The Mukherjees were Bengali Brahmins- that is, members of the highest caste among Bengali Hindus. In Calcutta, Bharati grew up in an extended family, surrounded by uncles and aunts and cousins, one of about 40 residents of the joint family home in Calcutta’s middle-class Rash Behari Avenue.
The dominant influence in Mukherjee’s early years was her father. Sudhir Mukherjee, who died in 1985, was energetic and gregarious; a larger-than-life character who became the model for the “Tiger” of her first novel, The Tiger’s Daughter. As Mukherjee remembers him in an interview given to Canadian Fiction Magazine, he was “an extraordinary man… very much the benevolent patriarch” who “wanted the best for his daughters. And to him, the ‘best’ meant intellectually fulfilling lives”1
Bina Mukherjee, though not as impactful as Sudhir Mukherjee, was also a key influence in Bharati Mukherjee’s life. During these times, Bharati Mukherjee would go to school in fear, often seeing middle-class girls/women being humiliated and not having as many opportunities that otherwise men had. Mukherjee was in constant fear of what might happen to her. The stress of school along with these potential scenarios to worry about was just a formula to a mental breakdown.
However, Bina Mukherjee saw the fear burning in Bharati’s eyes and took action. The determination to see her daughter independent and safe from the humiliations led Bina Mukherjee to “make sure they’re well educated so no one can make them suffer” (Days and Nights in Calcutta 228).
An Exile’s Perspective on “Home”
During Mukherjee’s childhood, she went through all of life’s motions. Friends were always a problem for Mukherjee as moving was very common. Just as Mukherjee began developing relationships with other people, it seemed like it was time for her to move again. India, London, Switzerland, Canada, America- it all went by so fast for Mukherjee. However, all these events became a massive part of who Mukherjee is today, and such things also inspired her books. In 1951, Sudhir Mukherjee returned to Calcutta to take up an active role in business, now booming because of the success of drugs he had invented for it. He decided however, not to take his family back to the joint family house— a move Mukherjee described in one of the many autobiographical sections of Days and Nights in Calcutta, the book about her year-long sojourn in Calcutta, which she wrote with her husband Clark Blaise, as a release from “terrifying communal bonding.”2 Instead, Mukherjee found herself at the front gates of a huge mansion, dazzling with the size that it possessed along with a magnificent pool, a lake, armed guards, and a retinue of servants. Bharati still retains a belief in Hinduism taught to her by her parents, who were very traditional and orthodox, leading her to make many of the decisions she did during her journey to become a successful author. Here, Mukherjee faced more troubles as she grew up in an “extraordinarily close-knit family” (Days and Nights in Calcutta, 182). Along with this, the life that Mukherjee led within the walled compound of the factory, made the Mukherjee girls feel “inviolable and inaccessible” (Days and Nights in Calcutta, 183). This led to a very arrogant and bad-tempered side to Mukherjee. She would often bicker and complain about space and for that matter, very tiny issues that caused quarrels within the family.
All this squabbling led to Mukherjee spending long hours outside of the house, trying to escape from…