Jhumpa Lahiri, "Hell-Heaven"

When Pranab Kaku stops visiting, it’s tough on the the family.

(from Unaccustomed Earth)

I remember vividly the sound of his exuberant laughter and the sight of his lanky body slouched or sprawled on the dull, mismatched furniture that had come with our apartment. He had a striking face, with a high forehead and a thick mustache, and overgrown, untamed hair that my mother said made him look like the American hippies who were everywhere in those days. His long legs jiggled rapidly up and down wherever he sat, and his elegant hands trembled when he held a cigarette between his fingers, tapping the ashes into a teacup that my mother began to set aside for this exclusive purpose. Though he was a scientist by training, there was nothing rigid or predictable or orderly about him. He always seemed to be starving, walking through the door and announcing that he hadn’t had lunch, and then he would eat ravenously, reaching behind my mother to steal cutlets as she was frying them, before she had a chance to set them properly on a plate with red-onion salad. In private, my parents remarked that he was a brilliant student, a star at Jadavpur who had come to M.I.T. with an impressive assistantship, but Pranab Kaku was cavalier about his classes, skipping them with frequency. “These Americans are learning equations I knew at Usha’s age,” he would complain. He was stunned that my second-grade teacher didn’t assign any homework, and that at the age of seven I hadn’t yet been taught square roots or the concept of pi.

Beautiful and insightful story. Read it here.

3 thoughts on “Jhumpa Lahiri, "Hell-Heaven"

  1. Anonymous

    I just think Lahiri is one of the best short story tellers of the 21st Century. I heard her read at an author’ festival and ran out to get Interpreter of Maladies.


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