Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

“A woman, not yet thirty, who had already fallen out of love with life.”

I remember a collection of Hindi short stories I had read while in school. It was syllabus-prescribed. Each story was preceded by a short note on the author. One of those stories, whose title I don’t remember, was written by an author, whose name also I don’t remember but whose work was described as “a painting done with words.” That phrase stuck with me, as I dreamily and vainly imagined someday, someone might describe a work of mine with a similar phrase (this is funny, because back then I wrote only gore filled stories – what a painting they would make!)

Describing Jhumpa Lahiri’s work as a painting would be wrong. Her work is far superior and cannot be described in words so simple. A painting, a finished painting, that is, is not what I would equate it to. But if we must compare her writing to artwork, I would compare it with an intricate landscape freehand sketch that we see an artist draw right before our eyes, that seems so effortless when he picks up his pen, as though he were merely doodling, when the landscape appears as if by magic on paper, and by the time it’s finished, it’s astonishing.

Jhumpa Lahiri is the queen of “Show, Don’t Tell”. Her prose is incredible and flawless. With her storytelling finesse, she breathes life into her characters as well as her plots. Stories of everyday people told in an extraordinarily simplistic style. There are nine stories in this volume, and in each of the characters, the reader might find something to relate to – I know I did. I can’t say for sure which is my favourite story among them – I seem to like them all, but if I had to choose, I think it would be The Real Durwan. I liked Mr. Pirzada’s story a notch above others too. And Bibi Haldar’s story… OK, it’s really hard to decide! It is the description of human relationships, their developments and failures that captivated my interest. At the end, we are all human, and so are Lahiri’s characters, flawed and everything. It’s mesmerizing. If I were to rate the stories individually:

1) A Temporary Matter – 4/5
2) When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine – 4.5/5
3) Interpreter of Maladies – 4/5 (The quote at the beginning of this post is from this story)
4) A Real Durwan – 5/5 (This story is merciless. The ending is sad, made worse by the fact that the blow was delivered with absolutely no fanfare or drama. A devastating, beautiful read.)
5) Sexy – 4/5
6) Mrs. Sen – 4/5
7) This Blessed House 3.5/5. (This story funnily reminded me of the time I used to collect crucifixes, and Mr. used to tell me to stop, convinced that people would find the habit odd. I used to tell him I collected them for purely ornamental reasons (in fact, any religious stuff at home is just ornamental or placed by our moms). I still have one from my collection)
8) The Treatment Of Bibi Haldar – 4.5/5
9) The Third and Final Continent – 4/5

Overall rating: 4.5/5
Don’t miss this one. It’s available at Flipkart, Amazon, and I am sure all bookstores.

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