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Celebrating Jhumpa Lahiri

books Updated: Jul 11, 2009 18:48 IST
Divya Arya
Divya Arya
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Emotions, like a clear blue sky, plain but equally striking, are what primarily constitute Jhumpa Lahiri's text. The raw, gripping honesty of expression in her words has hooked millions of readers worldwide.

Endearing love, love in transit, identity crisis, rediscovery of self, feigning and finally finding a home in distant foreign lands - are experiences pictured vividly in her short stories - The Interpreter Of Maladies (1998) and Unaccustomed Earth (2008) and her debut novel, The Namesake (2003), which has been made into a successful motion picture by Mira Nair starring Kal Penn, Tabu and Irrfan Khan.

Jhumpa Lahiri won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her debut book The Interpreter Of Maladies in 2000, which contains nine engrossing stories dealing with human feelings. It also won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and was also chosen as The New Yorker's Best Debut of the Year.

Born in London on July 11, 1967, the daughter of Bengali Indian immigrants, her family moved to the United States when she was three. She was raised in Rhode Island, USA and visited Calcutta regularly with her family, often for months at a time.

Jhumpa Lahiri has spent most of her life traveling between countries. Neither a tourist nor a native, her ties to India are as strong as her ties to the US. This feeling of free-floating between cultures, plus her experience growing up in an immigrant household, permeates her characters, settings, and themes.

At 42, Lahiri is the most critically praised member of the world's contemporary literary generation. Lahiri's stories are grave and quiet. They don't bribe you with humor or plot twists or flashy language; they extract a steep up-front investment of time from the reader before they return their hard, dense nuggets of truth. The invoke empathy from the reader.

When Lahiri writes, she steps back from the action, gets out of the way, so the people and things in her stories can exist the way real things do: richly, ambiguously, without explanation.

Her art and her life are marked by the same discipline. She doesn't read reviews. Her Pulitzer is still in its bubble wrap. When she writes, she likes to pretend that she never won the prize at all, that life is as simple as it was when she was writing Interpreter back in Boston. It's as if to describe the world, she has to remove herself from it, keep her art and her life separate. Comfortable as she is crossing borders, she keeps that one tightly closed.

She was placed among the top ten "Sex symbols of the thinking man" in a list, prepared by the popular website The Daily Beast in 2008.

Also, she was featured on the cover of the magazine The Improper Bostonian in April 2008.