Vine of Desire by Chitra Divakaruni

I have just finished reading ‘Vine of Desire’ by Chitralekha Banerjee Divakaruni and after one and a half days of emotional roller coaster ride, I just could not stop myself from writing a review.

The story of ‘Vine of Desire’ is centered around the two famous characters – Anju and Sudha of Divakaruni’s previous novel ‘Sister of My heart’. The novel begins with a heartrending description of the unfortunate death of Anju’s unborn son Prem, and the tragic aftermath of depression and loneliness faced by Anju and her husband Sunil.

the-vine-of-desireAnju decides to call her cousin Sudha to California for moral and emotional support. Sudha, who is herself in emotional turmoil after divorce and is bundled with the uncertain future of her new born child – Dayita accepts her offer hastily, partly out of her affection for Anju and partly because she herself wants to get rid of all the bonds and duties that have had a strangulating effect on her, through her entire childhood and marriage and continue to effect her newly acquired mother hood.

However, as soon as Sudha arrives in California, she realizes the fatal folly she has committed in accepting Anju’s offer, as Sunil is attracted towards her and though she knew this, even before Anju got married to him, she never gave it any serious thought. But, now she realizes that Sunil’s desire has been fueled with years of longing and flame of passion is burning bright and it would soon engulf her as well.

Sudha tries her best to avoid Sunil and she even tries to befriend another man, Lalit to estrange him. However, despite her best efforts, she becomes the bone of contention between her cousin and her husband and their marital bond is irrevocably broken. In a last ditch effort, Sudha runs away from Anju’s home, penniless, with just a promise of work as a maid. And there ends the first part ‘Subterranean Truths’ of this novel with passion running high and the characters entangled in a vine of desire, unable to separate the wishful from the reality.

The second part of the story, aptly titled as ‘Remembrance and Forgetting’ aims at redeeming all that was lost in the first part. Sudha begins her new life as a maid to Mr. Sen, the old man who has just suffered a stroke and is counting his last days, totally disillusioned with world, devoid of any desires.

However, Sudha, with the help of cherubic special effects of Dayita, is able to infuse a new life in the old man, whom she reverently calls Baba, remembering Singhji, her own father and gets ready to start a new life in Jalpaiguri. Anju too comes on terms with her life after going through bouts of depression and suicide, and makes peace with herself and her sister at the end. Sunil transforms after performing the last rites of his father, whom he always hated. The story that started with a mother’s unrelenting love for her unborn son, ends with son’s symbolic last rites, leaving the mother light as a bird.

Vine of Desire has a brilliant storyline, but more than the plot, it is Chitra’s myriad narrative techniques that make the characters come alive. In her previous novel, ‘Sister of My Heart’, Divakaruni told the story alternately from Anju and Sudha’s point of view, a sweet reminder of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Ghare Bahire’ (Home and The World). She has continued to use this technique in Vine of Desire as well.

However, in this novel, she tried various other techniques such as dreams, letters and assignments as well, to give the reader, an insight into the characters’ mind. I especially liked the use of letters to show the transformation in Anju who, is depressed and confused after her miscarriage and lives her life in constant denial, denying her husband’s fondness for Sudha, denying presence of Dayita in her life and even denying the death of her unborn son, Prem. And, this is reflected in her incoherent assignments, her strange letters to her dead father.

But, as the story progresses, a marked change can be seen in Anju’s assignment and letters, wherein she understands the reality and tries to see things in clearer lights. A first step in that direction is her letter to her anxious mother, informing about her imminent divorce. The author very convincingly portrays the changes in thought process of Anju by making her letters bolder and closer to reality, lifting the veil of despondency that shrouded her from facing her real life.

Similarly, Chitra shows the tussles of Lalit’s mind by simply listing ‘what he said’ and ‘what he didn’t say’ to Sudha. Often, we tend to speak what pleases others rather than speaking what we really wanted to say. It becomes all the more difficult when the speaker is a man in love, unsure about her beloved’s intentions. And, Chitra has deftly captured it in Lalit’s humorous yet meaningful interjections.

All in all, Vine of Desire is the best book of Chitra Divakaruni, I have read so far, its characters crept inch by inch on my sub-conscience, tickling me with their tender tendrils and entangled me in their ‘asha lata’ (Vine of Desire), goading me to wish more and more from Chitra.


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