Arun Kumar Shrivastav
Renowned Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri’s new collection of short stories – Roman Stories — is set to be released next month. Her fans are excited and expressing their feelings on X, formerly Twitter. This would be her third collection of short stories after Interpreter of Maladies (1999) and Unaccustomed Earth (2008). She has also written six books, including two novels: The Namesake (2003), The Lowland (2013), In Other Words (2015), The Clothing of Books (2016), Whereabouts (2021), and Translating Myself and Others (2022).
“Sexy means loving someone you do not know,” Jhumpa Lahiri says in a story titled Sexy in the Interpreter of Maladies.
Together, these books establish Jhumpa Lahiri as one of the most admired writers on the literary horizon. In her novel The Lowland, she describes the Indian life of the 1960s on the one hand and the immigrants’ life in the US. In this nerve-wracking, powerful tale of the Naxal movement and the viciousness that it left in society, what amazes you is her ability and perseverance to write such a detailed account of everyday Kolkata life during those days. The story shifts to the US landscape after the main characters immigrate to the land of opportunities. In the entire book, readers can claim only one moment of relief, and that comes when the daughter of the man who got killed in a police encounter in India gives birth to a baby – out of wedlock – in the US and her uncle who married his elder brother’s widow is not any questioning. It’s the only moment of relief.
“Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquillity of the evenings. The promise was that she would find things where she put them, and that there would be no interruption or surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night,” Jhumpa Lahiri, talks about this girl’s mother, who came to the US as a pregnant woman, married to his dead husband’s brother.
Jhumpa Lahiri goes layer after layer within human psychology and distinguishes how men’s and women’s psychology differs from love to sex. Her descriptions will amaze you with the kind of control she has over what and how she says and the linguistic prowess that creates the impact on the readers, but it doesn’t reveal them the power of her language. While she is a storyteller of great calibre who picks small and subtle everyday life situations to interpret and convey powerful emotions, she is a more powerful editor who knows how words can make magic. Her ability to work with language is exemplified by her decision to learn Italian and write her new books in Italian. Now, she is also engaged in Italian-English translations.
A graduate of Columbia University’s Barnard College is returning to her alma mater for the second consecutive year, assuming the role of the Millicent C. McIntosh Professor of English and assuming directorship of the creative writing program. As a Pulitzer Prize laureate and a recipient of the National Humanities Medal bestowed by President Barack Obama, Lahiri recently engaged in a conversation with Columbia News, sharing her insights on her reappointment at Barnard and her perspectives on the realms of writing, reading, and literary translation.
From 2015 until 2022, Lahiri was a professor of creative writing at Princeton University. Three decades after graduating, she would return to Barnard as a professor. Lahiri describes her return to academia as a blend of comfort and bewilderment. This return holds a deeply personal significance for her, as her daughter, Noor Lahiri Vourvoulias, embarks on her first year at Barnard while her son, Octavio Vourvoulias, enters his senior year at Columbia University. In the current semester, Lahiri will be offering courses on exophonic women authors and the art and technique of the diary as a literary genre. Her collection, “Interpreter of Maladies,” earned her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000, marking only the seventh time that such an award was granted to a collection of short stories.
Additionally, the book received the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best Fiction Debut of the Year, and her story “Interpreter of Maladies” won an O. Henry Award. In 2007, “The Namesake” was adapted into a film directed by Mira Nair, with Kal Penn taking on the role of Gogol.
“You are still young, free.. Do yourself a favour. Before it’s too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late,” she says in The Namesake. (IPA)
Arun Kumar Shrivastav