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January 13, 2001

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    Calcutta has always been fiercely proud and possessive about all things Bengali. No matter how remote the connection may be. No wonder then that the city is abuzz with the wedding of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri. She is to tie the knot with her boyfriend of two years, Time journalist Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush on Monday, January 15, at Singhi Palace, Gariahat.

    The city is unperturbed about the fact that she herself feels at home in New York. Jhumpa is a Bangla mein (Bengali girl) to them! Nor is it disturbed that the prospective jamai is an American. Instead, the city's bhadralok are more excited about her fiance's fascination for Bengali customs and culture.

    Of course, there are those who harrumph at the fuss and mock the more than usual buzz. Here are what some authors and book lovers had to say about the impending wedding, the bride and the bridegroom...

    Sunil Gangopadhay, novelist:

    The fact that she is getting married in the Bengali style is really her personal affair. So is the fact that she is marrying a foreigner. I have read a few articles about her marriage, but I'm not really interested. I'm not invited either(laughs)!


     

    The fact that she is getting married in the Bengali style is really her personal affair.
    As for the comparison to Hrithik Roshan's wedding, I personally didn't care about or keep track of it, so I really can't talk about any similarity.

    I have read her book; there are a few good stories that stand out though the rest are ordinary. I personally prefer the first story A Temporary Matter and the one of the title. She has an eye for detail and I feel that a novel by her or an autobiography will be very promising.

    Mahashweta Devi, novelist:
    I'm 75 years old and I've not been keeping good health. Why should I have any comment on Jhumpa's wedding or whom she is marrying? Why shouldn't she go ahead and do what she wants to do? After all, it's her life and it's up to her to do what she deems fit.

    I haven't read her book either, so I won't be able to comment on it or the Pulitzer she won for it.

    Buddhadeb Guha, author:

    I'm not interested; it is someone else's personal matter. It is the media that is building it all up because they have nothing better to print. Her wedding has nothing to do with real-life problems. It's all a craze. I'm sad to say this country and her citizens are still suffering from an inferiority complex. The British may have left India over 50 years ago, but we still have a hangover and go for anything that has the approval of the West.


     

    The media is building it all up because they have nothing better to print. Her wedding has nothing to do with real-life problems.
    After all, she's just one book old and the Pulitzer is not the last word in literature. For that matter, no award really is. Her advantage is that she has written in English. There are so many talented Indian writers who are not recognised internationally because they write in their native language and their books are not translated into English.

    I can't comment on her book because I haven't read it. But I have read and liked Arundhati Roy's God Of Small Things. I personally feel an award doesn't make a book read-worthy and isn't an indicator of its quality. But it would be unfair of me to pass judgement on the Interpreter Of Maladies or its author as I am yet to read it. I have heard, though, that her writing style is similar to that of Ashapurna Devi.

    Amit Chaudhuri, novelist:

    I'd prefer not to say anything as it isn't any of my business. It does not concern me in any way. Nor can I comment on the book as I haven't read it yet.

    Anjum Katyal, book critic:

    To be honest, I'm quite curious about why she's coming to Calcutta to get married since she doesn't have a strong Calcutta connection. In fact, I'm quite amused with the exotic weddings scenario (laughs) -- weddings in health spas, Scottish castles and, now, this! Maybe her decision was based on the preference of her relatives. For me, a wedding is a very personal affair and I would have to have it in a place that held a lot of meaning for me.


     

    Calcutta is always enthused about anyone with a Bengali connection, no matter how remote it may be!
    The hype surrounding her wedding is just exemplifies a media hungry for sensational news. Calcutta is always enthused about anyone with a Bengali connection, no matter how remote it may be! I remember how, when Amartya Sen came down after winning the Nobel Prize, the media just went berserk! I wouldn't have been surprised if they ended up interviewing his maid!

    All this hype must be taken with a pinch of salt. As for her choice of groom, it's about two people hitting it off and that can happen anywhere, with anyone.

    In my opinion, her wedding can't be compared to Hrithik Roshan's. Rather, this reminds me of the time when Amitav Ghosh came to Calcutta soon after his father passed away to take care of some arrangements. He specifically didn't want to schedule any appointments and wanted to be left alone. It's a choice he made.

    Jhumpa's making the same choice and it's only fair that people respect it. I wish her the best for a private wedding, though I don't know how successful her effort in this regard will be!

    I've read her book; there are a few stories that are much better than the rest. None of the stories are bad. She is an accomplished writer, but the hype over an Indian writing in English spoilt it. For instance, in the case of God Of Small Things, the hype was justified.

    When I read, I look for originality, in the sense that one gets a distinct feel of the writer's style while reading what he or she has written. Some of Jhumpa's stories lacked that feel.

    Some of her stories that have stayed with me are A Temporary Matter, When Mr Pirzada Came To Dine and Mrs Sen's. These effectively capture a slice of life; I found the other stories to be more narrative.

    There is a kind of quietness in her work that I admire. She writes in pastel shades and works on subtlety. I won't comment on her winning the Pulitzer, as I haven't read the other books that were up for the award. But I'm sure she is as good as any of the contemporary writers on the scene.

    Naveen Kishore, proprietor, The Seagull Bookstore:

    I don't understand the fuss as there are so many people marrying out (of the community) these days. I guess the curiosity results from the fact that she is a celebrity and a somewhat reclusive one at that, as also the fact that she is getting married in the traditional style to an American.


     

    I guess the curiosity results from the fact that she is a celebrity and a somewhat reclusive one at that, as also the fact that she is getting married in the traditional style to an American.
    The media is hyping it because it has a paucity of issues to write on. If she's enjoying the attention, then it's fine. Else, everyone should just leave her alone and let her enjoy her stay in our midst. We have many readings by authors in our store, but I consciously decided against inviting her since she has made it clear that her visit is a purely personal one.

    As for her reasons to get married the traditional way, it could be because her family is here. Non-believers do certain things in accordance with the wishes of people who matter to them. As an American, her fiancÚ must be fascinated by our culture and, maybe, he is excited about going through this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    The problem is we've lost our ability to accept things at face value. We always suspect an ulterior motive or a vested interest. Why can't we just accept the fact that here's someone who wants a traditional wedding because of what she believes in and because of her family? After all, beliefs and tradition are both personal issues.

    I read her book before it won the Pulitzer. I enjoyed it -- it's not a Tolstoy nor is it trying to be one! It's genuine and readable. The rest -- the Pulitzer that is -- is all about circumstances and the way the market was functioning at that particular time.

    Maina Bhagat, consultant and gallery director, Oxford Bookstore Gallery:


     

    Alberto is very protective about her from what I observed in the hour-and-a-half she was here.
    I spoke to Jhumpa. She was in our store with her fiancÚ Alberto on January 10, the same day as the press conference. She's paranoid that the media will take over her wedding; she wants it to be an intensely private affair. She had to be convinced about the press conference as well.

    Alberto is very protective about her from what I observed in the hour-and-a-half she was here. I guess the media doesn't understand her reluctance towards publicity, so there is a conflict of interest.

    I like reading the works of Indian authors in English and Interpreter Of Maladies is well written. It is a good read, with some really interesting stories. I have family in the States and I know for a fact that she has effectively captured the sentiment of the Indians living abroad and struck a chord within them. In her book, one can almost smell the smells and taste the tastes of life there!

    I don't know if it's Pulitzer-worthy, but it is worth reading. The book has been doing very well in Calcutta and there have been several requests for it.

    Page design: Lynette Menezes

    ALSO READ:
    'That's where the mandap for the wedding is'
    'Alberto has taken to Bengali food in a big way'
    The Man Jhumpa will Marry

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