Bharati Mukherjee’s Famous Books
Bharati Mukherjee wrote a few non-fictional works, collection of short stories and novels. Her major contribution is certainly to the novels. As we saw earlier, Bharati Mukherjee disapproves of her being called an Indian English writer. She states that she wants to destroy the notion that Asians and people of different colour are sojourners. She resists this exoticisation. She calls herself mainstream American writer.
Mukherjee’s non-fictional works are also quite noteworthy, The Days and Night in Calcutta is a non-fictional work written in collaboration with her Canadian husband Clark Blaise. It is a travelogue to Calcutta with observations about the city in particular but India in general. It is partly travelogue and partly autobiographical. She has also tried to portray the consciousness of Indian woman. Her narrative deals with gender, race, religion and the country at large. Her another non-fictional work The Sorrow and the Terror deals with Air India tragedy. It is an account of the Air India plane in the ocean. Her work Political Culture and Leadership in India (1991) shows her observations on Indian politics and leadership. Her views show her independent unbiased thinking and maturity of understanding of world politics.
Regionalism in Indian perspective (1992) focuses on one of the major problems of Indian-regionalism. Regionalism in India is both a sign of diversity of tongue, life style, religion and culture and weakness. Mukherjee wrote articles on current issues and on great figures like Mother Teresa.
Bharati Mukherjee has published two collections of short stories : Darkness (1985) and The Middleman and other stories (1988) In her first collection of short stories, conflicts and tensions between the old world and the new world have been brilliantly depicted. The lives of the Indian expatriates have been portrayed vividly The Middleman and other stories has won National Books Critics Award in 1988. The protagonists of these stories are from different countries like India, Italy, Hungary, Afghanistan etc. She highlights fact that America is not just a melting pot but shaper and moulder of a new democratic culture. The major themes of these stories are alienation, struggle for identity, search for home and struggle for survival. Mukherjee concentrates on the transformation and assimilation that rerooting requires. It can be said that her short stories are the miniature world of larger fictional world of immigrants that she has portrayed in her novels.
#1 The Tiger’s Daughter by Bharati Mukherjee
Mukherjee’s fame rests on her novels and therefore we shall deal with her novels in details so that we may have a glimpse of her fictional world. Her first novel The Tiger’s Daughter was published in 1971. Tara Cartwright Banerjee is the protagonist of the novel. She breaks all social taboos and marries a foreigner. The novelist describes the ancestral history of the Banerjees. The Bengal Tiger Banerjee sends his daughter Tara to America for studies. Here she faces racial discrimination and homesickness. Later, she marries David Cartwright and visit India after seven years abroad. Tara realizes that she has totally changed in her views and life style. The Catelli Continental Hotel where she stays symbolises the remnant of the British Raj in independent India. It stands for the colonial hangover. The Indians Tara meets are closed-minded and shallow. The elites and the rich live in ivory tower while Nuxalite Movement in Bengal rages against capitalists and landlords. Tara is unable to adjust in her own motherland. She is taken ill and finally decides to leave for New York. On the fateful night, the marchers attack the Hotel and she is locked in a car. She wonders if she could go out of Calcutta. She fears that her husband would never know how deeply she loved him. While in India, she was raped by Mr. Tuntunwala. Tara’s seduction is symbolic of colonial exploitation.
The novel deals with the theme of expatriation and the expatriate sensibility. All expatriate have to undergo alienation, adaptation and assimilation. They feel homesick in the beginning but their return to homeland makes them aware of its inadequacy or change in their own attitude and life style. Tara often feels nostalgia for her childhood days in Bengal. Her father was a reputed wealthy man. He was quite westernized and modern. Tara’s meeting with an American youngman at Madison changes her life. She feels that she is in love with him. To marry a foreigner was a bold step in those days. When Tara returns to India after seven years, she experiences the sense of being alien in her own land. She feels that Bombay station was more like a hospital and houses on Marine Drive were quite shabby. She began to distance herself from her old friends. She did not like their manners attitude and hypocrisy. Finally, she realizes that she is no more a native Indian and she accepts her foreigner outlook. She prefers to be a whiteman’s wife to the Bengal tiger’s daughter.
Mukherjee does not like to be called a feminist but she stands for women’s right to equality, freedom and independent identity. She explores female psyche in search of identity. Tara dreams of peaceful Bengal of Satyajit Ray’s films but finds it shabby and people untrustworthy and uncultured in democratic values. Her stay in India makes her realize that despite the problems expatriates face in America, it is far more suited for them than their homeland. She accepts her foreignness among her own people and the country. The novel is thus a journey of Tara from expatriate’s sense of alienation to acceptance of the foreign land as her own homeland. The Tiger’s Daughter is a novel of single character as the story revolves round Tara and all other characters only serve the purpose of enhancing the central theme of expatriate sensibility. The novel contains four parts and each part is further subdivided into sections. The second part is the longest. Flash back technique has been used by the novelist to describe the Banerjee family and Bengal Tiger’s reputation as a wealthy landlord. The structural design of the novel is quite compact and psychological insight into inner workings of characters’ minds is quite realistic. Mukherjee employs style and language appropriate to the setting and characters.
#2 Wife by Bharati Mukherjee
Wife is a second novel by Bharati Mukherjee that deals with the same theme, that is, expatriate’s life in a foreign land. The protagonist of the novel is Dimple Dasgupta, an ambitious young woman who has an intense desire to go abroad and live a luxurious life. After her examinations, she marries a neurosurgeon and goes to the USA with her husband. She comes from middle class background and dreams of luxury, fashion and fantasy.
Dimple was not happy with her non-bosomy body. She read fashion magazines and dreamt of voluptuous breasts. Her mother Mrs. Dasgupta was old traditional lady who believed that one must be satisfied with one’s destiny. She recommended prayers to Lord Shiva, the divine husband of all women. Dimple suffers from disturbed psyche, preferring to stay in the dark. She often thinks of death. She reads novels and books of sexual fantasies. Her father found an engineer who had applied for immigration to the USA and Canada. She marries Amit Basu whose mother Mrs. Basu was quite traditional. She did not like her. She fantasises about a perfect man from various advertisements. She does not want pregnancy soon and wants to have life free from family worries.
Dimple and her husband go to the USA and she is enamoured with the luxury and life of the people in the USA She tries to Americanize herself drinking beer and attending parties. She watches TV shows showing rapes, murders, sex and violence. She begins to dislike Amit for his crudeness. She suffers from insomnia. She develops friendship with Ina Mullick and Milt Glasser. She becomes more and more psychic. She thinks of different ways of dying. She constantly thinks and dreams of death. Finally, she thinks of killing Amit and hiding his body in the freezer. The exotic way of killing made her excited. She mixes fantasy of TV shows with real life. She is a split personality suffering from neurosis, schizophrenia and death instinct. The themes of the novel are ambition, lust, pressure of expatriate life and psychological disorder resulting from imbalance between fantasy and reality.
The novel has deeper layers of existentialist concerns. Dimple craves for permissive life of the American society but she is not fit there also. The more liberty she takes, the deeper she plunges into abyss of despair and depression. The cycle of expatriation that she undergoes makes her fully collapse. Even when she was in India, she lived like an alien. Expatriation is more psychological than physical. Dimple is a psychological patient suffering from depression and psychic disorder. Uncontrolled emotions and fantasies make her violent and abnormal. The novel is set both in India and the USA. The style of the novel in simple, lucid and effective. The descriptions are vivid and dialogues are realistic and conversational. However, the element of violence is quite dominant in the last part of the novel. It is profoundly psychological and therefore quite convincing.
#3 Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee
Jasmine is a novel that is divided into two parts. It is Mukherjee’s third novel depicting the experiences of an expatriate in a multicultural society. Jasmine is a rebellious girl who rebels against traditional society of India. Jyoti Vijh’s husband is killed by terrorist’s bomb but she does not want live the life of a widow. Jyoti’s journey from Hasnapur to America changing her from Jyoti to Jasmine. On way to the USA, a trawler captain Half-face rapes her. At first she contemplates suicide but finally decides to forget dishonour and live a new life. She kills Half face. She comes in contact with Mrs. Gordon and her daughter who introduce her to Prof. Vadhera. She adopts American way to life and lives chameleon like life changing names and husbands. She was Jasmine for Prakash, Jase for Taylor, Jane for Bud and Kali for Half-face. She nullifies all the prophecies about her life fighting out the odds and obstacles bravely. Jasmine is a new woman with indomitable spirit and independence of mind. Later, we shall deal with the novel in detail discussing various aspects of the novel in the chapters that follow.
#4 The Holder of the World by Bharati Mukherjee
The Holder of the World (1993) marks a change in Bharati Mukherjee’s writing. Here the journey starts from the West to the East. The novel focuses on the 17th century colonial America and the Mughal India, the Puritan American and Mughal Indian world. History and imagination have been finely woven. Hanna Easton travels with her husband to India in the 17th century as the wife of the East India company employee. She becomes the Salem Bibi, the white consort of a Hindu King. Venn Iyer, an Indian data processor unfolds the history with the help of modern technology. Beign masters in an asset hunter who stumbles on the old records of Hanna while trying to track down a legendary diamond. The gem is called ‘Emperor’s Tear.’
It is the story of Hanna, the daughter of Rebecca Easton who ran away with her Nipmuc lover in 1675. Both Beign Masters and Rebecca are rebellious who revolt against puritan life of the contemporary America. Hanna marries Gabriel Legge who brought Golkonda diamonds on return from each voyage to India. Hanna and Gabriel disembark on the coast of Coromandel in India. After Gabriel’s death, Hanna merges with the Hindu world She meets a Hindu Raja Jadav Singh. She lives in Sale and in called “Salem Bibi. She travels from America to India and is always on the move. Hanna travels with her se Bhagamati to Devgad. She experiences deep love of the Rain an enclosed pleasure suite. She tried to make peace with the Mughal emperor. She tried to outwit the emperor but the Hindu Raja and Bhagamati are killed in the battle and she returns to Salem with a child by the Hindu Raja in her womb. The Holder of World depicts the dislocation and transformation that took place in Mughal India and Puritan America. It is a mixture of history, romance, mystery and fantasy. It can be called postmodern historical novel with a focus on female protagonists. Hanna stands for love, peace, adventure and courage. Hanna declares: “I have come late in my life to the feeling of love, love for man, love for a place, love for people.” She asks the Emperor to stop war before it destroys the worlds. The Holder of the World is an artistic novel and the author has used quotations from Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Um” at the beginning of the novel to enhance its beauty.
#5 Leave It to Me by Bharati Mukherjee
Leave It to Me is the fifth novel of Bharati Mukherjee published in 1987. The protagonist of the novel is Debby Di Martino living in Schenectedy in Hudson valley in the USA. She is an adopted daughter of an Italian American family. She decides to break away from her Italian American parents to seek her biological father in India where she was abandoned after birth. During mid-seventies when Hippie hordes came to India in search of instant nirvana through sex and drugs, she was abandoned like Dhool Ka Phool (dust-flower). Debby was tall and beautiful. She gets a job with Frankie who wanted to make her a Hollywood star. Frankie opened a new world to Debby. She went to California. She transforms herself from Debby to Devi Dec. She comes to know that a Bombay based Rajiv Raj had investigated some secret stuff about a serial killer Guru and white hippies in seventies. She thought that her bio mom would be among them. She is introduced to a media agency called Leave It to Me and less Du Pree who was interested in esoteric tantric rituals and was is touch with such gurus and ashrams. Devi comes in contact with Ham Cohan, a movie man. He seduces her but she surrenders almost willingly. Devi finds out that Jess was her bio-mom whom Ham loved. She succeeds in her search of her biological parents, with the loss of her lover’s life by her own father, the serial killer. Romeo-Hawk is her bio-dad who was an Asian. He enjoyed free sex with American Hippies. Romeo Hawk was a criminal sentenced for life in Indian Jail. Debby is always haunted about her biological roots.
Bharati Mukherjee has created a mature woman in Debby. The novelist has used Electra myth in the novel. She knows that her love Ham was also her mother’s lover. The scene achieves climax when she watches her boy friend indulging in sex with her mother before her eyes. Bharati Mukherjee has depicted not only the external details of characters vividly but also delved deep into psyche of these characters. The theme of multiculturalism also figures here but the author asserts that biological roots always remain dominant in human minds. The setting of the novel in both America and India. Seduction and violent scenes take place in the novel as they form central events of the novel. Debby is an American character with the spirit of curiosity, adventure and persistence.
Bharati Mukherjee has used symbolic names like Devi, Hawk etc. The narration of the novel is in the first person through the mouth of Debby. The novel is quite well-crafted and coherent in design. Revenge is the central theme of the novel as is the search for bio-roots. Jess and Romeo Hawk are victims of crimes and violence. Sex is a link that enjoins the relationship with other characters. Jess, for example, had sexual relations with Ham, Fred and Romeo Hawk. The novel is full of irony, wit and humour that provide relief in otherwise racy, violent story.
#6 Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee
Desirable Daughters (2002) is Bharati Mukherjee sixth novel where she explores the making of a consciousness.” The protagonist is Tara, a 36 year old Indian American. She is the youngest of the three daughters of a wealthy engineer. She comes from traditional Bengali family living in Calcutta. At the age of 19, she marries Bishwapriya (Bish) Chatterjee, a suitable husband selected by her father.
Tara rejects traditional life of India while she is in the USA. She divorces her rich husband after ten years because she feels that her marriage does not give her the true status of an American wife. She moves to San Francisco with her 12 years old son. She starts working as she has already abandoned the comforts of a wealthy man’s wife. She develops several short-term relationships and finally takes Andy a Hungarian Buddhist contractor. She takes him as live-in lover.
Tara begins to feel comfortable in her life but Chris Dey enters her life and disturbing her peaceful life. He claims that he is an illegitimate son of her eldest sister. His arrival into her life threatens the safe assumptions on which her new life was founded at least partly. Her glorious past seems to her like a dark cave. She also realizes that though she and her sisters were brought up in the same surrounding and training, their world view differed a lot. After Andy moves out of her life, she drifts towards her former husband. She feels that she has misunderstood him. One night, Tara and Bish are attacked in her house by explosives planted by a person who fakely identified himself as Chris Dey. It was a traumatic experience and she returns to India to live with her parents with the understanding that one’s roots cannot be severed completely.
In Desirable Daughters Mukherjee marks a departure from her earlier novels. Tara wants to find her identity in the USA without obliterating her former identity. She tries to combine her Indian past and the present of American life. It is no doubt a tough process but she faces it with equilibrium and poise. She knows that women in India were subjugated yet they do not clamour that they are victims. Within their limited world, Indian women make efforts to empower themselves. They are patient, understanding and intelligent. Her ancestor Tara Lata Ganguly was a saint and freedom fighter. In each generation of women in her family, she finds something new and inspiring. Thus she realizes that family ties are important for strengthening one’s identity. Tara wants to erase past that is false, hypocritical and superficial. She challenges everything that is fake and unnecessary.
Tara tries to reconnect with her sisters who do not reciprocate to her move. They continue to criticize her but she remains firm and silent. Tara has learnt to understand others and accept them. She accepts her former husband with a new understanding. She also accepts her son Rabi’s homosexuality. Mukherjee suggests that in a multicultural society, one must learn to be open and transform accordingly without losing one’s original identity. The novel has been praised for Mukherjee’s expansion of earlier theme of immigrant life. The narrative has been skilfully woven, showing her maturity of treatment and characterization.
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