BHARATI MUKHERJEE Biography - Writers


Biography » writers » bharati mukherjee


Bharati Mukherjee was born on July 27, 1940 to wealthy parents, Sudhir Lal and       
Bina Mukherjee in Calcutta, India (Alam 1). She learned how to read and write by     
the age of three (Vignisson). In 1947, she moved to Britain with her family at       
the age of eight and lived in Europe for about three and a half years. By the         
age of ten, Mukherjee knew that she wanted to become a writer, and had written       
numerous short stories.                                                               
After getting her B.A from the University of Calcutta in 1959 and her M.A. in         
English and Ancient Indian Culture from the University of Baroda in 1961, she         
came to the United States of America (Alam 4). Having been awarded a scholarship     
from the University of Iowa, earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 1963 and       
her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature in 1969 (Alam 5). While studying     
at the University of Iowa, she met and married a Canadian student from Harvard,       
Clark Blaise, on September 19, 1963. The two writers met and, after a brief           
courtship, married within two weeks (Alam 7).; Together, the two writers have         
produced two books along with their other independent works. Mukherjee's career       
a professor and her marriage to Blaise Clark has given her opportunities to           
teach all over the United States and Canada. Currently she is a professor at the     
University of California, Berkeley.                                                   
Mukherjee's works focus on the "phenomenon of migration, the status of new           
immigrants, and the feeling of alienation often experienced by expatriates" as       
well as on Indian women and their struggle (Alam 7). Her own struggle with           
identity first as an exile from India, then an Indian expatriate in Canada, and       
finally as a immigrant in the United States has lead to her current contentment       
of being an immigrant in a country of immigrants (Alam 10).                           
Mukherjee's works correspond with biographer Fakrul Alam's catagorization of         
Mukherjee's life into three phases. Her earlier works, such as the The Tiger's       
Daughter and parts of Days and Nights in Calcutta, are her attempts to find her       
identity in her Indian heritage.                                                     
"The Tiger's Daughter" is a story about a young girl named Tara who ventures         
back to India after many years of being away only to return to poverty and           
turmoil. This story parallels Mukherjee's own venture back to India with Clark       
Blaise in 1973 when she was deeply affected by the chaos and poverty of Indian       
and mistreatment of women in the name of tradition, "What is unforgivable is the     
lives that have been sacrificed to notions of propriety and obedience" (Days and     
Nights... 217). Her husband, however, became very intrigued by the magic of the       
myth and culture that surrounded every part of Bengal.; These differences of         
opinion, her shock and his awe, are seen in one of their joint publications,         
Days and Nights in Calcutta.                                                         
The second phase of her writing, according to Alam, encompasses works such as         
Wife, the short stories in Darkness, an essay entitled "An Invisible Woman," and     
The Sorrow and the Terror, a joint effort with her husband. These works               
originate in Mukherjee's own experience of racism in Canada, where despite being     
a tenured professor, she felt humiliated and on the edge of being a "housebound,     
fearful, affrieved, obcessive, and unforgiving queen of bitterness".                 
After moving back to the United States, she wrote about her personal experiences.     
One of her short stories entitled "Isolated Incidents" explores the biased           
Canadian view towards immigrants that she encountered, as well as how government     
agencies handled assults on particular races. Another short story titled "The         
Tenant" continues to reflect on her focus on immigrant Indian women and their         
mistreatment. The story is about a divorced Indian woman studying in the States       
and her experiences with interracial relationships. One quotation from the story     
hints at Mukherjee's views of Indian men as being too preoccupied to truly care       
for their wives and children: "'All Indian men are wife beaters,' Maya [the           
narrator] says. She means it and doesn't mean it."                                   
In Wife, Mukherjee writes about a woman named Dimple who has been surpressed by       
such men and attempts to be the ideal Bengali wife, but out of fear and personal     
instability, she murders her husband and eventually commits suicide. The stories     
in Darkness further endeavor to tell similar stories of immigrants and women.         
In her third phase, Mukherjee is described as having accepted being "an               
immigrant, living in a continent of immigrants" (M. qtd in Alam 9). She               
describes herself as American and not the the hyphenated Indian-American title:       
I maintain that I am an American writer of Indian origin, not because I'm             
ashamed of my past, not because I'm betraying or distorting my past, but because     
my whole adult life has been lived here, and I write about the people who are         
immigrants going through the process of making a home here... I write in the         
tradition of immigrant experience rather than nostalgia and expatriation. That       
is very important. I am saying that the luxury of being a U.S. citizen for me is     
that can define myself in terms of things like my politics, my sexual                 
orientation or my education. My affiliation with readers should be on the basis       
of what they want to read, not in terms of my ethnicity or my race. (Mukherjee       
qtd. in Basbanes)                                                                     
Mukherjee continues writing about the immigrant experience in most of the             
stories in The Middle Man and Other Stories, a collection of short stories which     
won her the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Fiction, Jasmine, and         
essays. These stories explore the meeting of East and West through immigrant         
experiences in the U.S. and Canada along with further describing the idea of the     
great melting pot of culture in the United States.                                   
Jasmine develops this idea of the mixing of the East and West with a story           
telling of a young Hindu woman who leaves India for the U.S. after her husband's     
murder, only to be raped and eventually returned to the position of a caregiver       
through a series of jobs (Alam 100). The unity between the First and Third           
worlds is shown to be in the treatment of women as subordinate in both countries.     
Her latest works include The Holder of the World, published in 1993, and Leave       
It to Me, published in 1997. The Holder of the World is a beautifully written         
story about Hannah Easton, a woman born in Massachusetts who travels to India.       
She becomes involved with a few Indian lovers and eventually a king who gives         
her a diamond know as the Emperor's Tear. (Alam 120). The story is told through       
the detective searching for the diamond and Hannah's viewpoint. Mukherjee's           
focus continues to be on immigrant women and their freedom from relationships to     
become individuals. She also uses the female characters to explore the               
spatiotemporal (Massachusetts to India) connection between different cultures.       
In Leave It to Me, Mukherjee tells the story of a young woman sociopath named         
Debby DiMartino, who seeks revenge on parents who abandoned her. The story           
reveals her ungrateful interaction with kind adoptive parents and a vengeful         
search for her real parents (described as a murderer and a flowerchild). The         
novel also looks at the conflict between Eastern and Western worlds and at           
mother-daughter relationships through the political and emotional topics by the       
main characer in her quest for revenge. Candia McWilliam of The London Review of     
Books describes Mukherjee appropriately as "A writer both tough and voluptuous"       
in her works.