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The Role of Religion in One Amazing Thing

One Amazing Thing was written by an Indian-American poet and novelist Chitra Divakaruni, who used the ancient storytelling form of Panchatantra to write her own sapiential story in the post-9/11 United States setting. The novel emphasizes the notion of multiculturalism and tells the story of nine protagonists who are captured in the basement of the Indian consulate in one of the American cities due to a significant earthquake (Manohari 113). The plan to have a journey to India is the only thing that initially binds them. The cast of characters includes Malathi and Mangalam, who are consular workers of Indian origin; Jiang, an elderly Indian-Chinese woman, and Lily, her punk granddaughter; Cameron, African American war veteran. Four more people are also trapped in the basement: Fariq, devout Muslim American; Mr. and Mrs. Pritchett, enraged elderly white couple; and Uma, Indian American college student.

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The rigorous outlook on the life of believers often leads to rejection or even condemnation of those who have different points of view on things or actions (Farrell et al. 63). However, the novel One Amazing Thing shows how different confessions influence people’s life and what can draw them close together. Characters of different ages, races, and cultures tell stories concerning self-discovery, romance, marriage, and political upheaval. All of them provide an insight into how religion shaped their life (Bividha and Yebaruby 1256). Despite other socioeconomic aspects raised, religion plays an essential role in the development of characters in One Amazing Thing.

After Uma’s suggestion to tell in detail something important in every survivor’s life, each member of the trapped team starts to illustrate the moment that is connected with religious notions. Their beliefs also can be spotted in the characters’ reactions to upholding events. For instance, Malathi does her best to keep the arm on her mouth to avoid crying “Krishna,” which can be seen as “a prayer for forgiveness, for she might have been the reason the earthquake had happened” (Divakaruni 6). She assumes that her workplace romance with Mr. Mangalam, who is a married man, devastated her karma, and an earthquake is a form of retribution for their recent affair. Mr. Mangalam also believes in karma and shares the accusations of Malathi, although trying to regard it as superstition.

Tariq Husein, who is a Muslim, starts the evening prayer right after he stands up from the floor where he lay knocked out by Cameron. He is very angry with Afro American but states in his head that “he needed to purify his heart now, to praise Allah, to ask for help, to request blessings” (Divakaruni 12). He is even angrier after it because Cameron’s appeal to have a bite makes him realize that he forgot about sacred words this time.

Soon after the fray between Tariq and Mangalam, Jiang becomes the first survivor to back the Uma’s initiative to calm everybody down. She tells the story of how she lost the first true love due to religious differences and the Sino-Indian War. She has Chinese origin, while her beloved Mohit belongs to Hinduism. Both families are against their marriage and further affairs, so there is a conflict between their religious systems. Both mothers strive for divine intervention and pray to Kuan Yin and Kalighat, asking “may Mohit and Jiang’s relationship break up, and may they subsequently marry someone suitable from their communities” (Divakaruni 32). The Chinese were put under pressure by the government, and her father arranged her marriage with Mr. Chan with whom she escaped to the US. As a result, religion contributed to her lost love, but after her husband dies, she realizes that she also loved him.

Another example can be found in the story told by Malathi. She tells about working in a beauty shop in India what still remains her passion. The secretary narrates the story of salon’s rich client Mrs. Balan whose son Ravi falls in love with her maid Nirmala. As a result, the industrialist wife arranges a marriage for Nirmala with an influential man, while her son has engaged with another young woman. The author points here at the cultural problem of relations between lower and upper caste in India. Malathi, who is not a believer, attends Goddess Parvati’s temple to pray for forgiveness for not warning Nirmala. Then, when Mrs. Balan revisits the beauty shop, Malathi gets the impression that goddess tells her what to do right now (Divakaruni 49). She mixes some chemicals to the perm what causes Mrs. Balan’s hair loss. Then Malathi gets the job in the Indian consulate abroad and moves to the US.

Furthermore, Tariq’s story tells about problems that Muslim people encountered in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse. It influences his father’s business, people are suspicious of them, and government officers capture his father. His mother is praying to God, asking to release her husband. The communal crush takes place in the United States, and Farah, together with a family lawyer, insists on moving back to India. Tariq, together with his friend Alli, are Muslims, but they simultaneously feel to be Americans and want to stay after moving Tariq’s family.

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Then Mr. Mangalam pictures his story about his westernized wife, who does not want to divorce him, even if he does not love her anymore. Naina, with the help of her rich father, creates a cunny plan to imprison Mangalam’s new love Latika. As a result, he tries to flirt and have affairs openly with other women to shame his wife. At the end of the tale, he states that not only is Naina guilty of him being unfortunate because he also initiated the cycle of sinful actions. He believes in karma and thinks that “it is fair that she became the cause for losing what I wanted even more” (Divakaruni 69).

Moreover, it is seen from Cameron’s story that he believes in soul purification with the help of good deeds. He kills many people during the Vietnam War and forces his girlfriend to conduct an abortion. Soon he decides to sponsor the girl from the Indian orphanage and asks for the visit. For him, it is a tool to find his own cultural identity and understanding of what makes him a human being.

To conclude, there is no doubt that religion affects all life aspects of those who keep their faith. As seen from the provided examples, Chitra Divakaruni tries to describe every character’s life through the prism of religion. Tariq has his evening prayer even being trapped in the ruined building, while Mr. Mangalam regards karma when telling his “amazing thing.” Religion plays an essential role not only in the characters’ development but also in the hands of the author to depict them.

Works Cited

Bividha, B. V., and Y. Vigila Jebaruby. “Theme of Multiculturalism in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s One Amazing Thing.” Studies in Indian Place Names, vol. 40, no. 18, 2020, pp. 1256-1258.

Divakaruni, Chitra. One Amazing Thing. Hachette Books, 2010.

Farrell, Jennifer E., et al. “Religious Attitudes and Behaviors toward Individuals Who Hold Different Religious Beliefs and Perspectives: An Exploratory Qualitative Study.” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, vol. 10, no. 1, 2018, pp. 63-71.

Manohari, B. “Biculturalism in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s One Amazing Thing.” Interdisciplinary Research Journal for Humanities, 2018, pp.113-116.

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