It was the super moon tonight…amid other awestruck audience seated at the huge, sprawling auditorium of the Olan Sanctuary, Dallas, Texas, I had the golden opportunity to listen to Pulitzer prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri reading from her latest nonfiction book, ‘In Other Words’, reading out her latest story ‘The Boundary’ published in The New Yorker in her silken voice and talk to National Book Critics Circle award winning author Ben Fountain. ‘Once in a blue moon’ had a completely new connotation for me as I tried to absorb the glorious moments of this stellar conversation and book reading.
How long had I waited for a moment like this? I was wondering. Probably since 2007, since I read ‘The Namesake’ and Ashima’s intense emotions and pangs for her homeland, her voyage of self-exploration and Gogol’s quest for self-identity had seemed like my very own.
The conversation was multi-dimensional, yet the recurring pattern in all that she spoke of was finding one’s own mooring. Displacement and disintegration from a definitive cultural milieu to realigning one’s self to a fluid linguistic and cultural identity—to me, this would sum up the essence of Jhumpa’s persona. Her quest to recreate herself time and again never ceases to amaze, starting from ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ and ‘The Namesake’, where her fiction had addressed the socio-cultural ethos of individuals/protagonists and tried to find a meaning and closure to the existential questions brewing inside their minds, to ‘In Other Words’, where her nonfictional accounts bring her closer to some of her own existential truths through the process of discovering her soul connection with the Italian language.
It is how her literary and metaphorical journey seems to be coming to a full circle, yet craving to explore more and then some more. As a hungry reader and a humble writer trying to scribble something meaningful out of that same desperation, what could have been more resonating than this discourse that usurped the most part of my time tonight?
Thank you, Jhumpa, for this memorable night at the DMA Arts and Letters Live! You will perhaps never know that amid the vast sea of curious audience, there was this inconsequential fan woman of yours who was profoundly shaken by your dissent today, and felt content that diaspora literature had found such glory in your words that had seeped in her memory today. It might have been a tiny blob in the infinite frame of Time, which cameras couldn’t capture as photography and videography was prohibited due to reasons best known to you, but it will stay.
Lopa Banerjee. January 30, 2018