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When Jhumpa Lahiri stopped time

While Cyrus Mistry made Mumbai proud by bagging the 2014 DSC Prize for his novel, Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, author Jhumpa Lahiri was one of the biggest draws on day two at the Jaipur Literature Festival

Jhumpa Lahiri, the Indian American author held the audience spellbound as she spoke on her novels, writing experiences and future plans. Excerpts

Jhumpa Lahiri is writing a  non-fiction book in Italian. Pic/AFP

The choice between short stories and novels...
Is intuitive. I consider myself fortunate because I like working in both forms. If something can be short then I like it to be short. I don’t believe that a novel is important and a short story is incidental.
I think short stories are an incredible form, they are beautiful in their concentration and economy. I am so indebted to so many short story writers. I like to keep everything down to the bare minimum.

On her future project
I am writing non-fiction, which is very different for me and very challenging. Pretty soon after moving to Italy, I felt the need to start writing in that language in a way to better learn the language in some sense. I have studied the language for many years and am a great lover of the language. I am discovering that in the process of writing the book, it is turning out to be a sort of a linguistic autobiography.

It’s a book about my relationship with the Italian language. It’s going to be very short. In the process of writing this book, I have come to understand that — I never felt that Bengali and English were fully mine. Same is the case with Italian. As a writer, language is important to me. Without language I am a nobody.

On the character Gauri in her latest novel, Lowland
Gauri is a mystery to me. I am not sure where she came from. All I can say is that the book wasn’t functioning without her. I had these cue seeds when I started the book, the time period, the idea of the brothers, the neighbourhood, Tollygunge and so on, so forth. But really I was spinning my wheel for many years not knowing how to take this thing forward until Gauri arrived. And once I saw her, I worked her into the lives of these brothers. She is the key to this book and a character who makes very intense decisions, some disturbing choices, and makes a lot of mistakes. But it wasn’t my interest to judge this character.

Shashi Tharoor missed
Owing to the sudden death of his wife, author-politician Shashi Tharoor was unable to come to the festival. Other authors and literary figures stepped in to fill the void. Tharoor’s chair at a Bhaskar Bhasha Series event was filled by author and journalist CP Surendran who introduced Indian author and filmmaker MT Vasudevan Nair and translator Gita Krishnamurthy. But with nine Malayalam authors at the festival, Tharoor’s absence was keenly felt. Tharoor was also the designated guest of honour to present the prestigious DSC Prize to the winner. But as the minister was forced to stay back in Delhi due to unforseen circumstances, PEN International’s president, John Ralston Saul, stepped in.

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