Recently, my boy was immersed in a conversation with his colleague when she mentioned the works of Jhumpa Lahiri
Excited, my ADHD boy immediately cut her off and proudly declared “Oh Lahiri is my girl’s favorite author”. His co-worker then told him something that immediately shattered all his pride. “Hmmm..Lahiri’s work is quite repetitive” she said.
Now I am pretty defensive when it comes to my admired authors. And my boy is aware of this. So while re-telling me this office chat, he very nonchalantly-but-actually-apprehensively reiterated what his co-worker had said. Just as expected, my defensive demon sprang into action. I expostulated about how all her books are different and just because they are based on the life of Bengali immigrants trying to make it in U.S/U.K., does not mean that the writing is repetitive.
By the time I was finished, I was breathless and indignant. My boy was silent and oblivious.“Of course she is not repetitive, beta. I am just telling you what I heard”, he said opting to play the safe diplomatic card. I wanted to retort. But he was right. I sighed and said “Yeah. Forget it.” Conversation then shifted to other topics.
But I couldn’t forget it. His colleague’s words remained annoyingly stuck inside my brain. Like that execrable feeling you get when food is stuck in your teeth. You don’t feel calm until you pry it out with a toothpick. (Or a very vigorous tongue action)
So, if only to get it out of my head, I finally had to give in to the comment. I dug out all of Lahiri’s books and flipped through them. Drawing the curtain of my adulation, I peered at the books unbiasedly. And I finally saw what the girl was saying. I saw familiar stories of immigrants and their struggle with living life in a new place with uncomfortable anomalies in culture and traditions. I saw brown-skinned people living amongst their white-skinned peers, desperately wanting to fit in. I saw Indian parents sighing in disappointment as they helplessly witnessed their children slowly shedding their values to get more acclimatized.
I gritted my teeth. I was nettled. Who wouldn’t be? After all, I had just realized something terribly unsettling about the author who I had, up until then, found infallible.
This caused a deluge of uneasy thoughts inside my brain. Had my admiration made me blind to the ‘repetitiveness’? Does my favorite author really fall into the category of repeating? God I hate that colleague of his. ‘Repetitive’ What a snob! And why the hell am I repeating the word repetitive? Am I not supposed to be a wannabe writer with a rich vocabulary? Thank god for Google.
And hallelujah. Google, as always, had the answer.
You see, when I went on Google to search for the synonyms of repetitive, most of the words that came in front of me were like this : Monotonous, boring, mundane, mind-numbing and ( I am not kidding here) soul-destroying. Really? Soul-destroying? Come on Google. Isn’t that taking it a bit too far? Is drinking water everyday soul-destroying? Seriously, heights of being extra.
All these words have such a negative connotation to them. I frowned and thought to myself “But this is not how Lahiri’s books feel like”
And that’s when it hit me.
I was never blind to Lahiri’s ‘soul-destroying’ writing. Oh no. It is just that I had always considered this perceived repetitiveness to be her niche. Never had the word ‘Repetition’ even crossed my mind.
For me, reading Lahiri is like reading different human beings. They are made up of the same body parts. Yet they are unique in their own way. Yes, she writes about Indian immigrants and their lives in America. But somehow she magically brings out something original in each book. Interpreter of Maladies consists of short stories pertaining to how first-generation Indian immigrants feel in a strange land. On the other hand, Unaccustomed Earth talks about the second and third generation, and how they usually drift apart from their culture. The Namesake is a masterpiece that somewhat elaborates the writer’s struggle with her complex name when she was growing up in the States. In The Lowland, Lahiri narrates the story of two completely different brothers in the era of Naxalism in West Bengal and how each of their lives intervene. All in all, she is a true veteran.
So, thanks to my rumination (and Google), I was able to, not only get over the comment, but also ascertain my venerating beliefs in an artist.
But one thought still unsettles me. Just like the girl, many others certainly might be holding the same point of view. Well, then I guess it comes down to the difference in everybody’s perspectives. And I accept it.
Meanwhile, Lahiri still remains a favorite of mine. I still read her books and find the intricate writing style to be beautiful. To me it is just the opposite of repetitive.
It is soul-uplifting. (Yeah take that Google)
(For people who are still convinced that Lahiri’s works are repetitive, I suggest that they give her non-fiction books a quick read. Maybe then they’ll understand what a talented genius she is)