Interview: March 28, 2002
March 28, 2002
Bharati Mukherjee, author of DESIRABLE DAUGHTERS, is an America storyteller from India who found her voice at an early age. In an interview with Bookreporter.com's Sonia Chopra, Mukherjee talks about her past and present cultures, the ancient customs and modern freedoms that impact the characters and events in her novel.
BRC: When did you start writing?
BM: I started writing by age five. I wrote and wrote but I never published anything until I immigrated to the United States as a student. Writing is where I exist, where I live, and it's incredibly intense for me.
BRC: What inspires and compels you to write?
BM: I have an urgent need to write. I must write. I have all these stories I want to share, and I want the reader to understand my stories.
BRC: Is DESIRABLE DAUGHTERS based on real events?
BM: No, but it came out of one evening‘s close conversation with my two sisters at the home of my India-based sister who lives in Bombay, in an apartment with a spectacular view of the city (just like in the book)! We started to talk about the choices we had made, and how different our lives were, and how we all married men my father would not have chosen for us. It's not really our story but does have real background things in it, like our upbringing, our schooling etc.
BRC: Things were up in the air at the end of the book? Is there going to be a sequel?
BM: I realized while I was writing it that this was going to be the first in a trilogy.
BRC: Are any of the characters in DESIRABLE DAUGHTERS real people?
BM: No, they are composite characters. They have some characteristics, eccentricities of people I have known. For instance, the character of Andy, the live-in lover, is inspired by a Buddhist painter who my friend retained. Bish is based on what I imagined the bridegroom would have been like that had been chosen for me. I have a son who is a little bit like Rabi.
BRC: Does the Indian lifestyle you described in DESIRABLE DAUGHTERS still exist?
BM: Everything has changed. It's been modernized. Young people everywhere have lots of choices.
BRC: And some of the quaint customs did exist? Like Tara Lata, the Tree – Bride?
BM: Yes, there were many Tara Latas, married to trees, so that they could have a life on earth, a place in society where they would not be considered outcasts, and a place in Heaven. The ancient Hindus believed that widows were unlucky and would descend to hell.
BRC: While you are writing, do you think of how it will be received by critics? Awards you could win?
BM: Awards are useful when pitching a book for publication. They help, but I never think of them. Sometimes a good novel is read by only two people and a bad one is read by hundreds because of good public relations.
BRC: Would you describe yourself as an ethnic writer?
BM: 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. 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 I 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."
BRC: Who are some of your favorite authors?
BM: Toni Morrison and Alice Monroe, among others.