GOWANUS Spring 2001
INTERPRETER OF JHUMPA
By Anjana Basu
There was a fur of grey wool over the marble and brass five-star fittings.
The lobby crawled with it, over the sofas, on the tables. At first that was
the image that struck the eye, until the fur resolved itself into a mass of
men clutching video cameras and microphones. This was Calcutta’s press body.
They were out in full force on a winter afternoon at the Park Hotel, waiting
for Jhumpa Lahiri to materialise from the depths o f the Oriental restaurant
with her Latin American boyfriend in tow. And, for Calcutta, they were
remarkably punctual, hugging the doors, hugging their cameras, exchanging
The greyness was remarkable, a kind
of determined sobriety. Even the few
No one wanted to see it. I sat at
a table and dismally looked at my
Not that there was anything remotely Jhumpa-ish about the Jhumpa in question who walked out of the Oriental Restaurant. She was a tall sliver of a woman in a shocking-pink dress and blazer. Her streaked brown hair was wrapped in a single piece around her skull. She looked as remote as a bamboo growing in a hidden grove somewhere. It was the clothes more than anything else. If you had put her in a sari she would have been another of the model-wannabe girls with earnest smiles who hovered around the five-star places in Calcutta. “Who’s that celebrity?” I overheard one bystander ask another, as the cameras flashed.
“Jhumpa Lahiri. She wrote something.”
Well she wasn’t a filmstar, even though the first overpowering impression was of Catherine Zeta Jones' wedding photographs with Michael Douglas. Youth and maturity. Her fiancée didn’t let her take a step without him and he smiled and nodded as they made their way into the Banquet Hall. That was where the Press looked at me and wondered why I was there. One of the Star News people said, “Are you here to give her a hard time?”
I smiled in embarrassment. “Actually,
Harper Collins invited me,” and let the
“I want to know if she’s even been to Puri and met a tourist guide.”
“I want to know what the title of the story means.”
“Actually, I’ve only read the first story.”
The hall was air-conditioned and in winter my hands were several degrees colder than the temperature of the room. Renuka Chatterjee came over, was introduced and received an icy handshake while I wondered frantically whether I should refuse to shake hands and/or apologise.
When the conference actually started,
the TV cameras were busy blocking
She wasn’t even in favour of the internet
or epublishing--didn’t have an
On behalf of Harper Collins, the editor Renuka admitted that she had thought Interpreter of Maladies a quiet book and was surprised when it sold 50,000 copies and made a sensation world-wide. A quiet book written by a quiet woman who just happened to be the first person of Indian origin to win the Pulitzer and so share a pedestal with Ernest Hemingway.
The woman doesn’t talk at all, grumbled
the press after the strictly doled out
I pointed out that every writer wasn’t
necessarily a performer in a media
I hung around on the fringes of this
chaos eating petit fours and drinking
(Anjana Basu does advertising work
in Calcutta. Formerly, she taught English Literature in Calcutta University.
A volume of her short stories, The Agency Raga, was published by
Orient Longman, India. Her poems have been featured in an anthology brought
out by Penguin India. Her work has also been published in The Wolfhead
The Amethyst Review, The Blue Moon Review, Kimera
and Recursive Angel.)