Bharati Mukherjee was born in Calcutta, India, on July 27, 1940, the daughter of pharmaceutical chemist Sudhir Lal Mukherjee and his wife, Bina (née Barrerjee). Mukherjee’s was a comparatively wealthy Bengali Hindu Brahmin family, and during her early childhood they lived with their large extended family (numbering up to forty during wartime) in a flat in Ballygunge, a middle-class neighborhood of Calcutta. Life there was stable and somewhat insulated from the rough and tumble of Calcutta, but Mukherjee was aware of the homeless beggars roaming the streets, the funerals of freedom fighters during India’s struggle for independence from British imperial rule, and the Hindu-Muslim riots at the partition of India and Pakistan. She enjoyed the affection of a loving father (who was fond of his three daughters despite his society’s prevailing preference for sons), listened to the tales of her mother (“a powerful storyteller”), and feared the madness of an aunt.
When Mukherjee was eight, her father sent his three daughters to school in England and Switzerland. After three years of this experiment in European education, the sisters returned to Calcutta to live in a home set up within the compound of the pharmaceutical company partly owned by their father in suburban Cossipore. From there they attended a school staffed by Irish nuns; en route to school they sometimes had to run a gauntlet of strikers and picketers. When Mukherjee was eighteen, her...
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