Interpreter Of Maladies By Jhumpa Lahiri – Book Review
Kudos to Mr… Donno his name. But yes, he speaks English. He calls himself a ‘Friend of students’ and sells books at Nehru Place, New Delhi at throwaway prices, literally. I got it at Rs 60/-. No, it was not original, but pirated version of the Pulitzer Prize winner book in 2000. Printed, I guess, somewhere in or around Delhi. Thats how I came across Interpreter of Maladies. A collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, her first one. Nine stories make up the 270 odd pages book, one of the finest collection of short stories I have come across.
The book is rightly sub-titled Stories of Bengal, Boston and Beyond. It captures in words, the feeling called Nostalgia in myriads of ways. How you long for your own country, your own people, your own culture while abroad. How you start comparing with your home everything starting from food, dresses, markets to the way people talk and behave in a party, or in bed. How you wish to go back to your roots. Not because the new place is not good or people are rude or you are fed up with the job. But because you miss the faces you were so used to, or you miss that special Adda with your friends, or you yearn for fresh fish and frown at the lack of variety.
I dont really know whether the author lived in Bengal. But the way little things are presented makes you feel right inside a typical Bengali kitchen, or in a Calcutta fish market, or in that 3-storied building at Dacca, or in that building where Boori Maa lived. Bengali sentiments attached with fish, sindoor and Calcutta are taken care of rather objectively. You feel as if you were not reading a book, but watching a movie.
The characters are real-life. You might have seen them while you were sipping a cup of coffee at the Coffee House, or while working out at the Gym, or in a Railway Station, or your next door neighbour, or your colleague. Or, in some case, it might be you. Like the estranged couple, or the Bangla Professor in US in times of domestic turmoil, or the infidel executive, or the lady who happily becomes a mistress and then, suddenly, relents having done so.
Some stories take a sudden turn, sometimes tragic, sometimes what you would just like it to turn into. Like the story of two married, yet estranged people over the death of their child. Like the story of an Interpreter(read the story to know what this word means, literally and metaphorically) and a tourist lady when the former interprets the malady of the lady. But unlike the story of Boori Maa.
The only worthless story is that of a couple who keep on finding several ‘blessed’ objects like statues of Jesus and Mary, or a tablecloth with Jesus and the like. I hate to see such a story in this, otherwise, excellent book. When a story ends, you crave for more. You think ‘Why the story ends at all?’. You are not going to stop for anything less than a full length novel on each of the bunch of characters. I guess, I better start with The Namesake now.