Splendid

8 April 2012

In January 2009, I was gifted with a hardbound copy of Unaccustomed Earth, a book I had been searching for some time. And while I can’t recall all of the stories contained inside that book (which I will probably reread tonight) I do remember the slow, lyrical, lovely prose, and the sense it left of everyday lives layered with meaning, secrets, and longing.

A couple of weeks ago I lost a bet and the prize was two books. Not finding the book I originally intended to get, I ended up buying another Jhumpa Lahiri: a hardbound volume containing both of her other works: the Pulitizer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake. The cover was sprinkled with open books flying on a periwinkle sky, with small clouds floating in the background. Being on sale, I got another copy for myself.

I haven’t read that many books this year so far (unless comics are counted, and those number in volumes). A wager and an Indian-American writer later, I’m happy to be back on my way.

This is the last story from Interpreter of Maladies, entitled The Third and Final Continent. Do read it first before going to the excerpt below.

Whenever we make that drive, I always take Massachusetts Avenue, in spite of the traffic. I barely recognize the buildings now, but each time I am there I return instantly to those six weeks as if they were only the other day, and I slow down and point to Mrs. Croft’s street, saying to my son, Here was my first home in America, where I lived with a woman who was a hundred and three. “Remember?” Mala says, and smiles, amazed, as I am, that there was ever a time that we were strangers. My son always expresses his astonishment, not at Mrs.Croft’s age but at how little I paid in rent, a fact nearly as inconceivable to him as a flag on the moon was to a woman born in 1866. In my son’s eyes I see the ambition that had first hurled me across the world. In a few years he will graduate and pave his own way, alone and unprotected. But I remind myself that he has a father who is still living, a mother who is happy and strong. Whenever he is discouraged, I tell him that if I can survive on three continents, then there is no obstacle he cannot conquer. While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have travelled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.

The Third and Final Continent, Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri 

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