‘Mrs. Sen’s’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

The story of Mrs. Sen centers around a lonely woman, known to most as the “professor’s wife”. She relies on letters from home and on food preparation to feel at home in a foreign land. Mrs. Sen doesn’t have a child of her own but she looks after someone else’s child and, perhaps because I was pregnant at the time of reading it, I felt the character’s loneliness quite viscerally. It was the summer of 1999, while on a holiday in Kingston, Jamaica that I read this story as well as the others in Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize-winning debut collection, Interpreter of Maladies. I was so enthralled by the stories that I began reading them out loud. Food in ‘Mrs Sen’s’ serves as a metaphor for the condition of migration and diaspora and the culinary descriptions were what struck me the most as I rolled the words around on my tongue. Mrs. Sen “… took whole vegetables between her hands and hacked them apart: cauliflower, cabbage, butternut squash. She split things in half, then quarters, speedily producing florets, cubes, slices, and shreds. She could peel a potato in seconds. At times she sat cross-legged, at times with legs splayed, surrounded by an array of colanders and shallow bowls of water in which she immersed her chopped ingredients.”

First published in Salamander magazine. Collected in Interpreter of Maladies, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999/Flamingo, 2000

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s