Every chair in the lawns of the Diggy Palace was taken and the little space left was occupied by standees, all who came to hear Jhumpa Lahiri at the two sessions she took part in on day two of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival on Saturday.
Readers who thought she would reveal a little more about them were left disappointed — a few walked away midway through her conversation with Rupleena Bose in which she read out a long passage from The Lowland and spoke about the connections and experiences that led to the novel.
"But we know all this," one lady could be heard telling her friend, as Lahiri spoke about first hearing about two brothers involved in the Naxalite movement on a visit to her maternal grandparents' house in Kolkata as a young girl and reacting intensely to it.
Lahiri also spoke of how her parents' decision to leave Kolkata and migrate to the US shaped her consciousness. "For those who go back with some frequency, like my parents who left in the 60s, but kept returning, there is an India that ceases to exist as an everyday reality. I’ve grown up acutely aware of what happens when people leave a place. A place you can identify with completely is also a place from which you can have a distance. My characters have this duality: one they continue to maintain a relationship with from afar."
She made a similar point during the discussions at a session on 'The Global Novel' earlier in the day featuring a powerhouse panel comprising American author Jonathan Franzen, 2013 Man Booker shortlisted British author Jim Crace, Ethiopian-origin writer Maaza Mengiste and Chinese author Xiaolu Guo.
"My upbringing has been global although the term wasn't used then. I'm a writer without any real language; I speak Bengali, went to school and read in English. I never felt that they were both fully mine. I've lived with confusion, juxtaposition and seemingly irreconcilable differences that drive us apart and also the attempt to bridge the gaps," stated Lahiri.
Holding up the example of last year's Nobel Prize winner Alice Munroe, who lives in and writes on in a small town in Ontario, Canada, she opined, “Munroe is a global writer though she writes from a very specific experience. A writer should write what he can write best. Speaking of her craft, she said that she was not conscious of using any tropes when writing but secrets interested her.
“Some of my stories have dealt overtly with the theme of secrecy. What makes human beings so fascinating is this double sidedness we have — our outward and inward life, which fascinates me."
A surprising revelation Lahiri made was about her next book — a non-fiction one written in Italian. She has been living in Rome for the past two years and has been studying the language. "I have not read anything in English in the last two years," she said.