|Jhumpa Lahiri at Kolkata Literary Meet, 2014|
I am not sure how or where to begin. Jhumpa Lahiri, having written books like The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth, may carry the reputation of a heavyweight author and of a celebrity who would have a certain degree of pompous air around her. But when I recently came across her, what struck me most was her reticence. She talks less and only when it is required. She smiles lesser and only when she really wants to.
It's amazing how she can maintain a straight face even when a really good joke is being floated around. Some of my friends suggested that probably she is arrogant and does not reciprocate the warm greetings of her fans with equal warmth. However, I couldn't disagree more.
Jhumpa mam came across as a woman who is a fiercely private person. She doesn't make any effort to guard herself from public life. It comes quite naturally to her. It is also easy to see that she is not the kind who can socialise easily. She cannot open up in a way she opens up through her writings. In a way, her characters too reflect her persona in several ways. Many of her characters are emotional beings but they are emotional within their own private den. They seldom show their flood of feelings and often keep it suppressed for years until the dam bursts finally and the emotions are unleashed.
On meeting Jhumpa, one cannot figure out what is going inside her mind. Even when I spoke a couple of sentences to her before being ushered out, she just looked at me with her seemingly green eyes and offered no word, except for a thin smile which didn't betray her thoughts.
An outsider will find it hard, even impossible, to break through her shell and peep into her thoughts. She is a woman of few words, as they say, which is ironic in the most ironic way possible, since it is her words which have earned her a Pulitzer trophy and a Man Booker prize nomination.
When I come to think of it, I feel it is perhaps the way it should be with great writers. All their words reside inside their hearts and not on their faces. You've got to earn them. You've got to earn the right of passage into their hearts. There's no other way really.