Remedy for Maladies

Since the election—or perhaps the war, or perhaps September 11--I’ve let go of my Pollyannish ways. It just no longer seemed, as it so long did, that the world was getting better for the most part; things seemed quite clearly to be getting worse, at every level, every day. (I am amused to see that I share this preoccupation of trying to gauge a barometric reading of the state of the world—Improving? Worsening?—with the protagonist of Saturday.)

As ever, though, the state of the world at my local seems to buck the trend. My local revives the Pollyanna in me. Crushed under the weight of grading, I planted myself there for a full four hours today. Deep into a set of papers, I suddenly realized that I was grading a set of papers on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, almost all of which optimistically plot a multicultural future, one in which young people cheerfully choose which bits of their tradition to follow, which to reject. These papers, mostly very smart, are also more optimistic than either the wonderful stories or the bits of theory we read together as a class. As I was grading, I was sitting next to a white civil engineer for the state of New Jersey talking to an Indian-American contractor about how they were going to repave my street. Their merry joshing of each other, their happy assurances, even, eventually, their interest in what I was doing, where I taught, seemed to confirm my students’ optimism.