American writer Amy Tan was born to Chinese parents in the US. Her novel, The Joy Luck Club, focusses on Chinese immigrant families in the US and revolves around stories of women and their daughters. It was adapted into a film in 1993 by director Wayne Wang. Tan was in India to participate in the Jaipur Literature Festival. Her work is influenced by what she says is “Confucian culture, passed down with the idea that you have a hierarchy of responsibility. “Her father, says Tan, took Confucius to be God.
“My mother had this idea of ancestors who could be unhappy, who might have delivered Karmic punishment and that is maybe why one should ask for forgiveness. She also had beliefs that would be perceived by others as superstitions, but she also believed in God, in miracles, in anything that was practical and could lead to the outcome she wanted,” says Tan talking about her mother’s belief system. At 15 years of age, Tan lost her older brother and father to brain tumour. Her mother, fearing a curse, took Tan and her younger brother to see the world.
Does she believe in karma? “Karma is something that happens to people almost instantly and if not instantly, then before they die, “says Tan. Her understanding of Karma is that if you give kindness, you will usually receive something that feels good in your heart. It simply opens you up to finding goodness and kindness in the world. It’s an instant kind of Karma, whereas if you are a negative person, all you reap is negativity. “Karmic retribution is real, “she says talking about religion and culture in China. Tan gives a glimpse of the Chinese culture she inherited from her parents:
“When you look at traditional Chinese rituals, you are always offering incense and gifts and praying, but it is with the consciousness that ancestors are still among us and that, I think, is true to the fact that I have my identity tied to what has happened in our family from previous generations, “she says speaking of her own unique ways through which she remembers her ancestors. “I don’t like burning incense to get a sense of my ancestors. Writing about identity is really to understand myself and how I became myself; if I took away my Chinese upbringing who would I be?”adds Tan.
Does she think that over a period of time, our sense of our identity becomes porous and is influenced by different cultures? “Many in the world are now interacting, even though their nations are separate. So culture is becoming much more fluid and it goes beyond immigrant status of individuals,” says Tan talking about cultural identity and increasing global interaction. She points out that we have globalised so much that there are a lot of countries, which are afraid that they might lose whatever it was that made them distinct and powerful. “So nationalism is rising in many countries; these people are now also looking at the ‘other’. Mythology is supposed to be a default foundation of a country and its nationalism, with the sense – ‘we have to protect it.’
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