Friday, April 15, 2011

Interpreter of Coincidences

I read these days with an appetite of a blase parrot. The moment any book starts sounding autobiographical, I lose interest in it. Even though I am a lover of biographies, I feel if one wants to write memoirs, they should write them in their autobiography. Not disguise them into novellas, short stories etc. etc.

Tapping into a particular feeling or an incident and spinning a tale out of imagination is what I thought fiction writers do. But these days the more I read, more I sense the lack of imagination. Almost entire volumes are full of nothing but the writers life history.

I am guilty of it too. Hence I stopped a few weeks back.

I decided to take a break. Go away for a bit.

I went to visit my mom-in-law who lives in a place which is smaller than a small town but bigger than a village. A place called Baripada in northern Orissa. A place where eve-teasing is still unheard of, people pick their daily vegetables from their kitchen gardens, sweets are made of pure milk and no place is more than a ten minute ride away.

Blissful co-existence prevailed. We talked about everything under the sun except alcohol, smoking and sex. It is so much fun to find out how your husband grew up and what he was like as a child. We talked and talked. She about the past and me about the future. I couldn't be at loggerheads with the woman who raised the man I so love. She spoke of the time Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and it was Rathyatra time. They were hooked onto BBC radio day and night. 

I had loads of time at hand. I explored the house and its belongings.
Guess what I found on the table??? A book that my husband had bought before we got married.

'Interpreter of Maladies' by Jhumpa Lahiri.

I smiled to myself and remembered how I had stopped reading the book halfway. Too much detailing and no feelings is what I had complained. Writers who are busy observing (so that they can pen down the specifics) often fail to get a grasp on how it feels, is what I thought. The fact that it was written by a beautiful woman who won a Pulitzer at 33 and was much loved around the world fueled my shallow dark side which I rarely admit to.

Here it stared at me. Daring me to finish it.

I picked it up and got down to it. All my ego aside.
My heart sank. The 103 year old lady Mrs. Croft kept harping about the 'man landing on the moon' episode in one of the stories named 'The Third continent'. Mrs. Croft also gave a detailed account of how she heard it on the BBC radio. 

This was uncanny. I had heard the same details from my mom-in-law just a day before. "What a wonderful backdrop it would make for a story", I had thought when she recounted whatever she heard on BBC radio sitting in Rourkela in Orissa, India. Not much different from the narration the century plus lady at Massachusetts Avenue had given in 1969 in the book. Here goes my story idea. Pooof!!! "You Jhumpa Lahiri", I growled.

It was the last story in the book so I gave this coincidence no more thought and started looking for other books in the house. Ma said there were many in the loft, now covered with a white sheet. Standing on a stool, I rummaged through the stacks. I started picking out the books by their sizes as they were higher up and I couldn't see the names. I chose three. One the size of a pocket dictionary, two the size of leisure reading paperbacks.

Got down and dusted them all.
The first one was 'The New Testament'.
Second one a pale green 'Mountain Trailways for the Youth' - A daily devotional book for young Christians.
Third 'Spring in the Valley' - a daily devotional book

I missed a beat.
This was a Hindu household in middle of absolute nowhere in the most unassuming part of the country.
Ma said my father in law loved to read about all religions. He was into learning Arabic as well.

That was not the reason I missed a beat.

"What a wonderful backdrop it it is for a story to find books for various religions in a Hindu household", I would have thought if I hadn't finished reading 'The Interpreter of maladies' just a day before.

'The Blessed House' is the seventh story in the book.
Twinkle (who is a Hindu) keeps finding Christian artifacts hidden in her new house she has just moved into. One day a poster of Jesus. Statue of Virgin Mary the other day. So said the story.

The three books which I had just dusted, looked me in the eye and told me that Madam Lahiri had been here too. I was late. 

Despite my defiant grudges I admitted that she is a wonderful writer.
Yeah yeah...and she is pretty too!


  1. really what a conincidence ... neil Armstrong's landing on moon. two stories. One told 42 years before and one told 24 hours before and both found to be same in details & emotions ..!!

    liked the post for its transperancy .

  2. thx rajiv. I had a good trip. an eye opener in many ways.

  3. Vandu, I like the way you tell a story. :) While reading I always travel through your story along with you.

  4. that is a spooky coincidence.. i get an idea of a horror thriller here. dont you? or is this a story?

  5. nah not a story :) 100% true and uncanny :) that is why I got all spooked out.

  6. Must be an enjoyable read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

  7. She is my first love :)

  8. There's my friend whom I had given this book. She had same view as yours. But the weird thing is I had loved her for these detailed descriptions.


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