Once upon a time …
readers use to read stories, novels, watch movies… What they inferred , how they felt , were usually confined to chai time discussions and few impromptu chats. But today readers are no more shy. They are equally expressive and voluble as their favoured authors, as intelligent as an experienced critic and are bold enough to express their views and reviews.
Indians are pathologically drawn to undercurrents of drama and melancholy. The self congratulatory suffering, ill fated romances and oppressive silence of words unsaid.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s second book of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth speaks of the ‘Calcutta’ immigrants who have settled various parts of United States. She draws out the mistrust of the first generation, inevitable breaking away from the Indian-ness of their offspring and the tragicomic consequences.
The subject of inter- continental hilarity and confusion is as old as a flayed horse. However, Lahiri teases the essence and anguish from such stories, making you fall hopelessly in love with the banal but oh so real goings on of the protagonists. You hope with them and you hate with them. You pray for them knowing, with a reader’s keen eye that everything is doomed from the very beginning. A daughter who imagines herself as a crutch to her widowed father ends up clinging to him. A woman heading for obvious disaster in love gets lost in her lover’s stifling indifference. The desperate faith a sister has in her teetering alcoholic brother who opens up a chasm in her family. . Like the neglected house wife who has a crush on a young Bengali student who fails her and the woman who enticed him away. The little girl who meets her first crush years later, at the cusp of a loveless marriage to another. Her delight in a woman who is not her mother, and maybe secretly hopes she was. The weight of her selfish weeping, upon learning a terrible truth, further alienates a young man from everything he deems material or emotional. And her unshed tears of regret and longing for him as he is swept away by the sea.
These stories all talk about aliens in an unknown land, who adapt to the changes, yet turn back to the very things they ran away from as children of Bengali parents.
It is a retelling of habits and feelings that the characters become accustomed to, just to be distanced from it by chance or per force. The stories are written with sweetness tinged with bitter lament and at times with offended disapproval, but always with unflinching honesty.
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