Thursday, July 24, 2008

Interpreter Of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri

200 pages. 9 short stories. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the year 2000.

The author is a Bengali. She is known as Jhumpa Lahiri but was born as Nilanjana Sudeshna. The stories are all about Bengali people living in the US, UK and India, their way of living and to be more precise, about their predicament.

The nine stories are:

A Temporary Matter - A husband and wife, the death of an unborn child that changed their relationship.
When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine - A Bengali family abroad provide comfort to Mr. Pirzada whose family is in East Pakistan/Bangladesh when the country and its civilians find themselves in a crisis.
Interpreter of Maladies - A tour guide takes a family to Konark and observes the idiosyncrasies of the family members, particularly the wife, who later makes a shocking revelation to him.
A Real Durwan - A woman who guards an apartment building, her not so happy state and the attitude of the inhabitants towards her.
Sexy - A married Bengali having an affair with a white woman and the eventuality of their relationship.
Mrs. Sen's - A Bengali house wife in the US whose mind and soul remain in India and plays caretaker of an American boy to keep herself occupied.
This Blessed House - Its about two Bengali NRI's who get married, their differing magnitudes of reliigious tolerance and how a timid, restrained husband discovers that the woman he has married is an ebullient, outgoing woman.
The Treatment of Bibi Haldar - Set in Indian background, the story is about an abnormal epileptic young woman who craves marriage but suffers neglect by her own kin and how her ailment is finally cured.
The Third and Final Continent - A young Indian man lives in the UK and then moves to the US. Its about his initial efforts to cope with a new environment and people and his remembrances of these trivia after sevral years of settling in the US.

I did not find anything incredible or remarkable about the book. It’s quite plain. I would not use the word simple. I would say plain. Nothing remarkable about the language either.
Perhaps I expected more from an award winning work.

I was not happy with the ending of some of the stories either, particularly, “This Blessed House”.
Not that I am looking for an O Henry twist in every story but just an ending that feels like an ending.

“The Treatment of Bibi Haldar” is good. I liked the ending too. It’s one of the two stories set in an Indian background.

I did not find any nuances either. Or did I miss something?

I did note down some English words that every Indian gropes for almost everyday but seldom finds. These are words used to denote those “things” that you will find mostly in India or Indian households or Indian society. Words, the lack of knowledge of which make even the most fluent English speaking Indian stammer, stutter, fumble and falter.

Did you know???

Fennel seed or “fennel” is the word for “somph”, the mouth freshener or digestive that we use after meals.

There is actually a name for one of the most commonly found prints on Indian saris and other Indian fabric. Paisley print or simply paisley! A sari with orange paisleys…for instance…

Rava of which Upma is made is called “Semolina” or “Cream of wheat”.

The straw mattress you find in every household is called pallet.

Conclusion : I will not say it’s a bad piece of work, but just that there is nothing remarkable about it.


Rishi said...


Have you read "God of Small Things". If yes what is your opinion. Ask because another India Author.

One book I really want to discuss is "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller. Have you read the book ? They say it is a classic.

- Rishi.

Sowmya said...

Will pick up both these books... thanks for the suggestion...

John Matthew said...

Agree. Jumpa is a generally overrated author.

Sowmya said...

Welcome to this space John.
Thanks for leaving me a comment. Do visit again.