On July 11, this week, two award winning authors of Indian origin celebrated their birthday. Join us as we try and learn a little more about these writers who have done INDIA proud and who have kept us engaged with their thoughts, observations, creativity and writing skills.
Born in Kolkatta on July 11, 1956, Ghosh studied at the Doon School and St Stephens College New Delhi before getting a D.Phil in Social Anthropology from Oxford University. Ghosh’s first job was with the Indian Express in New Delhi. In 1986 he published his first novel, the Circle of Reason and won the Prix Medici Estranger, one of France’s top literary awards. In 1999, Ghosh joined the faculty at Queens College, City University of New York as Distinguished Professor in Comparative Literature. Since 2005, he has been a visiting professor at Harvard University.
Ghosh is married to writer Deborah Baker and has two children, Lila and Nayan. He commutes between Kolkatta, Goa (where he has bought a house) and Brooklyn.
Often categorised as historical fiction, Ghosh’s works show an intense understanding of human nature. His characters are living, breathing people whom his readers, meet, understand and befriend. His prose, original. His themes, unique and cross-cultural. In his own words, “My work is about people who find themselves in many different kinds of predicament, historical and contemporary…my most important characters are never those who see things in black and white; nor do they resort to easy judgements. In my view all important ethical and political judgements are difficult; what is more they are always specific to the situation at hand.”
Ghosh’s novels bring alive different times and places and provide readers with rich cultural and sociological experiences. Where does reality end and fiction begin? The blending is so perfect, so seamless that it is almost impossible to tell. This perhaps explains the string of awards won by him. The Shadow Lines won the Sahitya Akademi Award, India’s most prestigious literary award.The Calcutta Chromosome won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for 1997. The Glass Palace won the Grand Prize for Fiction at the Frankfurt International e-Book Awards in 2001. The Hungry Tide won the Hutch Crossword Book Prize in 2006. In 2007 Amitav Ghosh was awarded the Grinzane Cavour Prize in Turin, Italy. Sea of Poppies was shortlisted for the 2008 Booker Prize. In 2007, Ghosh was awarded the Padma Shri. Earlier this year Ghosh along with Margaret Atwood was awarded the Dan David prize, which found him in the midst of a huge controversy.
Born in London on July 11, 1967, Jhumpa had been writing stories in her notebooks since her school days. However, it was only when she took up a research assistantship with a non-profit organisation in Cambridge, that her life as a writer began. In her own words, “For the first time I had a computer of my own at my desk, and I started writing fiction again, more seriously. I used to stay late and come in to work on stories. Eventually I had enough material to apply to the creative writing program at Boston University. But once that ended, unsure of what to do next, I went on to graduate school and got my Ph.D. In the process, it became clear to me that I was not meant to be a scholar. It was something I did out of a sense of duty and practicality, but it was never something I loved. I still wrote stories on the side, publishing things here and there. The year I finished my dissertation, I was also accepted to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and that changed everything. It was something of a miracle. In seven months I got an agent, sold a book, and had a story published in The New Yorker. I’ve been extremely lucky. It’s been the happiest possible ending.”
In 2000, her debut short stories collection, The Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize., the PEN/Hemingway Award and The New Yorker Debut of the Year. She wrote her debut novel, the Namesake in 2003 and it was adapted into a popular movie, directed by Mira Nair. Her second collection of short stories, The Unaccustomed Earth, was released in 2008 and debuted as number 1 on the New York Best sellers list.
The daughter of Bengali Indian immigrants, Jhumpa was born as Nilanjana Sudeshna but became known by her pet name as it was easier to pronounce.. Her family moved to the US when she was just three and Lahiri considers herself to be an American. She obtained a number of degrees from Boston University including a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She is currently a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, appointed by US President Barack Obama. Jhumpa is married to journalist Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush and lives in Brooklyn with her two children.
Jhumpa’s stories are often autobiographical and dwell upon the dilemmas, trials and anxieties of her parents, friends, neighbours and other immigrants. Written in simple English, her stories are popular for their sensitivity and their exploration of immigrant psychology and behaviour.