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Ranga Rao

By Meenakshi Mukherjee
1937 - 2009


Professor Meenakshi Mukherjee, who passed away recently, is to me more than a brilliant academic and critic.R.K. Narayan had analysed his own strengths: ‘I have roots in family and religion.’ Meenakshi was probably no believer; but I had sensed all along that she had roots in family and Indian culture. This impression was confirmed by a chapter she sent over a year ago from her memoirs in progress. She calls this chapter ‘Innocents Abroad’: the one theme that lights up her first American sojourn is her personal relationships, of family and friends. In Pennsylvania where she had done her Masters, family ties proved decisive. Their attachment to India and their family, including the two sets of parents, too was a compelling force. Although they had offers from the U.S., the couple decided to return to India: Meenakshi had married her own teacher Sujit (‘a professional hazard’, she said later to a friend). Now In ‘Innocents Abroad’ the most vibrant theme is the mutuality of the couple. In Pennsylvania, she travelled with Sujit to many towns and cities and examined newspaper archives and microfilms to help Sujit complete his doctoral assignment in time. She travelled to take up her first teaching assignment abroad, to a small American town called Geneseo, ‘Sujit willingly taking a day off from his dissertation writing to give me moral support. She was twenty-four.I had never been a big-city person . . . I had until that time lived a sheltered life at home in India, and had never even stayed in a hostel. The thought gave her ‘a nervous stomach ache all through the journey. I tried to ignore it because the weather was crisp, the hillside bright with rust and gold. ’The small-town young woman went through the agony of initiation. . . . I would be staying in that unknown place all by myself for at least one academic year. Sujit was to return to Philadelphia after helping me to settle in, because he was in the last stages of writing his Ph. D dissertation and needed to be near the library there. And then Sujit left for PennsylvaniaI suddenly felt a kind of desolation I had never known in my life. I vividly remember one day sitting alone at sunset on a hill that seemed to slope towards infinity, wondering what I was doing alone in this unfamiliar world when all those I loved were ...

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