Boredom can lead to some great discoveries. A few years ago I was spending a summer in my grandmother’s house in Bangalore and ended up picking up a copy of Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.
I started it grudgingly because I had already read and disliked The Namesake (which I admit, I read just before Mira Nair’s movie version). The narrative of that novel was uninteresting and the details felt unnecessary and disconnected from the story of the Ganguli family.
But the poignant, subdued emotions of Unaccustomed Earth planted themselves in my mind. Lahiri, a Bengali born in London, raised in Rhode Island and living in Brooklyn explores stories of generations of Indian immigrants that struggle to hold on to their roots or shake them off.
Yes, too many Indian authors write about immigration and living in an unaccustomed world, but Lahiri’s writing moves and grows as if unguided by a pen. The characters are themselves and grow into who they want to be in the most organic manner. She’s in no hurry. The last three stories in this short story collection, about Hema and Kaushik are some of the most beautiful stories I’ve read. You can read the first one here.
Interpreter of Maladies, her Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories moves from simple immigration issues to insightful stories about relationships. And her Indian characters could, really be of any nationality. The New Yorker’s archive has Sexy, one of my favourite stories from the book, here.
Some books come to you when you need them the most. Almost like the universe saw your underlying restlessness and frustration, scanned its ginormous library and threw a book in your lap.
Displacement is universal. Whether you’ve lived in the same house since you were born or whether you’ve moved three cities in the past year, the feeling of not entirely fitting in, is universal. There is always some people, some place where you struggle between who you are and who you are trying to be.
Jhumpa Lahiri is credited with having changed the future and course of American fiction and was slammed by some Indian critics for not painting Indians in a more positive light. But I think she has the ability to spin life’s most simple, monotonous chore into the most wonderful story, like this one about her father cooking pulav. Lahiri’s stories have a universal appeal aided with the slow and steady pace that makes you feel like your own life (if chronicled in it’s truest sense by a really brilliant writer) would fit right into the pages of a Jhumpa Lahiri book.
Bonus : Hell-Heaven