The literary press dusts off ideas of geographic dislocation, cultural identity, immigrant experience and suchlike every time Jhumpa Lahiri publishes a new novel. It is as if those are the only vantage points from which her writing makes sense. I have never understood those ideas other than grasping the superficiality of their lexical meaning. For instance, I do not comprehend geographic dislocation. What is that?
Lahiri’s latest is ‘The Lowland’ is being received with remarkable praise and effusion. One is genuinely happy for her simply because it takes a lot to produce any creative body of work. The success of any writer anywhere is the success of all writers everywhere. (I say this only because it sounds quotable).
To the extent that she has consistently remained celebrated by most people who read her, critics and regular readers alike, it is commendable. Those who do not write or make films or paint or compose music or generally engage in creating consumable content it is hard to understand that these are not easily accomplished.
It is not my case that there is anything even remotely special about creators of content. On the contrary, it has always been my case that there is nothing particularly special about them even though what they do is not as easy as those who consume it may make it sound. I do not really know what the point here is but I have made it irrespective.
That said, every time a new work is produced by someone in my ethnic propinquity I try to check it out, be it a film or a novel or a painting or a musical composition. It is in keeping with my continuing quest to understand what is so grandly called “the human condition.” It has been for decades that I have engaged in this exercise without getting any closer to genuine comprehension. I just do not get what the allure of such writing is. What is the “human condition” in it?
Journalists who interview Lahiri and other similar writers invariably use terms such as geographic dislocation, identity and immigrant experience. They use these terms to create a certain seriousness of purpose in the author’s book. They get into details of the process that leads an author to write something, anything, in terms of his or her motivation. The discourse invariably gets laden with sociocultural constructs, none of of which I really understand. Successful writers in the category of Lahiri acquire a certain gravitas which feeds their compulsion to say important things, deep things, lofty things, at all times. In their defense, more often than not they are only responding to an overanalyzing critic’s attempts to make their interviews stand apart.
It has been my case for as long as I remember that the process of any creation, particularly the literary kind, is way less endowed with mystique than those who read insist on according it. It is utterly futile to second-guess any writer because the actual process of writing is quite mechanical. I am a writer of zero consequence despite having written millions of words over the decades. There is next to no prospect of ever being in a position where serious literary critics would feel compelled to ask me deeply felt questions about the human condition and the geographic dislocation it often engenders and how it, in turn, impacts, our cultural impulses. However, if that ever happens I would have absolutely nothing to say.
Lately, I have revived with surprising productivity my Urdu/Hindi poetry. Although I have been writing that since I was 15 or perhaps even younger, there has never been a moment when my ghazals or haikus have been a result of some profound emotional churning. None of what one finds in those ghazals or haikus in terms of anger, despair, rage, romance, disgust or whatever else is at all representative of what I feel or believe in. To me they are nothing more than manufactured ideas that happen to rhyme and may have some intrinsic cleverness or quirkiness. It is a contrived performance.
I can tell you from personal experience that it can often be a mistake to read anything into a writer’s motivations by reading their works. So stop asking Jhumpa Lahiri about geographic dislocation, cultural identity, immigrant experience and suchlike.