Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Jhumpa Lahiri taught me

Last week was SAWCC’s literary festival. One of the evenings, in particular, was very special to me. Author Jhumpa Lahiri graced aspiring word-dabblers with her literati presence. Both the child and the writer in me were so happy to see and hear the maestro up, close, and personal. The exhilarated audience wanted to know so many things about her writing - style, form, inspirations, influences, scheduling etc.

Lahiri spoke with poise and professional distance. She came across as candid, level-headed and real. Her responses were eloquent and proficient. Granted she is a world famous author, BUT she is also a human being, a wife, a mother, and a friend. These are facets of her life that she isn’t oblivious to. Also, she loves her craft but doesn’t write to please others. She gives it her best shot at that time. She understands that not everyone is going to fall madly in love with her work but that’s okay. The results and destiny of a project aren’t under her control, and she seemed very pragmatic about it. Despite her success with writing, she continues to value feedback from a few chosen people whom she trusts and whose criticism she appreciates.

I heard murmurs amongst the audience that her answers were rehearsed. I guess, some people had expected celebrity tantrums and answers built in imaginary castles? I, for one, thought the sassy brouhaha was ridiculous! Not everyone likes to put their life on a public pedestal. Lahiri shared the professional side of her and that’s what the evening was about. I didn’t see why she needed to rip her heart open and share the minutest detail of her personal life with the audience. That’s frivolous expectation! For every writer in the room, including myself, it was a heavenly evening. Just hearing a success story like Jhumpa Lahiri reiterating what I have been thinking and feeling all along was a gift in itself --aside from the Columbia name in common.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have asked me questions, all pertinent, about my “writing”—my style, form, muse, inspiration, voice, routine, discipline etc. Well, like any right-brain using creative types, my emotions evolve with time, place, topic, and experience and flow into my work to occupy a temporary residence. My approach, language, and passion differ from topic to topic and across genres. The eternal learner in me learns something new every day. And, like Jhumpa Lahiri, I give my work my 100% at the time, and I don’t dwell over a finished piece. Letting go is not a challenge. You know, I truly appreciate constructive criticism and of course, kind words of encouragement but then I have no patience for people who say things to feel superior when in reality, we all know the resentment is a reflection of their own incompetence. That is why I get a few friends, whom I implicitly trust, to review my work. I am cognizant that not everyone will cherish the final product. But that’s okay. I write for myself and not to please an audience. My relationship with words is the most untainted and truest of it all. I humbly put them out there with my hopes and prayers and move onto the next project.

Jhumpa Lahiri is a phenomenon in her own way, and I am a nobody when compared to her, but her responses echoed my mere mortal thoughts. Was that reassuring? Hell, yeah!

More until next time.

Copyright © 03.12.2009

“I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying" - Oscar Wilde


Vizzy said...

Very well written. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

keep it up darling.

Anonymous said...

...this article just did a 'Jhumpa Lahiri' on me :-)

BCS said...

Very well written. God bless you. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!