Bharati Mukherjee: “As a bookish child in Calcutta, I used to thrill to the adventures of bad girls”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of novelist Bharati Mukherjee, born in 1940 in Calcutta, India. She said, “As a bookish child in Calcutta, I used to thrill to the adventures of bad girls whose pursuit of happiness swept them outside the bounds of social decency. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Emma Bovary, and Anna Karenina lived large in my imagination.”

She went to college in Calcutta and after graduation asked her father if she could go abroad and study to be a writer — afterward, she would come home for an arranged marriage with a nuclear physicist of her same caste and class. Her father agreed, thinking it would be a harmless way for her to pass a couple of years. Her family was hosting a group of UCLA professors and students for dinner so her father asked them where he should send his daughter in America to learn to be a writer. They suggested the University of Iowa, so she went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

She started dating someone in her program, Clark Blaise, a Canadian, and after two weeks they went downtown during their lunch break and got married in a lawyer’s office above a local coffee shop. She said, “Until my lunch-break wedding, I had seen myself as an Indian foreign student who intended to return to India to live. The five-minute ceremony in the lawyer’s office suddenly changed me into a transient with conflicting loyalties to two very different cultures.”

Mukherjee’s novels include The Tiger’s Daughter, Jasmine, Desirable Daughters, and Miss New India. She died in 2017.

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