pounding in her head- a voice of her therapist Dr. Berger. The voice tries to stop her from doing that meaningless act by commanding her that. “…You’re stronger than your craving. Walk away from it. Walk away now” (197). At other times the voice would have definitely played its charm on Tara. But today it is an anger that makes her steal. To quote her,
But I can’t. It’s not just the craving. It’s also a sudden anger. I could have known this woman, visited her, loved her and been loved in return. I might have been able to turn to her when everything in my life started to go wrong. Perhaps things would have ended up differently then. My mother kept me from all that. (197)
Since Tara is desperate to know her grandmother and her grandmother herself has desired the most to reach her at least through her letters, the letters finally seem to make their way to meet Tara. Soon after her mother retires to bed, Tara happens to come across a big box in the corner, sealed and with her name on it. She recognises that it is from her dormitory in university carrying her belongings and had been mailed to her parents’ old address. Realizing that she cannot trace her old self in them, she throws the box on the pile. While throwing she comes across a large sealed envelope with many Indian stamps on it as if someone has spent a great effort in sending it. There is a note on the envelope written by Bipin Bihari Ghatak which says that “your grandmother spent the last hours before her heart attack writing this letter to you” (201). Inside the envelope, she discovers a hidden treasure in the form of her grandmother’s story, a story she has been longing to know since she has seen her grandmother’s photo. The discovery of the letter brings a sense of warmth in her, leading her to replace the photo back in her mother’s album, a landmark in her life for which she has been struggling a lot.
While traversing the contours of the letter, she comes to know that how difficult it had been for her grandmother to go through the turbulences of life. Through those secrets of her life which her grandmother has never shared with any one, Tara draws a strange comfort and realizes that in comparison to her grandmother’s life, hers is quite less desperate. However, the story is not done yet. The most important part of the letter is the last few lines which are especially addressed to her as well as her mother urging them to finish their education and become independent. While sharing the letter with her mother, Tara comes to know that although never mentioned, her mother and grandmother used to discuss her. Her leaving education in between has become a matter of concern for Bela, her mother and thus a letter has been written to her grandmother by her mother urging her to write to Tara to change her mind and reconsider the thought of dropping out of college.
Witnessing her grandmother’s tale as well as her mother’s concern for her, Tara for the first time realizes how she is the centre of her mother’s life, how her mother has cherished her memories in the form of albums, how she is desperate to set the things in Tara’s life and has wished her to finish her education.
Alike Tara, in Bela also the letter brings a sort of transformation making her comprehend how difficult it was for her mother to bring her up as a single mother and how wrong was she in blaming her mother for all her sorrows and pains. Finally relieved of their regrets and grief, the daughter and mother realize that by beholding oneself in the labyrinth of one’s own sufferings and sorrows how an individual goes crazy because of pain. To quote Tara, “All we want is to throw the live coal of it as far from us as we can, not thinking what we might set afire” (207). The letter, thereby, enabling them to make over with all their past and present deeds, aids them to come to terms with their lost selves as well as the distracted selves of others.
Interwoven pleasantly through the delicate layers of love and longing, perception and misperception, exile and loneliness, the novel travels through three generations of mother, daughter and granddaughter inviting its readers to acquaint themselves with the values of humanistic approach and tendency of self-governing. Besides, the novel also delineates how the legacy of one’s ancestry succeeds in some form or the other to make its way to the hearts of future generation no matter how far one tries to detach oneself from one’s ancestors and their thought process. By reaching the contours of its descendants, the legacy, thereby attains the stature of divinity whose blessings cannot be received unless an individual purifies one’s mind, body and spirit with the holy water of positive ideologies as well as the emotions of love and gratitude towards others. The title of the novel Before We Visit the Goddess itself reflects the symbolic meaning of that divinity. As expressed in the above lines, the aura of the title could be only felt towards the end through the unification of the three lives that got entangled in the web of their own individual follies. To be exact, the blessings of divinity are received by Bela and Tara in the form of the letter written by Sabitri which enlightens them on the pathway of serene and peaceful life here after. However, as discussed earlier before the divine letter falls into the lap of mother and daughter, it empowers them to purify their souls from the vibes of displaying negative effects not only on the part of each other but also their close associates. And finally the goddess to whom they longed to see throughout their years of longitude presents her in the form of Sabitri, the grandmother.
Chitra Divakaruni: “Before We Visit the Goddess” Talks at Google, 12 May 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aTp3Smiav0. Accessed 2 May 2017.
Delors, Jacques. Learning: The Treasure Within, Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century. UNESCO, 2010, pp. 85-97.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Before We Visit the Goddess, Simon & Schuster, 2016.
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