‘Hell-Heaven’ – Story by Zhumpa Lahiri
Review by Remigius de Souza
Aesthetics of hedonism
Zumpa Lahiri’s “Hell-Heaven”, a short story (from her collection ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is being released in India by Random House on April 4, 2008) was circulated by Hindustan Times last Sunday to its readers.
The story is about Bhadralok – the Elite Bengali – Family migrated to America (in 1970s), and the cross currents and undercurrents between two cultures. The protagonist is Pranab Chakraborty, and the story is told by Usha – the daughter of the family – in first person.
I am not writing about the technique of or critic on the writing. The theme of the story, of course, is love, largely interpreted as ‘sex’ these days.
The story is an excellent documentary, which also includes how Usha grows in the cross cultural environment: First she has crushes, then dates, then she has love affairs that lead to sleeping with different (I suppose American) men, and finally a heartbreak, as the story of Pranab comes to an end. By this time Usha is reaching thirty – her middle age, and sooner may run into menopause; her mother reaches fifty.
By now the mother has accepted (or submitted) to the way of life Usha is going through, and consoles her daughter that she would find another love – as we say here in Hindi: “Tu Nahin, Aur Sahi; Aur Nahin Aur Sahi” (If you are not then another, if not then yet another…).
These are common experiences, now, everywhere, not only among the immigrants in foreign countries but even in India. The wealth, prosperity, the surplus… have their obvious fallout, even among the “have not” as well as the “haves”. Neither the affluent nor the orthodox societies have any answers. The elders have miserably failed them. Meanwhile the young have found their options/ alternatives irrespective of traditional values and /or religious commandments; violence in reality or in virtual reality is not ruled out.
At fifty Usha’s mother has not come off her age; she seems to be still an adolescent.
Reading "HELL-HEAVEN" by Zumpa Lahiri has been most stimulating for me.
© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.