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Authors: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Queen of Dreams

BOOK: Queen of Dreams
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Table of Contents

 

Acclaim for Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Queen of Dreams

“Fascinating. . . . Vividly potent. . . . A riveting story, eloquently written. Divakaruni’s attention to detail in descriptive passages is beautifully telling.” —
The Boston Globe

“Transcendent. . . . The language of the dream journals soars . . . transporting this book to another realm. The writing in these chapters evokes a life as believable and fantastic as one’s own dreams.” —
The Washington Post Book World

“Powerful . . . complex, poetic. . . . Examines family secrets, the meaning of dreams, the search for identity—an ambitious agenda of themes that reflects Divakaruni’s mature talents.”


Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Her prose is crisp, and the elegant rhythms of Divakaruni’s native Indian tongue give
Queen of Dreams
an exotic—and yes, dreamlike—quality.” —
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“Evocative. . . . Wrenching.” —
The Dallas Morning News

“Lyrical. . . . Authentic and real. . . . The search for a mother and family identity is one that transcends cultures.” —
The Oregonian
“Wholly believable. . . . A smooth and very engaging novel.”


Houston Chronicle

“Divakaruni’s tale succeeds on two levels. She effectively takes the reader into an immigrant culture but she also shows the common ground that lies in a world that some would find foreign. . . . Her readers walk away with the sense that what joins us is stronger than what divides us.” —
The Denver Post

“A delight. . . . A thoroughly lovely and thought-provoking work.” —The Austin Chronicle

“A flowing read . . . thanks to the grace of Divakaruni’s prose, which itself has a dreamlike quality and is spiced with glimpses of the Indian cultural heritage she and her characters share.”


The Houston Press

“Stunning. . . . Beautiful. . . . A gem of a novel [that’s] meant to be savored.” —The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

“Stimulate[s] [the] reader’s palate like a spicy, satisfying literary masala—dashes of Hindu mysticism mixed with gritty realism, served on a bed of psychological illumination. . . . Divakaruni is a gifted writer and storyteller.” —
Tacoma News Tribune

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Queen of Dreams

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of the best-selling novels
The Mistress of Spices
,
Sister of My Heart
, and
The Vine of Desire
; the prize-winning story collections
Arranged Marriage
and
The Unknown Errors of Our
Lives
; and four acclaimed volumes of poetry. Her work has appeared in
The New Yorker
,
The Atlantic Monthly
, Ms., Zoetrope, Good Housekeeping, O: The Oprah Magazine, The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize
Stories
, and
The New York Times
. She teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and divides her time between Houston and the San Francisco area. Her Web site is
www.chitradivakaruni.com
.

ALSO BY CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI

The Unknown Errors of Our Lives
Sister of My Heart
Arranged Marriage
The Mistress of Spices
The Vine of Desire

 

POETRY
Black Candle
Leaving Yuba City

 

FOR YOUNG READERS
The Conch Bearer
Neela: Victory Song

 

for my three men
Murthy
Anand
Abhay
dreamers all

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My deepest thanks to:
My agent, Sandra Dijkstra, for the many ways in which you keep helping;
My editor, Deb Futter, for your wise questions;
Kim Chernin, Deepika Petraglia-Bahri, and Lawrence Hogue, for your comments;
My mother Tatini Banerjee, and my mother-in-law, Sita Divakaruni, for your blessings;
Murthy, Anand, and Abhay, for love and understanding;
Baba Muktananda, Swami Chinmayananda, and Gurumayi, for your presence in my life.

What we know and what we don’t know are like Siamese twins, inseparable. . . .

Confusion, confusion.

Who can really distinguish between the sea and what’s reflected in it? Or tell the difference between the falling rain and loneliness?

Haruki Murakami,
Sputnik Sweetheart

We say
America you are
magnificent
and we mean
we are heartbroken

Reetika Vazirani, “It’s a Young Country”

1

 

FROM THE
DREAM JOURNALS

Last night the snake came to me.

I was surprised, though little surprises me nowadays.

He was more beautiful than I remembered. His plated green skin shone like rainwater on banana plants in the garden plot we used to tend behind the dream caves. But maybe as I grow older I begin to see beauty where I never expected it before.

I said, It’s been a while, friend. But I don’t blame you for that. Not anymore.

To show he bore me no ill will either, he widened his eyes. It was like a flash of sun on a sliver of mirror glass.

The last time he’d appeared was a time of great change in my life, a time first of possibility, then of darkness. He had not returned after that, though I’d cried and called on him until I had no voice left.

Why did he come now, when I was finally at peace with my losses, the bargains I’d made? When I’d opened my fists and let the things I longed for slip from them?

His body glowed with light. A clear, full light tinged with coastal purples, late afternoon in the cypresses along the Pacific. I watched for a while, and knew he had come to foretell another change.

But whose—and what?

Not a birth. Rakhi wouldn’t do that to herself, single mother that she is already. Though all my life that child has done the unexpected.

A union, then? Rakhi returning to Sonny, as I still hoped? Or was a new man about to enter her life?

The snake grew dim until he was the color of weeds in water, a thin echo suspended in greenish silt.

It was a death he was foretelling.

My heart started pounding, slow, arrhythmic. An arthritic beat that echoed in each cavity of my body.

Don’t let it be Rakhi, don’t let it be Sonny or Jonaki. Don’t let it be my husband, whom I’ve failed in so many ways.

The snake was almost invisible as he curled and uncurled. Hieroglyphs, knots, ravelings.

I understood.

Will it hurt? I whispered. Will it hurt a great deal?

He lashed his tail. The air was the color of old telegraph wire.

Will it at least be quick?

His scales winked yes. From somewhere smoke rolled in to cover him. Or was the smoke part of what is to come?

Will it happen soon?

A small irritation in the glint from his eyes. In the world he inhabited,
soon
had little meaning. Once again I’d asked the wrong question.

He began to undulate away. His tongue was a thin pink whip. I had the absurd desire to touch it.

Wait! How can I prepare?

He swiveled the flat oval of his head toward me. I put out my hand. His tongue—why, it wasn’t whiplike at all but soft and sorrowful, as though made from old silk.

I think he said, There is no preparation other than understanding.

What must I understand?

Death ends things, but it can be a beginning, too. A chance to gain back what you’d botched. Can you even remember what that was?

I tried to think backward. It was like peering through a frosted window. The sand-filled caves. The lessons. We novices were learning to read the dreams of beggars and kings and saints. Ravana, Tunga-dhwaja, Narad Muni—. But I’d given it up halfway.

He was fading. A thought flowed over my skin like a breath.

But only if you seize the moment. Only if—

Then he was gone.

2

 

Rakhi

 

My mother always slept alone.

Until I was about eight years old, I didn’t give it much thought. It was merely a part of my nightly routine, where she would tuck me in and sit on the edge of my bed for a while, smoothing my hair with light fingers in the half dark, humming. The next part of our bedtime ritual consisted of storytelling. It was I who made up the stories. They were about Nina-Miki, a girl my age who lived on a planet named Agosolin III and led an amazingly adventurous life. I would have preferred the stories to have come from my mother, and to have been set in India, where she grew up, a land that seemed to me to be shaded with unending mystery. But my mother told me that she didn’t know any good stories, and that India wasn’t all that mysterious. It was just another place, not so different, in its essentials, from California. I wasn’t convinced, but I didn’t fret too much. Nina-Miki’s adventures (if I say so myself ) were quite enthralling. I was proud of being their creator, and of having my mother, who was a careful listener, as my audience.

When the story was done my mother would kiss me, her lips as cool as silver on my forehead. Sleep now, she whispered as she left, shutting the door behind her. But I’d lie awake, listening to the soft cotton swish of her sari as she walked down the corridor. She’d stop at the door to my dad’s bedroom—that was how I thought of the big, dark room in the back of the house with its large, too soft bed and its tie-dyed bedspread—and I’d hear the companionable rumble of their voices as they talked. In a few minutes I’d hear his door closing, her footsteps walking away. She moved quietly and with confidence, the way deer might step deep inside a forest, the rustle of her clothes a leafy breeze. I’d listen until I heard the door to the sewing room open and close, the sigh of the hinges. Then I’d let go and fall into the chocolate-syrup world of my dreams.

I dreamed a great deal during those years, and often my dreams were suffocatingly intense. I’d wake from them with my heart pounding so hard I thought it might burst. When I could move, I’d make my way down the dark corridor by feel. Under my fingers the walls were rough and unfamiliar, corrugated like dinosaur skin, all the way to the sewing room. I didn’t know why she called it that; she never sewed. When I opened the sighing door, I’d see her on the floor, face turned to the wall, covers drawn up over her head, so still that for a moment I’d be afraid that she was dead. But she’d wake immediately, as though she could smell me the way an animal does her young. I’d try to crawl under her blanket, but she always took me—firmly but kindly—back to my own bed. She lay by me and stroked my hair, and sometimes, when the nightmare was particularly troubling, she recited words I didn’t understand until I fell back into sleep. But she never stayed. In the morning when I awoke, she would be in the kitchen, making scrambled eggs. The sewing room would be bare—I never knew where she put her bedding. The carpet wasn’t even flattened to indicate that someone had slept there.

BOOK: Queen of Dreams
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ads

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