Growing up in a typical Indian multigenerational family, Banerji discovered early that the best way to escape the chaos, loudness and occasional conflicts of a large household was to retreat into an alternative universe. These imaginary excursions impelled her to become a storyteller for a ready audience of younger cousins and classmates. It also generated an intense love of reading and, finally, the compulsion to become a writer.
In her writing Banerji has drawn on the two elements that dominated the relationships in her family’s Calcutta home — food and faith. In particular, her mother’s legendary cooking became a prism through which she observed the interplay of emotions and the unfolding of relationships. This, in turn, set her on the path to becoming a food writer. The family’s deeply-held Hindu faith, with its many rituals connected to food provided an added dimension through which to examine the life, food and culture of her native region of West Bengal.
Banerji spent seven years in the country of Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal). The experience of living in both parts of Bengal made her keenly aware of the attractions and antipathies that can exist between people who straddle the barriers of religion and class. In both fiction and nonfiction, she has dealt with the ebb and flow of these contrary human feelings that often get the better of our rational, pragmatic selves.
In 1990, after going back and forth between her native region and the United States, Banerji settled permanently in the United States. Unlike long-term exiles, she has been able to retain an intense sense of connection to her place of birth. Her imagination has flourished in a richly diverse zone where the nurturing effects of tradition, myth, varying geography, centuries of human endeavor, as well as the eagerness of anticipation and the openness to new ideas have held equal sway.
Banerji has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Gastronomica, Gourmet, and Granta. She has presented papers at the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery where she twice won a Sophie Coe Award in Food and History, in 1998 and 1999. Many of her articles have been reprinted in anthologies in the UK and the US, including the Granta Book of India and the Best American Travel Writing 2006. Her work has also been translated into several European languages.
She worked for several years as an editor, journalist, and translator. From 1992 to 2000, she was the Publications Director of the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston.
In October 2009, she was invited by the Jewish Museum, Berlin to speak at the opening of the museum’s special exhibition titled “Koscher & Co. — On Food and Religion.” In June 2011, she was invited to St. Malo, France to take part in the French literary festival, “Etonnants Voyageurs.” In January 2014, she was a guest at the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival.