Bharati Mukherjee

One of the early tip-offs to me about the enormous changes that were going on with being in a Bangalore house, home, where the young woman from a nearby village, who had been hired to baby sit newborn twins, suddenly said after two weeks of work: ‘I’m sorry, this is too much work, I’m going to try applying for call center jobs. The pay is better.’

I had a 2-week courtship with a fellow student in the fiction workshop in Iowa and a 5-minute wedding in a lawyer’s office above the coffee shop where we’d been having lunch that day. And so I sent a cable to my father saying, ‘By the time you get this, Daddy, I’ll already be Mrs. Blaise!’

I had never walked on the street alone when I was growing up in Calcutta, up to age 20. I had never handled money. You know, there was always a couple of bodyguards behind me, who took care if I wanted… I needed pencils for school, I needed a notebook, they were the ones who were taking out the money. I was constantly guarded.

Bengalis love to celebrate their language, their culture, their politics, their fierce attachment to a city that has been famously dying for more than a century. They resent with equal ferocity the reflex stereotyping that labels any civic dysfunction anywhere in the world ‘another Calcutta.’

The picture of Mother Teresa that I remember from my childhood is of a short, sari-wearing woman scurrying down a red gravel path between manicured lawns. She would have in tow one or two slower-footed, sari-clad young Indian nuns. We thought her a freak. Probably wed picked up on unvoiced opinions of our Loreto nuns.

Mother Teresas detractors have accused her of overemphasizing Calcuttans destitution and of coercing conversion from the defenseless. In the context of lost causes, Mother Teresa took on battles she knew she could win. Taken together, it seems to me, the criticisms of her work do not undermine or topple her overall achievement.