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Interpreter Of Maladies
(Jhumpa Lahiri)

The blurb on the book by Amy Tan announces that Jhumpa Lahiri is a "dazzling storyteller with a distinctive voice, an eye for nuance, an ear for irony ". To review the book is but to add to that praise. This first book by Lahiri is a highly mature work of fiction and that too in the field of short story which is always thought as second-best to the novel. It was quite a surprise when Lahiri grabbed the Pulitzer. It was more surprising for she is of the Indian ilk.

The title of Lahiri?s work is quite suggestive for the theme of her stories is not original. It is the common theme of loneliness, but not of being lost in a foreign land for her stories are of Bengal also as of Boston and beyond. Here loneliness is in the sense of being an outsider whether be it Boori Ma and Bibi Haldar in Calcutta or Mrs. Sen and Mrs. Croft in America. Lahiri?s delicate treatment of such characters makes them enduring. Lahiri does not have the magic-realism of Rushdie or the symphonic prose of Seth but she is innovative. The title story displays this trait of Lahiri as a storyteller where an expat-Indian family visits India as tourists and one of them makes an astonishing revelation to their Indian guide . The story titled "A Temporary Matter" is also a work of ingenuity. Here an unexpected circumstance causes a young couple to make confessions to each other every night. It ends with the couple weeping together "for the things they now knew." Then there is Mr. Pirzada whose worries about his family back in Pakistan are intricately linked with the pangs of the birth of Bangladesh. Each of the nine stories in the volume is worth reading and exploring and understanding.

The stories have the time span from first generation to the second generation of Indians in America. Yet the appeal is universal for Lahiri?s concern is not specific. The sublime understatement in these stories along with their wit and humour makes the reader end each story with a vista of possibilities opening before his eyes. It is this that distinguishes Lahiri?s book from others and gives the possessor of the book a lasting comfort.

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