Respect In Relationships Are The Driving Force For Happiness – In Conversation With Chitra Divakaruni

respect in relationships

Before We Visit The Goddess is a touching story taking us through the lives of three generations of women in a family. From discussing respect in relationships to scrutinizing the complex familial relations of these women, writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni steers us on an exceptional journey. A poet and professor of writing, her book enchanted us completely and we will share with you how.

Why Is Respect Important In A Relationship?

Table of Contents

In conversation with the author, Bonobology was able to unravel the genius behind this book and was also able to break down the core emotions expressed in the same. Understanding why respect in a relationship is important, touching upon various family dynamics and the striking feelings of alienation — this book covers it all. With the protagonists Sabitri, Bela and Tara, let’s look at how these women feel marginalized in their own ways and how they deconstruct values of loyalty and respect in relationships. In a tête-à-tête with the renowned author, let’s dive deep into everything that this book is about.

You talk about ‘biraha’ or loneliness that creeps into the lives of migrants. What are your thoughts on biraha that seeps into marriages and relationships?

Amitav Ghosh mainly came up with this thought after reading the book. That is what touched him about the characters. He certainly picked up on something really important in the book, which is that each of the women characters feels a sense of loss and coping with loneliness at certain points in their lives. And this is intensified after Bela immigrates to the US.

These tales are about love and longing, exile and loneliness. What are the most significant observations that your book takes us through in this context?

I think that in the lives of the three women in this novel, Sabitri, Bela, and Tara, each feels “exiled” from the family, from the ones that they love most. It seemed to me as I wrote the stories that almost all of us will, at some points in our lives, feel the sense of alienation from our loved ones, particularly in our romantic relationships, because often when there is a lot of emotion, it is easy to misunderstand the other person and also get easily upset with them. And then if we act hastily, we could cause irreparable damage to that relationship and perhaps even overlook respect in relationships. This manifests in different ways in the lives of these women.

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Sabitri takes an ‘unforgivable’ misstep. Her daughter Bela makes another bold move but her marriage crumbles. She passes on important lessons to her daughter Tara. Does this generational journey go to show how women have, through the years, striven to find happiness and freedom and yet ended in shackles and disappointment? Do these women have a hard time gaining respect and trust?

Not at all. Although these three women will make mistakes in their lives, I do not look at their lives or relationships in a negative way. They learn valuable lessons from their disappointments and even from their misfortunes. That is a very important part of our lives as human beings on this earth.

Almost none of us will go through life without feeling the pangs of sorrow in our relationships. But if we maturely deal with them, we will come out stronger and with peace of mind. And we will learn to forgive in a relationship – both other people and ourselves, and further understand the importance of respect in a relationship.

What is the biggest lesson that Bela learns from her marriage? What does she teach about loyalty and respect in a marriage to her daughter in turn?

One of the lessons that Bela learns is that people change. The kind of relationship she has with her husband in the beginning – very romantic, making her heart beat too rapidly when she sees him – doesn’t last. Yet she loves him more deeply later on so that when the marriage runs into problems, she is devastated. I think her daughter Tara observes the problems in her parent’s marriage and is very disillusioned about relationships at first because she is quite young at this point.

She is at first cautious about trusting men as a result of that. Respect and trust does not come easily to her. It has been seen, over and over in different parts of the world, that daughters tend to replicate their mothers’ marriages, especially the problems. Tara will have to learn to overcome that. She will have to learn, in her way and through her own mistakes, how to create a strong marriage and understand how to foster respect in relationships. It will not necessarily be an easy process, and it will not be like her mother’s relationship with her father because Tara belongs to a different generation. But I think the result will be satisfying.

What inspired their stories? What made you delve into the idea that respect in relationships is important? Did your characters cross paths with who you were or what you were experiencing at any point in life? 

My characters are not autobiographical. They come out of my observances of the people around me – friends, families, strangers, all become my subject matter, though I change important details and ultimately transform the character through my imagination.

What is common in a relationship that spans the countryside of Bengal to the streets of Houston? What makes or breaks a human relationship, no matter where?

I think respect has to be at the heart of a good relationship, no matter where you are in the world. Respect in relationships is foremost, there is no question about it. Respect and trust in marriage are fundamental. Also forgiveness. These three are the the Holy Trinity of a relationship, according to my understanding of life.

The need for these things don’t change, no matter how long you have been in the relationship.

Related Reading: Indian gods teach us about mutual respect in relationships

An excerpt reads thus:

Did I love him, granddaughter? I’ll answer by saying I was the best possible wife. Certainly, I loved our life in the capital, a flat in a wealthy colony, a motorcar, respectful servants who believed that I had been born into affluence. I took classes in English conversation and comportment and learned that I, too, had a talent.  I built a reputation for hosting the best parties. I knew how to charm the most taciturn guest into the conversation. I never skimped on the alcohol, even if it meant we had to eat rice and lentils for the rest of the month. I created desserts that became the talk of the town. I wonder if Bijan realized that many of his tough deals fell into place because of my dinners.

What according to you makes a good wife? Or a good spouse?

A good spouse, I believe, is one who is committed to the welfare of the other spouse and is willing to make sacrifices for that person. Compromise is just as important as respect and trust in a marriage. It is one of the key qualities of a good relationship. As I said earlier, there’s got to be mutual love and respect in relationships. Otherwise, bitterness will arise at some point or another.

How has the idea of love and longing changed through generations? Do you think it still stays the same at the core? Is respect in relationships the same across all generations?

I think that although women have made great strides in terms of achievements and freedom, basically a good relationship stays the same at the core. However, we have certainly changed how we express love or romance. I think both men and women, especially in urban settings, have become much more demonstrative through actions, romantic words, gift-giving and taking time for ourselves as a couple. And that is all part of a healthy relationship.

Clearly, the importance of respect in a relationship cannot be overlooked. As we delve into the problems of these women across generations, there is a lot that we see in common. The common learning amongst all is that developing respect and relationships go hand in hand. One is completely essential for the other.


1. What makes a good relationship?

The importance of respect in a relationship cannot be undervalued to truly make a great relationship. A difference of opinion, conflicts and disagreements will always exist between two people. But those who truly have respect in relationships will overcome the same and find a healthy medium even if they are not on the same page about things.

2. What does respect in a relationship mean?

Why is respect in a relationship important or what is respect in a relationship? The answer to this question is fairly simple. Love is necessary, but love is not all. In any relationship, a spouse or partner needs to feel valued, heard and recognized. That is how we know that respect in a relationship is important.

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