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January 22, 2000

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Reeta Sinha

Thanks for the phera-by-phera coverage
of Jhumpa's wedding

January 20, 2001
H1Bpuram, California

Dear Editor-in-Chief:

Thank you so much for rediff.com's phera-by-phera coverage of Jhumpa Lahiri's wedding. Here, oceans away, my life would have had little meaning without knowing that she chose to wear sindoor (such a nice Indian girl, isn't she?) and how the groom wore a dhoti (how culturally-sensitive of him). Living on this side of the globe the media leads us to believe it is only Madonna who is into Indian stuff. Thank goodness for rediff.com's stellar journalism. I can't tell you how reassuring it was to see Jhumpa adorned with mehndi and bindis. Perhaps your feature will help Indians the world over reconnect with their inner Indian self.

On a personal note, as a librarian it is wonderful to see a desi media giant such as rediff.com anoint Mrs Lahiri-oh dear-is she keeping her maiden name, will she take her new husband's name or will she hyphenate her name? Perhaps rediff.com will do some in-depth features on this complex issue? As I was saying, I am heartened that an author has become India's Princess Diana and Mother Teresa all rolled into one (of course, for obvious reasons, there was no wedding coverage for Mother Teresa).

It makes sense. With all the objection to Indian beauty queens and flesh-baring actresses (one seems to lead to the other), it is time for Indians to become obsessed with an author. Especially one who hates publicity and (so far) doesn't consider herself a nuclear weapons or geological expert.

I was pleased to see that your coverage extended to the reception also. However, since some of your readers may suffer from Jhumpa-Wedding-Withdrawal, may I suggest you quickly publish photographs of the newlyweds cavorting in the waves on some Goan beach? If I'm not mistaken, they leave on January 22, a Monday, for their honeymoon. Actually, I'm certain of this fact -- each of your articles on this earth-shattering news event reminds us where and when the happy couple will be going.

Perhaps your crew has set up a beach shack already? I hope so. I prefer to read rediff.com's account of the publicity-shy couple's wedding night. It would be the genuine article, so to speak, in-depth coverage approved by the couple. After all, your people were invited to share Jhumpa's most private wedding moments earlier, despite her protests. The absolute worst-case scenario would be if the American paparazzi or its Indian counterpart got the scoop. A honeymoon is news, please don't treat it as anything less.

Just one request? If you could get a shot of the honeymoon suite before they arrive, I'd love to see if the bed has rose petals strewn all over it. You know, filmi-style? A picture of the coy bride with her face hidden by a sari pallu would be lovely also. Or, will the scene be more American -- a heart-shaped bed, satin sheets, champagne chilling in an ice-bucket and the groom carrying Jhumpa into the room? Your readers need to know what's en vogue for Indian brides. I am sure rediff.com sees the value of a "Jhumpa Weds-Honeymoon Exclusive!"

If the Western media would do the job, the burden wouldn't be on rediff.com Unfortunately, the San Jose Mercury News assumed its readers wouldn't care about Jhumpa's wedding. They published a small blurb yesterday, only 156 words if you exclude the title. Pathetic, no? The small piece was published on January 19, four days after the wedding! And it was hidden in the Style & Entertainment section. Don't these people know news when they see it? And they call themselves journalists, hah! Thank goodness you had more sense. I shudder when I think of the people who may have missed the SJMN's coverage (and I use that term loosely).

Such inaccuracies in the newspaper's piece. Can you believe this? They said the groom wore a "sarong" and a "silk shirt." My god. What is this world coming to when journalists... journalists!... can't tell the difference between a dhoti and a sarong? Don't these folks feel a journalistic obligation to retain authenticity in their reporting? Do they think only Americans read their papers? "Let's make sure we use American terminology so readers know what we're talking about." I tell you, I've never been more grateful for your efforts. You give us the news, when we want it (and even when we don't), you tell it to us like it is, not how you think we think it is.

I thought the tone of the SJMN piece was telling too. It was as if the paper wanted to emphasise that Jhumpa Lahiri does not really belong to the US. Immigrants are so 'in' now, you know. Here's how they described her. "Lahiri, 33, born in London of Indian parents, was schooled in the United States." They go on to say, "Lahiri won a Pulitzer last year for Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories, mainly about Indian immigrants in New England and about her childhood home in Calcutta."

Schooled in the United States? You mean she was sent to a US boarding school by her London-residing parents? If I'm not mistaken, she came to the US when she was 2 years old. With her parents. And, childhood home in Calcutta? I wonder if that's what she'd call it. Now, I haven't followed her life entirely (rediff.com may be able to help fill in the gaps, though), but I did hear Jhumpa Lahiri speak in San Francisco in late 1999.

At one point in the panel discussion (entitled Post-Colonial Indian Literature-something or other) Ms Lahiri prefaced a reply by saying she was not an immigrant like the other authors present. This was after the NRI moderator (a journalist, I believe) frequently lumped her in with the other panelists, Bharti Mukherjee, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Shauna Singh Baldwin. I had to give Lahiri credit for speaking up. Maybe she was setting the record straight, reminding us she grew up in the US, that her parents may have had the "immigrant" experience Indian authors so love to write about now, but that her own was perhaps a bit different.

In another exchange, she again seemed to distance herself from the NRI obsession with Indian-ness. Responding to a question from a young Indian in the audience about writing as a career, Lahiri said she didn't know too many parents who were thrilled when their child announced s/he wanted to be a writer. American, Chinese, Hungarian... doesn't matter, in other words, this wasn't an Indian thing.

Whether Jhumpa wants to be Indian or not, thanks to rediff.com she knows that India is not going to abandon her as the SJMN and the US seem to have done. NRI or RI, Jhumpa knows we know she's Indian. She came back to the motherland to be married, didn't she? As the NRI moderator of the Indian women authors panel described, Jhumpa is the daughter we'd all love to have. How sweet.

Of course, I've had some experience with NRI mothers myself and I can't say they are overjoyed when their good Indian daughter brings home a non-desi fiancÚ. But hey, Jhumpa agreed to sindoor and wore a sari. So she didn't marry a nice Indian boy, but haven't Bengalis always been known for their progressive ways? All is forgiven. Jhumpa Lahiri came home when it mattered most and rediff.com was there to welcome her.

I have to tell you, it took me awhile to figure out why her wedding was newsworthy, but that's the real story isn't it? The Indian girl raised abroad returns home, as if she had never left at all. Okay, so she won a prize also, but 30 years later and Jhumpa still thinks of India as "home" (doesn't she?). That's the angle, right? Who would expect that someone raised in the US could or would do so? You and I both know the children of NRIs are famous for rejecting their culture and dissing their horribly backward, obsessed-with-an-India-of-yesterday parents. And the women, ugh. Those US-raised Indian girls, what do they know about Indian culture?

Thank you rediff.com for exposing the truth. Now Indian men (and more importantly, their mothers) will realize that being born or raised in the US is not a curse, that it is not the end to-what was it Amitabh Bachchan called it? Oh yes, parampara, anushasan, sanskriti; tradition, discipline, culture. Hey, any US-raised Indian gal who can convince a non-desi to wear a sarong has to be an expert in all three, I think.

Mark my words, I predict there will be a significant increase in the marriage-value of Indian prize-winning women authors born and raised outside of India. Once again, thank you rediff.com

One last thing, since marriage and matchmaking seem to be "hot' now in journalistic circles, perhaps you can check out the other real story behind Jhumpa's wedding? I kind of allude to it above. A series might be appropriate. "Why are Indian-raised girls marrying foreigners? Aren't our men good enough?" or "Indian men (US-raised or Indian) flock to the motherland; Desi gals go ga-ga!"

Perhaps you could follow a US-born 30-something desi guy as he goes on his 2-week bride-shopping trip to India. Travel with him as he returns to his ancestral home after 15 years, amazed to see that Indian women drive and drink beer now. Get some close-up shots as he looks at the women hoping for an audience. You could also have someone delve into the mind (and heart, I presume) of the Indian girls who are standing in line, but I think that could be covered in a paragraph or two (green card, his salary).

Please don't make the story as superficial as arranged marriage vs love marriage. That's old news and covered on an hourly basis in most desi chat rooms. Find out why those who leave India believe the only women worthy of preserving "Indian" culture are cultivated in India. Hasn't Jhumpa proven them wrong-that someone living for most of her life away from India hasn't turned her back on things like culture and tradition? That is why rediff.com followed the event so closely, isn't it?

But, more and more now, I hear from Indian men raised here who say, I want a girl from a good family; the Indian girls here are good enough to date but I wouldn't want to marry any of them; it takes too much time here... there the girls just line up, I saw 9 girls in 5 days, I couldn't do that here; here you have to get to know them, it's hard work and if it doesn't work out, you have to start all over again; they're trainable from there; here they say they want a career... doesn't that say they aren't interested in building a life with me?

I don't know. I guess I expect someone who emigrated as an adult to go back to India to marry, and most relationships are arranged anyway; by chance, choice, parents, friends or divine intervention. But there has to be another story here. The one that examines why US-raised Indian men are going to India with their NRI mothers in increasing numbers to pick out a wife. These are men whose only image of India is the one created by their NRI parents, men who don't want to go to the real India more than once every 12 to 13 years, men who reject most Indian customs and traditions. How do these men become "Indian" overnight and only for this one aspect of their life? Doesn't that seem newsworthy, rediff.com? At least as much as Jhumpa's purple or red saris?

After all, these men, the ones who marry purebred, homegrown Indian women, won't some of them have daughters of their own one day? What will these US-raised Indian men do when their friend's son says, "Your daughter? Yeah, she's all right, but no thanks. I want to marry a girl from a good Indian family. Just like you and my dad did."

Think I'm making this stuff up? I'd love to give you more details, but that's why you guys are called journalists and I'm not.

Reeta Sinha

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