Sister of My Heart is a historical fiction by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It tells a multigenerational story set in Calcutta, San Francisco, and elsewhere in India.
Cousins Anju and Sudha were born within hours of each other. Sudha was born first and was placed on the stomach of Gouri, who had been in labor for hours. The family believed that this sped up the labor and called Anju into the world. The cousins had very different personalities, but were inseparable from birth until life took them on very different paths.
The novel spans several decades and explores themes of friendship, family, love, and gender roles. By incorporating magical realism, Divakaruni delivers a captivating story that blends the historical and the fantastical.
The two girls were raised by 3 mothers, Nalini, Pishi and Gouri. They grow up thinking of themselves as being cousins by blood, but sisters of the heart.
The two girls were inseparable from birth. The school attempted to separate them but give up on that when they failed to thrive in separate classes. Although they had their own room at home, they often slept in the same bed. This continued until Sudha found out about her father’s lies.
Joining the Chatterjee Family
When Sudha was 13 she insisted on learning more about her father and convinced Pishi to reveal the family secret. Pishi told Sudha’s that her parents joined the Chatterjee household under false pretenses. Her father and mother showed up one day before she was born, pretending to be a cousin of her father from an estranged side of the family who had fallen on misfortunes.
Anju’s father, Bijoy, welcomed Sudha’s parents, Gopal and Nalini, into the family. The two men grew close. Bijoy was well off, but Gopal never had success in business despite his many ideas and schemes.
Nalini had sneaked away her family with Gopal thinking that he would offer her a better life. She had thought that he was rich, and she resented living off Bijoy’s charity. She continually pressured Gopal to make money. When she became pregnant, she ramped up her pressure, and he came up with one final scheme to do so.
Gopal had met a man who had a ruby and needed funding for an excursion to go back to the cave to get another ruby. He had one ruby from his great-grandfather, and the family was desperate for financial help. He would give the ruby to the investor as collateral, and each member of the party could get one ruby to not anger the demons (mystical) guardians of the cave.
The Family Secret
Before the trip, Bijoy discovered that Gopal had lied. He found this out when he tried to purchase a surprise gift for Gopal in the form of the property that his family had supposedly lost. Even knowing about the lie, Bijoy decided to proceed with the excursion. He also insisted on going.
Nalini and Gouri were both pregnant, but that did not deter the men from going off. The police brought news of their death. They were identified by the police using the identification papers found with the bodies in the river.
Although Sudha had insisted on being told the story, it changed something in her. She pulled away from Anju while she faced this news, never revealing the reason for her distance. Although that information added the first crack to their relationship, they still loved and took care of each other.
A Trip to The Cinema
The girls left school early one day for a trip to the cinema. They wore clothing and lipstick that their mothers did not approve of. After the film, their mothers’ friend, one of the aunties who regularly visited the mothers for tea, caught them in the bathroom and drove them home.
Anju and Sudha planned to attend university, even though some people thought that would be a waste of money. However, the girls’ truancy convinced Nalini to adjust the plan and get Sudha married once she finished high school.
Sudha didn’t mind getting married. She’d met Ashok at the movies and fell in love with him at first sight. She hoped that her mother would accept a wedding proposal from him.
When Gouri falls sick, she decides to arrange Anju’s marriage as well. If they are to attend university, it will have to be their husbands’ decision, not their mothers’. In order to finance the dowries for the two weddings, Gouri decided to sell the bookstore.
Ashok sends in a proposal to marry Sudha, but it is not accepted. Instead, Nalini matches her to Ramesh. She decides to elope with Ashok, but then chooses Anju’a happiness over her own. She was worried that Anju’s future father-in-law, whose son Anju had fallen in love with, would break off the engagement due to the scandal if she eloped.
Wish on a Star
Anju stayed up til midnight one night, looking for 2 falling stars. She wanted to make 2 wishes for love marriages for both her and Anju. However, when there was only one shooting star at the auspicious time around midnight, she made the wish for Anju. Then at the last minute, without a conscious decision to do so, she wished that she and Anju could marry the same man.
Anju’s Arranged Marriage
Anju’s match, Sunil, came from America. He went to the bookstore, where he knew she would be able to observe her before the official meeting. He pretended that he loved Virginia Woolf and wanted to buy a book by her, knowing that she was Anju’s favorite author. Anju fell in love under false pretenses, thinking Sunil loved Virginia Woolf as much as she did.
When Sunil comes to visit the Chatterjee family with his parents, it’s a formality. While he, Sudha, and Anju are walking in the garden, Anju goes inside the house to get something. While Sudha and Sunil are alone, Sunil is overcome by Sudha’s beauty and processes his love for her. (The wish at work?) He apologizes for his behavior before Anju returns and Sudha excuses herself from their company.
Sudha never reveals to Anju why she didn’t elope with Ashok and instead accepted her mother’s choice. She also doesn’t tell her of Suhils declaration.
Two days before the wedding, the mothers show Sudha and Anju the ruby to decide what to do with it. Each girl thinks that the other should have it and no decision is made. They return the ruby to the safe.
On the day of her wedding, Sudha receives a brown envelope. In the envelope is a letter from her father with a pile of money. Worried that it is blood money, she gave the money to the driver, Singhji for him to distribute it to those in need.
Anju and Sudha have their weddings on the same day, one excited and one heartbroken. They couldn’t see much of each other’s ceremony. As they are both moving from one part of the tent to another, Sunil commented on Sudha’s beauty and Anju catches the loving look in his eyes. Later, when Sudha dropped her handkerchief, he picked it up and put it in his pocket. She confronted Sudha while they were getting ready for the reception, asking how it felt to have Sunil be in love with her. She read the guilt on Sudha’s face. This is the second crack in their relationship.
Both Sudha and Anju went to live with their in-laws after the wedding. In Anju’a case, the situation was temporary while she waited for her paperwork to come through to move to the US to live with Sunil.
Before Sunil returned to the US, Anju went back home to live with the mothers. Sunil’s father had become violent at dinner one night, throwing something at his wife and shouting at Anju when she tried to go to help her. Sunil stood up to him and decided his wife would be safer at her old home.
Sudha felt trusted in her new home. Her mother-in-law was a single parent and seemed to accept her as a daughter. She took on a lot of the chores, as well as taking care of Sunil’s younger siblings.
Anju and Sudha met once before Anju moved to the US. From then, their communication was mostly by letter, with occasional phone calls for important situations.
When years went by without Sudha becoming pregnant, her mother-in-law dragged her to two doctors and then to a fertility shrine. At the fertility shrine, she gave some of her bracelets to a distraught woman.
Building a Family
Letting his mother believe otherwise, Ramesh secretly went to a fertility doctor and got some help.
Anju enjoyed studying, and she and Sunil were not planning to have children yet. However, they were excited when she became pregnant. When Anju called Sudha to tell her the news, Sudha shared that she was also pregnant.
When the family found out Sudha would have a girl, the mother-in-law decided she would have an abortion so that the first grandchild could be a boy. Heavy-hearted, Sudha finally revealed this to Anju, explaining that Ramesh would not stand up to his mother.
Anju told Sudha to come to America, and she would help her there. She secretly took a job to pay for Sudha’s ticket. Sudha wasn’t sure what she wanted to do next, but she knew she did not want to have an abortion.
Even though her mother told her to obey her husband, Sudha followed Anju’s advice instead and went back home to her mother’s.
Ramesh divorces Sudha once she returns home. One day, Ashok shows up. He’s kept up with news about her from Singhji. He never married and offers to marry her. Furthermore, he says he will accept her daughter, and so she agrees.
Sudha is excited about the life she will build with Ashok, until he confesses that he wants her daughter to live with the mothers. He will care for her materially but wants to build a new family with Sudha. For Sudha, the choice is clear. Although her mothers would be happy to parent her daughter, she wants to be the one to do so. Again, she rejects Ashok.
A Baby Blue Like Krishna
Sunil found out about her part-time job, and they had a fight about it. She’d had some issues during the pregnancy and the doctor had told her to take it easy. Sunil thought that she should not have been working.
On the day of their fight, Anju had not been feeling well that day, but she didn’t connect it to a problem with her pregnancy. She started spotting during the fight, and they called 911 to rush to the hospital. Anju never met her baby. Sunil had gotten to hold him while she slept, and he told her that the baby was stillborn and blue. Sudha had dreamt of a blue baby (and told no one) about it.
Anju suffered a deep depression and would not get out of bed. She wouldn’t eat or do anything, and Sunil didn’t know what to do. The mothers tried to hide what had happened from Sudha until she gave birth, but she ignored their excuses and feigned tiredness to have some time alone to call Anju.
It was late at night by the time Sudha called and awoke Sunil. She tricked him into telling her what was going on. Sudha had Sunil hold the phone to Anju’s ear and told her a story. Sudha loved the Hindu stories, and Anju loved listening to Sudha’s retellings. In this case, however, Sudha created a new story.
For the first time in weeks, Anju responded, adding to the story. Sudha agreed to come to the US to help Anju recover.
Ashok Returns A Third Time
After Dayita is born, Ashok comes to visit. He falls in love with her daughter and proposed again. Sudha chooses to keep her plan of going to the US. Ashok tells her he will wait for her,
Anju could not think of any baby without grieving. She couldn’t even stand to see the crib they’d set up in the spare room, the one that was meant for her son. In setting up the room, Anju looks through some storage boxes. In one of them, she finds Sudha’s wedding handkerchief in a special keepsake box.
How Sister of My Heart Ends
When Sudha and Anju were 5 years old, the family hired a driver, Singhji. He’d always been kind to her and even helped her communicate with Ashok when they were planning to elope. She trusted his advice.
On the flight to San Francisco, Sudha found two mysterious packages. One contains the ruby on a necklace, which she put around Dayita’s neck.
The second contains a letter from her father. In the letter, Singhji reveals that he is her father. He explains how the man they trusted on the expedition, Haldar, drugged him and her father and tried to kill them. Gopal/Singhji managed to save himself, and he killed Haldar in the process. Unfortunately, he could not save his brother. In the process, he was severely burned. Given that he had killed someone, he disappeared himself rather than going to the police. He let everyone think he was dead.
Sudha’s flight is slow in exiting customs. Anju goes to the washroom and returns in time to hear a stranger compliment Sunil on his beautiful wife, Sudha. Sunil does not correct the man.
Sudha and Anju clasp each other, Dayita In the middle. Contrary to what she expected, Anju’s heart opens, and she can’t resist Sudha’s daughter.
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