Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, On Character and Dialogue in Fiction

00:16 [Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni] This is Gita's grandfather.  This is the character in Mistress of Spices, Gita's grandfather, who has come to America but not very willingly.  He's kept a lot of his old ways and has a

00:30 definite way of speaking.

00:35[Passage reading] Early morning, he steps briskly into the store to do the week's shopping for the family, although his son has said many times, "Baba, why at your age?" Gita's grandfather, still walking like a military major, though it has been twenty years. His shirt ironed stiff with pointy collars, his steel grey pants perfect creased down the front. And his shoes,

01:00 his midnight black bata shoes spit-polished to match the onyx he wears on his left hand for mental peace.  "But mental peace I am not having, not even one iota, since I crossed the kalapani and came to this America," he tells me once again. "That Ramu, he said 'Come, come, Baba, we are all here, what for you want to grow old so far from your own flesh and blood, your granddaughter?' But I tell you,

01:30 better to have no granddaughter than one like this Gita."  "I know what you are meaning," I say to placate him. "But your Gita, such a nice girl she is, so pretty and sweet-speaking too.  Surely you are mistaken. She is coming so many times to my store and each time she is specially buying my hot mango pickles and telling me most polite how tasty they are. And so smart, passed out of college with all A marks,

02:00 is it not?" He dismisses my compliments with a wave of his carved mahogany cane. "Maybe okay for all these firingi women in this country, but you tell me yourself, if a young girl should work late, late in the office with other men and come home only after dark and sometimes in their car too? Chee chee, back in Jamshedpur they would have smeared dung on our faces for that. And who would ever marry her? And when I tell Ramu,

02:30 he says, 'Baba, don't worry they're only friends. My girl knows better than to get involved with some foreigner.'"

02:40 A lot of it for this character is through his dialogue because he speaks in the idiom of his own language and I wanted to preserve that idiom very much.  And because the idiom in so many ways is indicative of our thinking, and so his ideas and what is important to him comes out through

03:00 the language that he uses.  And also his gestures, the way he walks, what he wears.  He's wearing bata shoes, which is something he's brought over from India and refuses to get rid of.  He's ironing his shirts just the way they were ironed in India.  So, details about his physical appearance as well as his dialogue.  Now, as his story progresses, we're going to see that he's going to do certain things

03:30 and, of course, action ultimately will speak more importantly than anything else.  He's going to create a lot of trouble at first between his son, Ramu, and his granddaughter, Gita, by insisting and bringing up the old ways and just arguing a lot.  But then ultimately he will also be the way of bringing them back together.