- Globalization and Change in India: The Rise of an “Indian Dream” in Miss New India: An Interview with Bharati Mukherjee
After four decades of writing about the arrival of Indian immigrants in America, Bharati Mukherjee, the American author of Indo-Bengali origins, turns to the depiction of transnational and internal migration in India in her latest novel, Miss New India (2011). The third part of a trilogy that began with Desirable Daughters (2002) and The Tree Bride (2004), Miss New India sheds light on the changes brought about by globalization in India, depicting the massive migration of ambitious and audacious young Indians into Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley. Mukherjee portrays twenty-first-century India in a digital age when American culture and values are imported and transformed by the young Indians who end up staying in the country. Roots and routes are negotiated in the novel in unprecedented ways, leading to the rise of new kinds of transnational cultural identities. Performing American identity in their workplace and switching between Indian and American identities in their daily lives, the characters of Miss New India illustrate an accommodation of “Americanness” and a transformation of “Indianness” in contemporary India through the validation of hybridity. They show young Indians’ rejection of the traditional purity of cultural identity preferred by their parents’ generation in favor of a modern and thriving “Indo-Western” metropolitan subjectivity. Full of initiative and ambition, these young Indians are on the lookout for new opportunities in modern India. They pursue prosperity and success as well as individual happiness. In the process, they create the myth of an “Indian Dream.”
In this interview, Mukherjee gives an overview of the ideas that led to the writing of Miss New India. The discussion focuses on the transnational worldview transmitted by the novel and the influence of Western ideals on the young Indian generation. The clash between tradition and modernity is the central concern that arises in Mukherjee’s responses. She explains how the transformation of social and cultural structures initiated by the process of globalization in India [End Page 178] caught her attention. The notion of change is key to understanding both Miss New India and contemporary India. She also expands some of the themes found in her earlier works, such as the process of “unhousement” and “rehousement,” the reinvention of identities, and the awakening of female migrant characters to self-empowerment. The interview also touches on the changes occurring in the American literary canon due to the mass migration of writers in a globalized and transnational era. Ultimately, Mukherjee introduces a new literary category, “The Literature of New Arrival,” which adds a multi-ethnic aesthetic to contemporary and transnational American literature.
India is always present in your novels. To what extent does your birth country inspire your American novels?
Well, I think the most important compelling force in my fiction has been being transnational: the experience of having started out incredibly solidly rooted in a traditional culture, then having found myself deracinated from that culture, and gradually becoming re-rooted in an alien culture, the secret codes of which culture I knew little about until I landed in it. That process of “unhousement” and “rehousement”—to use the words of my author-husband, Clark Blaise, who writes eloquently about border crossings—is behind all my American novels.
My novels seem to grow out of a personal energy, an energy unleashed by a combination of traumatizing and inspiring experiences and histories I have lived through. The most recent novels—Desirable Daughters, The Tree Bride, and Miss New India—talk about immigration, internal migration, and globalization. They are about leaving a town or city that you know very well and landing in a city, town, culture, and ethics that you don’t know. When I landed as a student at the [Iowa] Writers’ Workshop, I had expected to write my MFA thesis as a collection of stories about Calcuttans, inspired by [James] Joyce’s Dubliners . I had no idea that emotional undercurrents entailed in unhousement and rehousement would creep into my thesis story collection.
After decades of writing about international immigration in the US, your latest...