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Chai Time

April 2006
Chai Time



2 Number of books she has published, including the collection of short stories "Interpreter of Maladies" and the critically acclaimed novel "The Namesake."

3 Her age when she moved with her parents from her birthplace in London to Rhode Island. Also the number of master's degrees she has earned.

4 Number of major awards "Interpreter of Maladies" won, including the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Hemingway Award.

29 Number of languages "Interpreter of Maladies" was translated into.

38 Her current age. She was born in 1967.

750,000 Number of copies "Interpreter of Maladies" has sold since it was first published in 1999.

900,000 Number of times she has been asked how to pronounce her name.


"It's hard to think of myself as an American, and yet I am not from India, a place where I was not born and where I have never lived. As a child, I felt that the Indian part of me was unacknowledged, and therefore somehow negated, by my American environment and vice versa. Growing up, I was impatient with my parents for being so different, holding on to India the way they did, and always making me feel like I had to make a choice of which way I would go." (San Francisco Chronicle)

"I've always never loved anything more than sitting quietly in a room by myself, imagining things." (Washington Post)

"I like cooking and eating all different kinds of food. And I come from a very food-oriented family. Like most children of immigrants, I'm aware of how important food becomes for foreigners who are trying to deal with life in a new world. Food is a very deep part of people's lives and it has incredible meaning beyond the obvious nutritional aspects. My parents have given up so many basic things coming here from the life they once knew—family, love, connections—and food is one thing that they've really held onto." (BookPage)


Her given name, appearing on both her passport and birth certificate, is Nilanjana Sudeshna. Her kindergarten teacher favored her pet name, Jhumpa, because it was easier to pronounce. Even so, a British newspaper once told readers that her name was pronounced 'Zoompa Laheery.'

Her education is dwarfed only by her prodigious writing talent. A graduate of Barnard College and Boston University, she has three master's degrees (in English, Creative Writing, and Comparative Literature and the Arts) and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies.

She lives in Brooklyn with her Guatemalan Greek husband, Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, and their son and daughter, who are second-generation Indian American/Guatemalan Greek.


She sees the Internet and email as a distraction to her work. While many writers have their own websites, Jhumpa hasn't even taken possession of JhumpaLahiri.com. "I've never had Internet access," she said in an interview with PIF magazine several years ago. "Actually, I have looked at things on other people's computers as a bystander. A few times in my life I've opened email accounts, twice actually ? but it's something I don't want in my life right now.


The San Francisco Chronicle said she's "as beautiful as any movie star," and her film debut may soon prove that. She and her family are expected to make an appearance in the big screen version of "The Namesake," to be released in 2006. The movie, directed by Mira Nair, stars Kal Penn, Tabu and Irfan Khan. "Jhumpa is a very close friend," Nair told Mid Day newspaper last year. "I've embraced her; shown her drafts and cast her in a role. She's Jhumpamaashi and her whole family in New York is also in it."


When they're feeling the heat of reporters' questions, White House press secretaries have long had an escape chute: They merely say, "Go ahead, Goyal," calling on Raghubir Goyal, the do-it-all publisher of India Globe. No matter the hot topic of the day, whether it be Bill Clinton's infidelity or Dick Cheney's marksmanship, Goyal will invariably ask about India or Pakistan, much to the amusement of the White House press corps. "If you're in a jam, go to Goyal," former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart told The Washington Post, describing what has come to be known as "The Goyal Foil."

Goyal's questions may offer relief, but not because they're short and clear. Last April, while fielding questions about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, White House press secretary Scott McClellan turned to Goyal. His question, according to official White House transcripts: "I don't know what is right behind what President has good relations with Indian leader Dr. Manmohan Singh, and also President General Musharraf of Pakistan. And he seems to have them to have peace in the region, and to have direct line. General Musharraf is going to India to watch the games on the 16th of April. And I hope I will see him there. But at the same time, the U.S. is sending weapons to both India and Pakistan, and they have -- on Kashmir and the problem, they are saying, is Kashmir -- to solve the Kashmir problem. How can they solve the Kashmir problem if Kashmiris will be killed in the war because they will use all the weapons buying from the U.S., Russia, China and U.K. and France against –"


"We rarely ever see the Ku Klux Klan. The perpetrator is more often the president of a college or a corporation who would deny ever being a racist." – Prateek Sampat, a community activist in the Chicago area who is campaigning against racism and discrimination. (IANS)

"If the history of soccer in this country were written today, there would already be a chapter entitled 'Gulati.' He has been totally devoted to the belief the U.S. can be truly a soccer nation. He believed the U.S. could have a top men's league." -- Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, commenting on the election of Sunil Gulati as president of the United States Soccer Federation. (SoccerTimes)

"This is possibly the best chance anyone has of changing me." – eBay sales pitch of DePaul University graduate student Hemant Mehta, an atheist who auctioned off a chance to save his soul, offering to attend one hour of church services for every $10 of the final bid (which was $504).



Bombay became Mumbai, Madras became Chennai, Calcutta became Kolkata and Bangalore is making the switch to Bengaluru. Now comes news that Delhi will soon be known as Dilli.

"Delhi is an English word, a colonial word," said Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. "In the local languages, everyone knows our great city as Dilli."

Atlanta resident Archana Sen said the name change would benefit her and other new immigrants. "I'm so relieved about this," she said. "Now people will not make fun of us when we say we're from Dilli."

The new name is also expected to benefit poets, many of whom had trouble getting anything to rhyme with Delhi, aside from ‘smelly.'

"It's exciting," said Indian poet Vikram Bikram. "Now I can write lines such as ‘Silly Willie went from Philly to Dilli to eat some chili.' I hope no one steals that line. It took me all night to think of it."

Job seekers will also welcome the change. "It will prevent misunderstandings," said Raj Gopal, an accountant in Duluth, Ga. "I once went to an employment agency and told them I had worked in Delhi before. The next day, I had a job slicing meat."

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary will be a company called City Change Inc., which helps Indian cities make the transition from a well-known to an unknown name. "People think it's an easy thing," said Rajiv Gupta, CEO of City Change, "but it's a huge, costly process. We have to change countless signs, logos and stationery – and we also have to help businesses make the change. Do you have any idea how many Delhi Darbars there are?"

The city will also have to spend money on educating people around the world about the new name. "That's very important," Gupta said. "You won't believe how many Americans still ask me what happened to Madras. They think it got swept away by the tsunami."

Abraham George, a professor at the soon-to-be University of Dilli, questioned the name change, saying that the city was losing a name brand that had been built over many decades. "Imagine if Yahoo suddenly changed its name to Laloo," he said. "It would lose money everywhere but Bihar."

Chief Minister Dikshit said most people in the city, even the homeless, supported the name change, despite the cost. A homeless man who just happened to be standing outside her office agreed. "The name change is a good thing," he said. "I would much rather be homeless in Dilli than homeless in Delhi."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the German airline Lufthansa has advised passengers who write "Dilli" on their suitcases to save time and not bother going to baggage claim. About 50,000 suitcases bound for Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata were recently found in a warehouse at Frankfurt International Airport, all of them labeled "Undeliverable. City of destination not found on map."


The World Federation of Tamil Youth (WFTY) has nominated Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Some of the reasons cited by the youth:

1. "She has been giving all of us a peace of her mind."

2. "She encourages us to grow lots of peace. And other vegetables, too."

3. "No matter what's going on in the state, she sleeps very peacefully."

4. "She is at peace with her grey hair."

5. "She always wants a peace of the action."

How to recognize an NRI in India

1. Hires two auto-rickshaws for his family of six.

2. Insists on drinking bottled water everywhere, even when visiting relatives.

3. Gets upset if the train is only six hours behind schedule.

4. Uses the trash can on the train.

5. Buys fruits and vegetables without bargaining.

6. Keeps saying "say cheese" when taking a picture.

7. Attracts more mosquitoes than anyone else.

8. Asks for a napkin at the dosa shop.

9. Enters an office without taking off shoes.

10. Spends more time in the toilet than anywhere else.


Excerpts from actual matrimonial ads on the Internet:

His body is single too: "I live with my parents in parents owned house. My family status is upper middle class. ? My face colour is light dark. I have muscular/single body."

Don't tell your husband: "I believe in simple living and high thinking. I am looking for a girl married unmarried no matters but should be simple and co-operative. If any body interested contact me."

She'll be your Shakespeare: "The world isn't really that big after all. Why then oh why are thee hiding from me? Are you not in ardent search of me as I am of you? Don't you think it's high time we lit up each other's lives with love? – after all, you – gazing at your P.C. this very moment underneath this same big starry blue sky & I – have been Heavenly made for each other."

Don't worry, she's no career woman: "We parents are placing this profile for our daughter. ? She has excelled in her academic and professional career as an engineer, yet she is not career oriented. She likes to focus on helping others towards better health and spiritual growth through yoga teachings."


The Singhsons


A short parody of the popular cartoon.



A site that offers news and entertainment podcasts for South Asians.

Funny Indian


Several video and audio clips of Indian-American comic Rajiv Satyal

Compiled and partly written by Indian humorist MELVIN DURAI.

[Comments? Contributions? We would love to hear from you about Chai Time, our newest column. If you have contributions, please email us at melvin@melvindurai.com. We welcome jokes, quotes, online clips and more]

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