A petty chance or should I say, a stroke of blind luck made me stumble upon Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing last week, with a long-forgotten book, tucked in, somewhere at the corner of my bookshelf; lost in the myriad of titles and genres. For one thing, despite the fact that Jhumpa Lahiri has been on my to-read bucket list for far too long, I never made the effort to reconnoitre her words. Well, up till now.
Which is what brings me to write this, for Jhumpa Lahiri is one of those authors endowed with effortlessly beautiful writing skills; one of the best I have had a chance to come across. Born in England and brought up in America, Lahiri, today, is widely known for her notable works The Namesake, Interpreter of Maladies and the Lowland; her work, ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ winning her the Pulitzer Prize in the year 2000.
But Lahiri is not yet another American of Indian descent; her writing being more ‘desi’ than you think, the impact almost certainly lighting you up with a dim reminiscence and a smile for her musings are punctuated with numerous references celebrating the Indian culture, but through the eyes of an ABCD.
What’s ABCD, you ask?
A term emotionally indescribable, literally being an acronym for American Born Confused Desis. It’s a term she often associates herself with and also being the inspiration behind so many of her novels and short stories. A term that today, is used to describe Americans of Indian descent, living in a state of disorientation as they feel disconnected with their individuality; living between the place they were born in and the place their roots belong to. In her own words, Lahiri is ‘a writer without a real language.’
But Lahiri understands the power of words, often conjuring up beautiful landscapes, creating entire worlds in just a paragraph or so. This is one author who makes ample usage of imagery to weave an aesthetic experience or a typical homely scenario, so often seen in her novels, paying meticulous attention to every little detail, be it the colour of a garment or the type of jewellery the character is wearing.
Sample this, the opening extract from ‘ The Namesake’, which was later adapted into a successful movie by Mira Nair.
“ 1968 On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chilli pepper, wishing there was mustard oil to pour into the mix. Ashima has been consuming this concoction throughout her pregnancy, a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India, spilling from newspaper cones. Even now that there is barely space inside her, it is the one thing she craves. Tasting from a cupped palm, she frowns; as usual, there’s something missing… ”
In Lahiri’s world, objects seem to have a life of their own, as they help, somewhat passively, in character building. Emotions are often served on platter with minute subtle details, oft striking a personal chord with the reader. Her writing style is simple and clear, lacking metaphors and innuendos, yet thoroughly capturing. But, it is the content that is the real charmer, from an Indian-American boy’s struggles as he comes to terms with his Indian roots, to the story of two brothers bound by tragedy, Lahiri knows how to weave magic with her words.
From the first word till the last, Lahiri’s books promises to take you on a ride that will leave you mesmerized, nostalgic and with a smile. So go, grab a book or two and immerse yourself in her words, into her characters’ world and I’m damn sure you won’t regret it!