Buffalo, New York, USA
January 01
Traveling through the universe.....just tarrying on this planet savoring life. I get the "Last Word" sometimes in "The Indian American' and relish the privilege to have a few Op-eds published in "News India Times". Niche 'n nice!


MARCH 3, 2011 8:46AM

Run dont Plod ....dear Jhumpa Lahiri

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  028jhumpa lahiri

Now that the buzz of the daughter’s wedding is gone from the bonnet and customary passing of the thanksgiving cooking tradition handed over, changed a few lives with the High school bioinformatics program, the Christmas break handily worked out, the new year resolution promptly broken and the trip to Italy under the Tiber (that’s another story, let me know if you wish to hear dear readers) I thought of relaxing myself with an evening of words with Jhumpa of the Lahiri fame. Being Bengali we have a certain unnatural (did you say?) pride in our prowess with the written word. And the lady has certainly proven herself with awards. She has the Pulitzer, her novel has been made into a movie and she has been chosen to join the Barrack Obama administration!! All in space of a few years! You have to agree dear readers with my expectation of a fabulous evening full of inspiring tit bits that I could pick up about writing. I recharged the camera, sharpened my pencils and thought about what I would wear.

This was important to think about.  There would be members of the Indian community I was sure. Easy for you to sneer! You see the alternative choices in life have left my connections with the Indian community (at best) tenuous. Every time I appear- which is very rare, people either shy away very noticeably or they associate because they have to. Some say a hello and then start to talk to my husband as if I did not exist. So I become like the saran wrap that gets discarded and usually waft away. Being two decades older than my husband who grew up in the community as a second generation does tend to have an effect one way or another. To be intentionally annoying I chose the jeggings my daughter bought for me with a flattering blue top. A pair of stunning silver earings from Bhopal, India , silver neck piece and make up. Hiding all the wrinkles becomes important and the eyes …not to forget the damned bags under the eyes!

Let me just say I looked good especially with my lost weight and all. Quite the cougar that I am. Still tingling from the rejuvenating green tea and the last facebook chats with friends and family, I breezed off to our by now regular, UB distinguished speaker series. Jhumpa Lahiri. She was born Nilanjana Sudeshna but chose Jhumpa. You see Rinku? That is my daughter who has a “good name” and a “house name” like all good Bengali girls. Just making a point…JUST making a point.

Of course the foyer was full of important members of the community complete with badges of honor. You see “they” had been invited to the reception as some of them gleefully informed us. My entire get-up/make up was shot. WE of course had not been invited and did not have the famous badge of such dubious honor! I was given the cellophane treatment which I accepted and spying the mentor who had helped me get my green card wa-ay back I beat a quick and invisible retreat much to my dear husband’s consternation. After so-o many months of hibernation I felt the lights were a bit too bright. There were some audible breaths I chose to ignore. And then they were off! We got to our regular floor seats being season ticket holders and settled in. My neighbor (seat) asked me if I had read Jhumpa’s  books and I kind of hummed and hawed a bit…but had to kind of admit I had not. It seemed blasphemous. Me being Indian and all. They had read everything. I offered… I have seen the movie! Thinking that might help. It did not. Withering looks and muttered exclamations about comparing the book to the movie settled that one. The nerve! Dang! This was not looking good.

The introductions were made with an accent. The words were good and pedantic and very onerous like all good Indian speechifyers. It was going to be an interview. Two upholstered brown sofas had been placed on stage with a very iffy bright flower arrangement on the table on a nice looking carpet. Very homely I thought. Maybe the flowers were trying to offset the blistery cold wind blowing outside. I missed the usual golden castrated Buffalo on stage though and the lady who interprets in sign language was palpably absent. I know it is a side issue but I think of these things you know. She has become part of the speaker series experience and I missed her! Everything was not ticketyboo! Ominous!

Jhumpa  (I can call her that, she is ten years younger)walks in diffidently , shakes hands with the other lady and  sits down, head turned , without once smiling at us or looking to see if we were there at all.  It was like the entire audience was made of cellophane. She stole my pet theory and mass produced it! Just ignored everyone. She has on her high boots with the pearl necklace set from India and hair clipped behind. Very proper and unlike her web pages which has her looking sultry and stunning. She looked tired. Then began the interview. She did not know how and why she wrote or why and how the books got as much acclaim. Perhaps she was being modest. She answered most questions with either she did not know or one liners. When asked about process, she said she did not have one but should. When asked who she modeled Gogol from “The Namesake” on she said it was partly her and mostly fiction. Ashima was partly her mom and partly a composite of others she knew. She spoke a lot about Bengal which by all she said, I gathered her relationship to be pretty feeble. She has three Masters while figuring herself out and when asked why she really could not tell other than she did what was expected and had started working on her PhD which never got completed or some such. She encouraged everyone to plod on. PLOD on??? Dear lady… I am a nondescript cockroach who scribbles nonsense and hopes to get one reader to read. I soar every time I write; I exult every time I get published. I am nothing and I tingle …..You have a Pulitzer and you plod? Now I know what I am doing wrong. I need to plod!

The one point that absolutely got me going was her nebulous affirmation of arranged marriages. Where she gave the usual pip about it being a way of people getting together and how it did not matter how you began but how you lived it. About how she had seen many love marriages begin well but end bad and vice versa for arranged etc etc. Not once did she mention that even if a commitment made out of love is a mistake…. it is everyone’s right to make their own mistake. As long as one starts out on a journey with honesty and the correct motives it matters little how it ends. The fear of the future cannot be the correct incentive for either abdication or inaction. This is not to say that there cannot be multiple choices and approaches to commitments in life, but how can one discount the loftiest reason? How can one discount the best? Regardless of outcome, one is poorer to have never “fallen in” love at all. Above all I wish my children love.

The one point I thought she handled well was about religion. There was no coy-ness or the usual political hoo haa. A breath of fresh air and absolutely in keeping with some modern Bengali families. When asked how she would bring up her kids with mixed religions, she simply said she was not religious. That was something I could hold on to.

They showed a clip from the movie and I cringed. The lady shown was definitely NOT Bengali by any stretch of the imagination. The perceptions were not from Bengal but may have been something she saw in her immediate family. I started to actually feel sorry for the dear girl and felt her lack of identity. I have struggled forever with wondering if I should force my culture upon my children and have actually not done so. It may or not work out for my kids in their future but I feel that without the support of the village around culture is not so easy to import and gavage. Maybe the kids will not thank me for this and maybe they will blame me for not having taught them much about Bengal and being Bengali. If I knew all the answers I too would write a book dammit!  All I can do is vent out my frustrations at the sourness of the grapes I swallowed wholesale tonight. They were going cheap and looked good at the gate. I grabbed too many too fast and am paying for my greed!


This article was published in "The Indian American"-RDR

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A case of simple envy ? i say it was disappointment.
Maybe I caught her on an off day.
Shall wait to see what others think and say!
That is what I try RW and nights such as last make me re-think my efforts and position. I still think I am right. I can only live the way I do and hope that my extensions will imbibe. If they choose to learn from life they will and that can be from any source.
The fact of a turbulent history with arranged weddings in India was completely overlooked by Ms Lahiri. She forgets that we have a past full of child marriages, dowry, bride immolations, and widow spurning all connected to arranged marriages.

I dont deny her her private views but for an intellectual to give a non nuanced answer and not placing it against history is surely too simplistic.

This is not about meeting and greeting this is about the motive behind marriages. What should it be. Which is the purest motive for any human to have a long term commitment with another? How can it be anything other than "love"? It does not matter if a partnership succeeds or not ...that it started with the "correct" motive is what makes it right.
Very amusing.

Husband two decades younger? You fantastic cougar you. I can guess THAT wasn't arranged. I can't understand why people who come to this continent still cling to that custom. Abdication indeed.
You know Myriad when i was new here I too gave inane defenses of the system telling myself that the modern day arranged marriage is a far cry from the old system and one can go along with people facilitating the meet ups etc etc. but that is NOT the question at heart.
The question at heart is WHAT should be the motive for marriage?
The rest is method and means . Once the basic wquestion is defined the rest will fall into place.

But for Jhumpa Lahiri who is now going to join the Obama admin to glibly support such an archaic notion without addressing the inherent and historical problems was astounding to me! I just expected more i guess. :(
Another aspect of the traditional arranged marriage scene is that it is expected that everyone should get married. The question of do-I-want-to, let alone to-some-stranger, is not considered. And the whole scene was pretty shitty for the women, too. But it's natural to accept what *everybody* does and has done *forever*...probably takes a while to shake it off when you go to another culture. (Guess that means it works the other direction too - ?)
actually the modern way IS different. because it seems only to be a facilitated meet up. So one gets a picked choice of ppl who are considered suitable based on background etc etc. and that makes the entire process rather smooth. This is all well and good at the middle and upper middle class level.(not really) The question is how well does it work at the disenfranchised level?

The point is that kids are brought to expect it sometimes and they consider it perfectly natural Do not even imagine that all girls or boys dont want it. Most do. It takes away the pressure of meeting and greeting, takes away the uncertainty of being rejected/failure. Its just very very convenient.
But again the point I am trying to make is it does not matter which way one chooses to meet the partner. It could be anything from chat room to living room. Believe me I am not against people meeting other suitable people via friends and family or anywhere for that matter.

the point is why should one hitch up at all? If not for love...? Then what? What is the alternate honest motive?
Success or failure is immaterial.
the more imp point to me was HOW could an intellectual like Ms Lahiri not discuss it in the context of the many many social problems?
What happened to love, be loved, make mistakes, learn from mistakes, take responsibility, rejoice/despair,learn some more move on>>>>
In today's world where women are trying so hard to get respect , those women who ARE doing well and are in front ...need to pull everyone forward.
And sometimes they need a push to get forward. You go there, you delightful jeggings wearing cougar!
@ Myriad you are spot on. Ramadi, Myriad here has a really good understanding of matters Indian, wouldn't you say? She sees the good and the bad too.

@ Ramadi, the first thing is I looked for a picture of you wearing 'jeggings' and cdnt find it - disappointed :( FB tey diechho ki? Jhumpa sounds like a rather hishebi person. Kintu, exactly ki bolechhilo shey arranged marriage shambondhyey? Is she still married to her American husband? Anyways, you are right.
Did you see the video clip Trish? Well she was answering abt the characters of Ashima and husband which was based upon her parents and when asked the cliched question abt arranged marriage vs love she actually gave the above wishy washy pip. It does not even matter that she dis not come out strongly one way or another because actually that is really not the issue at hand. But to say after having had a love marriage for yourself that the other way is fine and somehow suggesting it might be better in a veiled way seems very odd. But not to nuance that answer with a reference to the tragedies that arranged marriages have been historically is kind of scary.
If anyone could talk abt this you could. The perfidious nature of your own experience is a testimony to this nebulous pap. But even then I say it does not matter that any marriage or union is a success or not. It is the intent and the purpose that is important.
Unbelievable. And she called herself Bengali. i dont even know if she was actually proud abt it or not. Nothing came through.

Knowing lesser abt her is actually my aim.
Great post. Madam Lahiri's limitations and hypocrisy became clear to me right after reading the Namesake. It says nothing, reveals nothing about family or community, about the challenge of finding the balance between the old and the new. By the end of the book the reader knows no more about the characters than at the beginning.

She is good at drawing a blank canvas on which Americans of a certain persuasion can project their nostalgias.
Thinkfeel the sad part is that in her words that night she admitted it. she really has no REAL connection only what her parents gave her taking her to Kolkata every holiday. Thats where it ended. She did not figure it out herself, she did not peer into the psyche of a Bengali and thus even her handling of Sunil in "IN treatment " was messed up. I am a Bengali. It rankles dammit!