For the last decade or more we have started taking a special interest in the writings by Indian Authors set against a backdrop in India itself or Indians residing overseas and primarily in the US.
Last summer my husband gifted me with a copy of the “Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri. A collection of eight short stories delving into human relations and its various intricacies, but written from the perspective of an Indian born and brought up abroad to parents who chose to migrate and make a life away from the Indian soil; yet holding on to the roots, rather the primary roots that they were bound to back home with little knowledge of all the tertiary roots that are always coming out with time. It’s the conflict of the generations for example as seen in the “Namesake” though alien to me, an Indian born and brought up in a fairly affluent Indian family striving away from home for only fifteen years not too awed by the western civilization.
Hence when I laid my hands which always love the feel and texture of a new book, especially the crisp hard folder of a hard bound cover, holding it as if it’s the most prized treasure of all awaiting to find a quiet corner away from the sound of voices to dive right into the innumerable pages………..was surprised at the momentary hesitation and reluctance to…..plunge in……………
Taking one short story between other writers and books I completed the unaccustomed. But here comes my question……..the conflict process of one generation with another is not just restricted to Indians undergoing the metamorphosis on a foreign land. It’s extremely commonplace for teenagers and Indian offsprings growing up at home and was equally prevalent in the last three generations too ………why…. haven’t we all heard the famous statement from a parent or an elder sibling so often reiterated…….”Akhon to ja bondhu ra boley o korey tai bhalo laagey” …that is …. ” Now all that your friends say and do are more acceptable to you”……in a reproachful note. That summed up adolescence in a line … a break from all that’s handed down. Then what is so unique in what happens in the life of Hema and Kaushik, Ruma and her father?
It’s only very recently when I was reading “A Sublime Address” by Amit Chaudhri, I realised what attracts us so much. It’s the vivid descriptions of Indian living……..the small minor details of textures , smells flavours that we grew up with as a part and parcel of our reachable touchable perspective of Bengaliness and wider perspective of Indianness. Things long forgotten, like the key vendor walking down the scorching deserted summer streets of Kolkata advertising his services ONLY with the jingling of a huge bunch of keys and not uttering a single syllable. Description of the soft yet neatly ironed cotton “anchol” of a lady whose wet long hair still brings back the smell of freshness that are associated to our mothers and Jethis and Kakimas as seen in our childhood. The delicate sound of the rikshawalas bell against a wooden rod of his riksha, that reverberates in our ears while reading the lines. The sudden burst of activity as soon as a broken down car needs a push to get recharged, by the idle youth (the good-for-nothing lads as they are called by the elderly), generally found lazing on the wide steps of old houses. Further the complete satisfaction of chewing a fishbone from a “murighonto” ( a Bengali delicacy prepared with fish head, rice and dal) described in yet another story by yet another writer set in a land far away from
Hence the intricate descriptions are what the mind craves for to relocate itself and let it wander away to the Indianness and not so much concerned as to what really happened to the characters who are merely a visual outline of what we want to see and feel.