An Open Letter to Jhumpa Lahiri

Upon reading The Lowland, I wrote an email to Ms. Jhumpa Lahiri. But I couldn’t get past her publishers. Turns out one can contact her only through regular mail, sent care of her publishers. So, I decided to share the mail on my blog, feebly hoping that through the subsequent shares, she might get to read it one day! So, read on, and if you like it, share it on your favorite social network.

Dear ma’am,
I recently finished your book, ‘The Lowland’. I had borrowed it from a friend, and now need to keep it for some more time to deeply comprehend it. The first thought that came to my mind after reading it is that one reading is not enough for me to understand the book. Maybe, later, when I am older and have seen more of life, I’d read a book and understand it right away. But not today.

The Lowland is my second book of yours. I had read The Namesake when I was in middle school. I had started it once again a few days back before I started The Lowland. I intend to go back to it again.

I am at a juncture of my life where I have to make a decision: I am about to finish college, and have been offered jobs which would take me away from my family. I already have been studying in Kolkata for the past four years, away from my family in the sleepy town of Durgapur. But this time the shift, if I chose to pursue my career, would be greater – across a different state. Not a different country, yes. But far, nonetheless.

My parents are simple people who like to keep their children together as a family, just like their parents have. They are used to seeing daughters married off, but visiting occasionally, and the boys working in the same place they grew up, looking after the parents in their old age. In these changed times, my brother is about to leave for college too, probably set for a life far away from our home in the times to come.
At this point, when I read your novel, when I read about Subhash and Udayan’s parents, and then Subhash’s lonely life as Bela grows apart from him and leaves, only meeting him for two weeks or less, I wonder, is this the life I want for myself? True, lot many people have done it before me. They have chosen to explore the world, find themselves in the process, taken a different job in a different city in a different country. But I wonder, have they all done it willingly, without the least care of what they are leaving behind? Without thinking that the people they are leaving behind might not be walking and breathing by the time they come back? The internet has made distances irrelevant. But is it the same as sitting together with one’s family, when there is no power, discussing the simplest chores of life? Or having a meal together, so lovingly prepared by one’s mother?

I don’t know if I sound backward. Maybe, in these prime years of my youth, I should not be thinking of the things I leave behind if I choose to go away, but of what lies ahead. But something inside me holds me back. And the feeling intensifies when I read your books, when I see the futility of the forward journey. That’s when I realize that no matter how far I go, how  many places I explore, the simple emotions that the heart experiences: love, faith, happiness, fear, loss, pain, sadness all can be felt simply by choosing to live among the people who I have always lived with.

I am afraid to leave my parents behind in a house where they have raised us. I am scared to imagine the place the house would be for them when we have left: an empty shell housing furniture. They would see us in their memories, playing, fighting, and studying. They would remember us as they eat each morsel, saying how much we loved to eat a particular dish, wondering if we got to eat those where we lived. The other moments would simply fill with silence.  They would be at a loss of words to speak to each other, maybe only looking at the buildings opposite to us from the balcony. Somehow, when I think of this I see my own old age unfurl in front of me: when my children are grown and are living in other countries, raising their families in completely different environments, their children having no shared memories of the lives their parents have experienced. Sometimes, I think the worst thing in life is the silence. It is worse than Death.

I can safely say you are one of my favorite authors, one who has the capability to hold an entire life-time, maybe life-times of two or three generations in the pages of a single book. It’s a feat to be able to do so. I wish you the best in life.

Arpita Pramanick
Kolkata, India

6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Jhumpa Lahiri

  1. Pingback: Day 9 of Writing 101: Six-Word Open Letter (Really!) | Scribbles@Arpita

  2. Vishvas Arora

    The letter is awesome.
    Many people criticized my decision of staying in my hometown and studying in a college here when I had the chance to go to a college in other state just because I was not ready to leave my parents, but I don’t regret my decision as they are my whole world…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: ‘In Other Words’, I’ll read everything she writes | Scribbles@Arpita

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