The name never fails to invoke a range of emotions within us. We’ve sympathized with Gogol for his odd, embarrassing name, wondered whether Subhash and Udayan would ever meet again, and passionately rooted for Mr. Kapashi. Over the years, we’ve lived the lives of these charismatic, unforgettable characters from Kolkata as they went about finding (and losing) their way on the streets of the glittering, aspirational, lonely and unforgiving America.
Jhumpa Lahiri, lesser known as Nilanjana Sudeshna, was born in London to immigrant parents from West Bengal. She moved to Kingston, Rhode Island at the tender age of two. Over the years, she visited Kolkata many times, giving her a chance to get in touch with her Bengali hertitage. Her mother’s want for her to understand Indian culture was possibly the biggest favour she could have given Jhumpa for her career as a writer, given the undeniable Indian flavor in all her books so far.
Jhumpa published her first book, Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories in 1999, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000. Ever since, there has been no turning back. Her bestselling novel The Namesake, showcasing the captivating story of Gogol and his family, was adapted into a film. Her latest book, The Lowland, published in 2013, was a nominee for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction.
Her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, published in 2008, achieved the rare distinction of debuting at number 1 on The New York Times best seller list. This achievement is worthy of mention, as it is not often that a collection of short stories achieves the first slot on this prestigious list. She has also been published in a large number of prestigious magazines, including The New Yorker, Epoch and Harvard Review.
However, her greatest achievement possibly lies in the sheer number of readers she has touched, with her simple, relatable and nostalgic account of the lives of Indian immigrants in America.
Her stories seamlessly tell the lives of families most of us can relate to, the conservative, concerned parents, rebellious teenagers, respect for tradition, and the deep sense of loneliness in being away from home. What is remarkable about Jhumpa’s books is that they’re so relatable. We’ve each, at some point, felt like we’ve known these characters all along. We realize that you see these characters in the people you’ve spoken to, avoided or grown up with. You chance upon similar conversations that you’ve had with your family. You remember feeling exactly the same way they did when you had to make a decision. With every page, you realize that her books carry a part of every Indian reader wrapped up seamlessly within its beautifully flavorsome plot.