Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jhumpa Lahumpa Lahiri at Angel Orensanz & Beyond

I think that I’ve always been someone more comfortable observing life ... intensely so as a child ...
-Jhumpa Lahiri (in conversation with Charlie Rose)

I once had a crush on a writer named Jhumpa
[pronounced joom-pa]
Last name: Lahiri
For years now
In my mind's ears and my poor wife's
She was Jhumpa Lahumpa
That's how I thought of her, how I referred to her
I couldn't stop

If you don't know, this is ridiculous
The London born, Bengali-Indian author from America
Her stories are not silly
They're New Yorker literary
Jhumpa doesn't write for kids
That's not her style
Not Jhumpa Lahumpa
Ahem, Lahiri

No, but seriously
At 33
For her first book
Jhumpa Lahumpa
Won the Pulitzer

It's that name
I can't stop converting it to Willy Wonka creations

Jhumpa, Lahumpa, zoomtitty doo

This is unfair
She is a serious writer
I have an actual anecdote

Last year I flew to New York to meet her
Truth told, I was to meet many famous writers
The annual New Yorker Festival

She'd share the stage with two other American scribes
Also with unique names
T. Coraghessan Boyle
And, really, what're you gonna rhyme that with
And Jeffrey Eugenides
Which only ever made me think of Eugenics
Which brings up the Nazis
And there's nothing funny about that
(Unless Tarantino, Roberto Benigni or Mel Brooks are involved)

But Jhumpa
She didn't have to be funny
Her tense, realist, powerful stories sure weren't

The three writers were on a stage in a converted old synagogue
Angel Orensanz was the venue's name
Someone famous probably
I didn't google him
Left him a Sephardic Jewish left fielder in my mind
Angel Orensanz
If he'd been any baseball good
Shit, if he'd ever gotten to wear the pinstripes
They'd have had to name a fizzy citrus drink after him
Angel Orensanz
Glug glug glug

It was a Friday night
Sabbath eve at the old synagogue
Not that anyone seemed to notice

The writers were speaking

Jhumpa who had been Lahumpa
on that stage
In Angel Orensanz's wooden cathedral of a synagogue
Eugenidies and Coraghessan on either side
Up there she became Lahiri La-lousy

She was so cold and closed
As if she were angry to be there
To share
Not just uncomfortable
Because believe me, I was ready to give sympathy
To Jhumpa who had been
We all were
Lovers of her Interpretation of Maladies
But this woman was downright contrary
What flow the other two writers on stage produced
Lahiri cancelled out
Like a negative bug lamp
Zapping any good buzz in the room
The Shul
The Orensanz

She was awful

I couldn't help myself
Going up after
Joining the line of the many who went up after

No photo request
No, no, I don't want you to sign my book
Just hear my appreciation
Know my thanks
For your big-brassy talent
For the depth of your soul-shuddering insights

To the lined up folks before me
Lahiri was glass-eyed cold
That stage awful
It was also personal

Things would be different for me
For us
She and I
I knew
I was wrong
It was not
She shook my hand
She did not smile
Those cold eyes

There was no Lahumpa to this Jhumpa

Crush crushed
Romance over
I'd no longer even like her
It was decided

But then I heard that quote
That soundbite I wrote above
The half I wrote above
And the half I left to put here, below

...But I think that that’s really … always a part of me – the fact that I am very comfortable removing myself from actual experience.

It's not personal, Jon
You don't even know the woman
It's her books you fell for
Her short stories
I do
And soon
I'll return
She is that good
Jhumpa Lahumpa Lahiri


  1. I remember reading Interpreter of Maladies years ago. I don't remember any of the stories now, but I remember the language was good and I finished the book quite quickly. How come I don't remember even one story? Perhaps I wasn't very attentive then.

    Such a stylized picture and a better one at the bottom.

  2. My thoughts exactly, about the pics. The glossy vs. the real.

    Not sure why you don't remember. Re-visit, I say. It's that good a book.

  3. allison1:40 p.m.

    i'm digging your poetry.

  4. arigatou, ne, my ex-ex-pat friend.


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