Thursday, May 27, 2004

On reading Jhumpa Lahiri's story in "The New Yorker"

I read Jhumpa Lahiri's latest offering here:

My comment will probably stick out like a sore thumb, considering the fact that it was published in such a prestigious publication, but really, I'm sick of this kind of pandering-to-the-diaspora fiction. To me, this story came across as a conglomeration of cultural cliches. I mean, please, there's so much more to write about than quaint stories about Bengalis eating fish and rice (read Amit Chaudhuri and you'll know what I mean!) and not assimilating with American culture. That's what "Interpreter of Maladies" was all about (someone please tell me why she won a Pulitzer for that - was it just because she was at Columbia herself?). She's been there done that, time to move on but we continue to get the same rehashed stuff from her. This is a theme that has pervaded literature for yonks. There's absolutely nothing remotely novel or interesting about it anymore. I'm not denying the boredom of the educated Indian housewife, or an educated woman who is a homemaker anywhere in the world. If you read Marilyn French's "The Women's Room," a cult book at one point of time, since French highlighted the boredom of the 60s American suburban housewife, you get the same theme. Or Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique", which was instrumental in giving the women's liberation movement a voice, since she elaborated on the same subject, but with data to support her argument. What's the point in being a writer if you are afraid to explore new vistas, if you just want to stick to the tried and tested path just because you've got some amount of success in that? There's more to the world than her miniscule NRI Bengali society and its insignificant little trials and travails. Yes, they work well in reaching out to the Western reader (economics largely determines "literature" these days) but it won't survive the passage of time. As I said before pandering-to-the-diaspora stories are just that, not really worth anything much in the long run.

I mean, I used to think Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was the pits but Jhumpa seems to have set her mind to winning the award for presenting us with reheated curry dinners. Someone needs to tell her that reheated meals gradually lose their taste! I just couldn't appreciate the story because I've read similar ones about 20 times over in the past. Read the 80s Bharati Mukherjee, you'll find the same story, told in much more interesting ways.

PS: Don't waste your money on "The Namesake", if you haven't bought it yet!


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