CHAPTER - I INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER – I INTRODUCTION Literature is not only a recorded expression of the creative urge and heightened imaginative sensibility of an artist but it also adds colours and life to reality. It is not merely a depiction but a celebration of life. Literary works are portrayals of the thinking patterns and social norms prevalent in society. In fact works of art are the faithful representation of the different facets of common man‘s life. Classical works of literature serve as food for thought and tonic for imagination and innovativeness. In the age of rapid globalization, the formal and informal power of trans-border civil society networks is increasingly pertinent for policy- makers, business leaders, scholar and the civil societies themselves.In this context, Diasporas hold great significance. The diasporic premises include a range of ethnic and religious minorities that have maintained a sense of collective identity away from their homelands. The challenges they pose and the opportunities they represent for both their host countries and homelands are properly understood nor sufficiently addressed. An expatriate writer‘s works represent diasporic experiences and explore phenomena of migration, cultural displacement and its impact.
All Diasporic literature can be treated as an outcome emerging out of the experience of migration; this is especially significant in any analysis of Indian English Literature because its diaspora expands to almost all parts of the globe. The study of diasporic literature is therefore an eminently interdisciplinary endeavour through which we attempt to make analysis of the human experience throughout history and of the ways in which human beings represent that experience and come to an understanding of themselves and of the world around them. Diaspora writing now focuses on the diversity in the cultural heritage and the ability or otherwise of rejecting, discarding or growing with it. Because of the inherent conflict on the lives of the immigrants and the constant beckoning of a personal or a historical past, this writing is vibrant with new approaches and strategies. It explores and establishes significant links between culture, language, memory, imagination and sense of belonging, without dismissing the factors which may interfere with the past like political coercion, manipulations of national demands, and censorship. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the distinguished short-story writes of Indian diaspora whose popularity is growing day-by-day. Beyond the diasporic premises, she presents the human predicaments very effectively in her stories. Migration, rootedness and cultural alienation are some of the major human predicaments witnessed by civilizations since time
immemorial. Every writer is influenced by his mentor or mentors. But he becomes great through his/her originality and nobility of expressions. Lahiri has many things about her own practice of writing, her personal life and the influence of the contemporary writers on her. But she has something new in her literary output which is her contribution to the contemporary culture of writing and that newness has brought her so many laurels. As a short-story writer Jhumpa Lahiri inculcates new meaning and a new perspective in her shorter fiction. Her stories describe human experience and she sincerely presents predicaments of diasporic way of life. Basically she is an objective story teller, who delineates diasporic culture dispassionately. Jhumpa‘s less use of images and simple language with plain functionalism is her chief attribute as a mature writer. She presents stories, attractive stories and compels readers‘ attention. Most of her sentences in the stories are short and succinct. She uses less number of similes and metaphors. But she knows how to create picture in words. In her stories, actions flow like a perennial river. The stories end with ease, without any torment of seldom invoking surprise of suspense in mind and heart of the readers. Jhumpa Lahiri does not require any introduction to the readers of modern fiction. Her maiden venture short story collection Interpreter of 3
Maladies has won her prestigious ―Pulitzer Prize for Fiction‖ in the year 2000. Her works deal with the internal strife and changing human predicament among identities and cultures. One of the themes Lahiri deals in most of prolifically is the search for identity, as defined by the self, by others, by location and by circumstances. In Lahiri‘s stories, everything including gender, homeland, geography, occupation, and role within the community, can act in determining and qualifying identity. Lahiri brings up interesting questions as to what can and cannot act as agents in the determination of identity, and many of her characters struggle against or conform to outside definition. Jhumpa Lahiri has travelled extensively to India and has experienced the effects of colonialism there as well as experienced the issues of the Diaspora as it exists. She feels strong ties to her parents‘ homeland as well as the United States and England. Growing up with ties to all three countries created in Lahiri a sense of homelessness and an inability to feel accepted. Lahiri explains this as an inheritance of her parents‘ ties to India. Lahiri, the daughter of a librarian and school teacher, has always been inclined to creative writing. Lahiri remembers a need to write as early as ten years old and she has always used writing as an outlet for her emotions, ―When I learned to read, I felt the need to copy. I started 4
writing ten page ‗novels‘ during recess with my friends‘ writing allowed me to observe and make sense of things without having to participate. I didn‘t belong. I looked different and felt like an outsider.‖1 At a press conference in Calcutta in January of 2001, Lahiri announced the description of the absence of belonging, ―No country is my motherland. I always find myself in exile in whichever country I travel to, that‘s why I was tempted to write something about those living their lives in exile‖.2 This idea of exile runs consistently throughout Lahiri‘s Pulitzer Prize winning book Interpreter of Maladies. The book established this young writer as one of the most brilliant of her generation. Her stories are one of the very few debut works and only a handful of the collections. Lahiri‘s Interpreter of Maladies is a diasporic that highlights with sensibility, the terrible dilemma and divide feelings that a migrant from the Third World experiences in the West. The dilemma is: it is painful to stay but it is difficult return. It tells about many issues with identity faced by the Diasporic community. The book comprises the stories of first and second generation Indian immigrants, as well as a few stories involving ideas of otherness among communities in India. The stories revolve around the difficulties of relationships, communication and a loss of identity for those in Diasporas. No matter where the story takes place, the characters struggle with the same feelings 5
of exile and the struggle between the two worlds by which they are torn. The stories deal with shifting lines between gender, sexuality, and social status within a Diaspora. Whether the character is a homeless woman from India or Indian male students in the United States, all the characters display the effects of displacement in a Diaspora. Interpreter of Maladies was a critical and commercial success, and was lauded for the powerful storytelling and elegant themes of the work. Lahiri writes eloquently about the immigrant experience and about the divide between cultures, examining both the difficulties and joys of assimilation. These immensely personal stories form, in one critic‘s opinion, a story cycle. Overarching themes and narrative styles culminate in an exploration of the Indian and Indian-American experience, through the eyes of a multitude of characters grappling with themes of identity, ethnicity, love, and culture. The description of artificial ecology of beauty in cute language is an attribute of Jhumpa Lahiri‘s narratives. An example from her famous story Interpreter of Maladies shows her observation of details: The temple made of sandstone, was a massive pyramid-like structure in the shape of a chariot. It was dedicated to the great master of life, the sun, which struck three sides of the edifices as it made its journey each day across the sky. Twenty-four giant wheels were carved on the 6
north and south sides of the plinths. The whole thing was drawn by a team of seven horses, speeding as if through the heavens.3 The Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine short stories that explore themes of identity, the immigrant experience, cultural differences, love, and family. The characters are largely Indian or Indian-American and their stories together paint an evocative picture of India‘s diaspora. Her art in the collection is unique in its scope but even then is bafflingly simple. In A Temporary Matter, a significant story of Interpreter of Maladies, an electrical outage forces married couple Shoba and Shukumar to confront their unspoken pain over the loss of a child. The darkness gives them a safe space to confess secrets. Shoba and Shukumar admit minor indiscretions in the beginning and lead up to nagging doubts about their marriage. In the end, Shoba admits, she is moving out and Shukumar admits to holding his son after he died. In When Mr. Pirzada Comes to Dinner, a young Indian-American girl meets a Pakistani man her family routinely invites to dinner. Somewhat cut off from the culture of her immigrant parents, Lilia does not understand that Mr. Pirzada, since Partition, is no longer considered the same as her parents. The Indian war with Pakistan in 1971 endangers Mr. Pirzada‘s daughters. Witnessing his love and fears, Lilia gains a new 7
awareness of a world larger than her own. In simple yet beguiling prose, Lahiri portrays the complexities of South Asian immigrant community in the United States with her unique art. In A Real Durwan, deals with an old woman, painfully at odds with changed times and desperately making efforts to reconcile her past and to her present. The pain of loss that Boori Ma in A Real Durwan feels can also be interpreted in terms of how people feel about her. They sympathize with her for the loss of her family and take her to be a homeless migrant in pain Bechareh, she probably constructs tales as a way of mourning the loss of her family, was the collective surmise of most of the wives.4 A Real Durwan is an exploration of globalization and its ripple effect on personal economics - and the jealousy and fear it can inspire. Sexy depicts the pain triggered by the situation that a wife and a mistress find themselves in. The narrative is divided between the rhetoric of the legal and the illegal; and the question of expressibility or otherwise pain that an individual experiences. The story narrates an affair between aimless young Miranda and married Dev. Miranda is taken with her curio lover because he appears to be a mature and stable man. He is also the first person who calls her sexy. As Dev‘s behaviour changes when his
wife returns to town, Miranda‘s guilt is exacerbated by her co-worker‘s report of her cousin‘s suffering from a husband‘s infidelity. Still, Miranda seeks knowledge of Dev‘s Bengali culture. After spending the day with the son of her co-worker‘s cousin, however, Miranda is confronted with both the repercussions of an affair and the reality of the situation. The change that she feels within leads to her decision regarding Dev. She decides to end the relationship that she felt had no future at all. She would see him one more Sunday, she decided, perhaps two. Then she would tell him the things she had known all along: that it wasn’t fair to her, or to his wife, that they both deserve better, that there was no point in dragging it on.5 Mrs. Sen‘s is the home where Eliot spends his afternoons in the care of the title character. Mrs. Sen has recently emigrated to America from Calcutta and is not fitting in very well. She misses everything about her home and refuses to learn how to drive - the one activity her husband believes will broaden her life in America. Eliot recognizes this sadness and loss because his own mother is dissatisfied with her life. The birth of her niece and the death of her grandfather cause Mrs. Sen to break down. The only solace she can find is in the fresh fish the market puts on hold for her. Taking Eliot to the market one day, she gets into a car accident. Though unharmed, Eliot is removed from her home and becomes a 9
latchkey kid. Both Mrs. Sen and Eliot are trapped in lives they cannot understand and do not want. This Blessed House is the home shared by newlyweds Sanjeev and Twinkle. Married after only four months of courtship, their moving in process is marred by growing pains. Twinkle‘s gleeful obsession with the Christian iconography left behind by previous tenants irks Sanjeev. He thinks that she is childish and content in a way that he cannot comprehend. They argue about a statue of the Virgin Mary and Twinkle tells Sanjeev that she hates him. Though they make up before their housewarming party, Sanjeev is left with lingering doubts of whether or not they love each other. However, her discarded pair of high heels fills Sanjeev with anticipation. Twinkle finds a silver bust of Jesus that Sanjeev knows will end up on his mantle, but he now feels resigned to the idiosyncrasies of his wife. Lahiri does not take any side in her works. She employs her art in measuring and the breadth of immigrant human experience. The Treatment of Bibi Haldar is told from the point of view of the women of Bibi‘s village. Bibi is gripped by a mysterious illness for which the only cure is believed to be marriage. Her cousin Haldar and his wife determine her to be damaged goods and do not indulge her fantasy of marriage. When Haldar‘s wife becomes pregnant, Bibi is exiled for the 10
safety of the baby. After the girl is born, the treatment of Bibi worsens and the village women retaliate by withdrawing their business from Haldar‘s shop. Haldar and his wife vanish, leaving Bibi to be cared for only by the village. She suffers more attacks and keeps herself. Months later, worried for her safety, the women check in on her and find her pregnant. Bibi keeps the secret of what happened to her and the women help teach her how to raise a child. Bibi is cured. In The Third and Final Continent, the narrator recounts the first six weeks of his life in America in 1969, balancing a new job, a new wife, and a new country. While awaiting his wife‘s green card, the narrator lives in the spare room of a 103-year-old woman, Mrs. Croft who is struck by his kindness. The narrator acclimates to his new life, cherishing Cambridge and his new beginning. However, he is nearly indifferent to the arrival of his wife, Mala. At first they are strangers. When the narrator takes Mala to meet Mrs. Croft, a moment of intimacy and understanding between the two bridges their divide. The narrator then speaks from the present and marvels at the journey his life has encompassed. As awkward as it was, and as endless as it felt to me then, the nightly encounter lasted only about ten minutes; inevitably she would drift off to sleep, her head falling abruptly toward her chest, leaving me free to retire to my room.6 11
Most of Lahiri‘s insightful writings concern the betwixt and between challenges associated with immigration and with generational shifts.
This collection of engaging and beautifully written stories
examines both challenges. Many readers will be haunted by these quietly developed narratives. The unusual title of her short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth, is borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s story, The Custom House, to suggest a shift in fortune when immigrants strike their roots into Unaccustomed Earth. Set almost entirely in the United States, eight separate stories are connected most obviously by cultural dissonances affecting characters that are Indian or have Indian parents. Three of the stories, however, are linked by a strong narrative connection that is unexpected, profound, and unforgettable. For Indian readers, the narratives describe complexities about migration
differences. The stories deal with well-educated children of immigrants who become offspring their parents barely recognize. For other readers, the stories reveal situations about families and customs that are strangely familiar, especially those stories dealing with relationships between parents and children.
The forces of globalization have created and accelerated shifts that can seem staggering to all parents‘ intent on preserving cultural patterns and traditions. Whether Indian or not, most parents experience a sense of alienation while watching their children flourish in a world that increasingly appears unfamiliar and foreign. Not surprisingly, the stories concern strains and challenges affecting mixed relationships or mixed marriages and stresses on disapproving and disappointed parents, while others focus on children succumbing to drugs and alcohol. All deal with some kind of emotional loss, but provide connections to feelings experienced by children and their parents in life‘s quiet and more kinetic negotiations. The first story is about Ruma, a well-educated woman who lives in Seattle with her work-alcoholic American husband, and child, Akash. Generational and cultural contrasts are revealed in overt and more subtle ways when her recently widowed father arrives for a short visit. Even though Ruma‘s complete assimilation into her non-Indian home as well as her on-going worries about her father‘s loneliness are major considerations, another story thread is spun, one that quietly reveals the father‘s thoughts about himself and a new relationship made recently during a vacation in Europe. Ruma‘s assumptions about her father, his loneliness, his possible dependency on her, and the Seattle vacation as a 13
possible signal for relocating to her household turn out to be entirely wrong. After finishing with the dishes he dried them and then scrubbed and dried the inside of the sink, removing the food particles from the drainer. He put the leftovers away in the refrigerator, tied up the trash bag and put it into the large barrel he’d noticed in the driveway, made sure the doors were locked.7 The last three stories follow a boy, Kaushik, and girl, Hema, into adulthood. In the first story, ‗Once in a Lifetime,‘ Hema recalls her first memory of Kaushik when he was nine and she was six. The occasion was a farewell party for Kaushik‘s parents who were returning from the United States to live in Calcutta. The mothers, who grew up in Calcutta, but met in Cambridge, Massachusetts had become very close and were saddened by this separation. The ultra-global connections of this gathering is something which only a writer from the background of an immigrant from the U.K, of deeply Indian and Asian origin can make.8 Seven years passed before Kaushik‘s parents return to the Boston area and stay with Hema‘s family. Hema found the 16-year old young man appealing, but brooding and totally uninterested in her. Even though
Hema expected Kaushik to be Indian-like in behaviour, he was more Americanized than she was. That the family had flown first-class shocked Hema‘s conservative family as did their new smoking and moderate drinking habits. ―The culture shock that the writer exhibits here reveals the thought world of an Indian immigrant.‖9 After a long search, and to the relief of Hema‘s parents, Kaushik‘s family found a modern house on the North Shore. Before they moved to their new home, Kaushik surprised Hema with confidential information-his family had left India to seek treatment in Boston for his mother‘s breast cancer. All medical efforts had been unsuccessful and his mother had only a short time to live. Hema promised to keep this disclosure secret and grieved for the woman she had come to admire and love. ―It is of course a para-continental expression of love and loss, a theme which is ever present in Jhumpa Lahiri‘s works.‖10 The second story in the link, ‗Year‘s End,‘ is narrated by Kaushik. With the opening line, ―I did not attend my father‘s wedding,‖ readers know that Kaushik‘s mother has died. His father, in Calcutta for a visit, had married Chitra, a woman with two young daughters, and all would be returning to the North Shore house to live. Most of the chapter recounts the ordeal of the mother‘s dying, Kaushik‘s tremendous sense of loss, and the loneliness experienced by him at Swarthmore College. No mention is 15
made of Hema by the desolate narrator except to remember he had hated every day spent under her parents‘ roof, but later had come to think of that time with nostalgia. Going Ashore brings Hema and Kaushik together in Rome where she has a study grant and a visiting lectureship and he is on vacation from his work as an award-winning photo journalist. Hema‘s parents have arranged for her to marry Navin in Calcutta.
Navin has accepted a
teaching position at MIT. Until her unexpected reunion with Kaushik and the intense love affair that follows, neither had experienced any real connection with another person. The story about them in Rome seems to represent an independence from the cultural forces that have shaped their lives, but this independence is short lived. Ultimately, she is unable to set aside the expectations imposed by her parents. The consequences of their final separation are more than any reader might imagine. For the umpteenth time in Lahiri’s works, the reader finds the sense of bereavement, a detached, objective view of loss and pain, which often comes not from material dispossession but from a regular experience of fulfilments of existential wants.11 Short story collection is not a genre well-received these days. People prefer to read a novel but not a short story collection. The reason behind this is stated that the stories in a short story-collection are 16
disconnected and the narrative does not become quite good. Not many writers attempt it, and the budding writers certainly do not attempt it. The author in question here is a different story. She published her first work as a short-story collection and became successful. Jhumpa Lahiri, with her supreme art, has managed to make it an engaging read. In This Blessed House, Sanjeev and Twinkle, a newly married couple, are exploring their new house in Hartford, which appears to have been owned by fervent Christians: they keep finding gaudy Biblical paraphernalia hidden throughout the house. While Twinkle is delighted by these objects and wants to display them everywhere, Sanjeev is uncomfortable with them and reminds her that they are Hindu, not Christian. This argument reveals other problems in their relationship; Sanjeev doesn‘t seem to understand Twinkle‘s spontaneity, whereas Twinkle has little regard for Sanjeev‘s discomfort. He is planning a party for his co-workers and is worried about the impression they might get from the interior decorating if their mantelpiece is full of Biblical figurines. After some arguing and a brief amount of tears, a compromise is reached. When the day of the party arrives, the guests are enamoured with Twinkle. Sanjeev still has conflicting feelings about her; he is captivated by her beauty and energy, but irritated by her naiveté and impractical 17
tendencies. The story ends with her and the other party guests discovering a large bust of Jesus Christ in the attic. Although the object disgusts him, he obediently carries it downstairs. This action can either be interpreted as Sanjeev giving into Twinkle and accepting her eccentricities, or as a final, grudging act of compliance in a marriage that he is reconsidering. This story very beautifully describes the clash of religious upbringings, which Jhumpa Lahiri must have herself felt, all through her childhood and youth. As a Hindu family their parents must have retained some of their culture and tendencies and the Christian surroundings of the West must be unsettling for her. It was this formative influence in which she grew up and this is reflected well in her stories. Though, she always talk‘s immigration and issues related to that, Lahiri also carries a peculiar Bengali culture with her. The memories of Partition of India, the Independence of Bangladesh from West Pakistan are live and vibrant in her short stories. In ‗A Real Durwan‘, she tells of all these experiences in a heart-wrenching story about a Bangladeshi Hindu immigrant to West Bengal. Despite her Western birth, the clear insignia of Indianness is universally relevant in the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri, another marker which contributed to her formative influence. The loneliness, a deep sense of remorse and emotional isolation that some of her fictional 18
characters go through, are common enough the world over. The individuals of different countries and cultures who for various reasons are forced to live away from their own country go through trying phases. Whether she suggested a cure or not, Miss Lahiri‘s endeavour to interpret the maladies of the mind that people suffer from and the unique manner in which she makes them realize their own flaws, certainly merit the Prize and the prestige she won with her maiden volume of short fiction. With a remarkable insight she delves deep into the psychological depths of her characters and reveals their inner world by a fascinating yet deceptively simple style. We come across more reality than fancy in her fiction. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that her interpretation of the maladies itself acts like a potent medicine. Yet they are interesting and often make humorous studies of life. Jhumpa Lahiri‘s modern approach is evident in her themes as well as narrative style. The story A Temporary Matter shows that for the young married couple Shukumar and Shoba, marriage appears to have fallen apart. It reached a stage where it became a temporary matter. Trouble started when Shoba delivered a stillborn baby, and blew over casting a long shadow on a normally happy marriage. When they finally lost touch with one another despite sharing a single roof, the temporary cut in power supply seems to have salvaged their failing relationship.
Lahiri excels as a storyteller when she combines her Indian reminiscences and the larger problem of marital discord and the apparently catastrophic end of the couple‘s marriage in a single frame. When the reader anticipates a happy reunion after the closeness that Shukumar and Shoba shared by exchanging untold experiences, it feels like a douse of freezing cold water, when Shoba announces her decision to move into a new apartment. Shoba‘s problem is her inability to deal with her anger and frustration of losing the baby for whose arrival she plans elaborately. In her state of disappointment and self pity, she did not care if her marriage fell apart. Lahiri beautifully explains the aspects of a marriage in Diasporas communities. All of these themes were crucial in her becoming as a writer, which is well reflected in her short stories. Her works show themes of cultural displacement and disorientation, from which result cultural alienation. There are also themes of loss of innocence, troubles of marriage and romance. Lahiri manages to take the theme of clash between tradition and modernity and weaves it into her fiction. One is glad that Lahiri did not escape her circumstances which had a formative influence on her and instead chose to enrich her stories with those themes.
REFERENCES 1. http://www.sawnet.org/books/writing/patel_lahiri.html 2. http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/jan/11jhum.htm 3. Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories of Bengal, Boston and Beyond. London: Harper Collins, 1999. p. 56. 4. Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories of Bengal, Boston and Beyond. London: Harper Collins, 1999. p. 72. 5. Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories of Bengal, Boston and Beyond. London: Harper Collins, 1999. p. 110. 6. Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories of Bengal, Boston and Beyond. London: Harper Collins, 1999. p. 183. 7. Lahiri, Jhumpa. Unaccustomed Earth. New Delhi: Random House India, 2008. p. 27. 8. Sharma, Achyut. The Penultimate Cultural Orbits. New York: Orient. 2010. p. 44. 9. Nigam, Lalesh. The Usurpation of Rights and the Diasporic Literature. Washington: Swansea Publishers. 2014.p. 181. 10. Ibid. p. 207. 21
11. Qureishi, Akram. Eastern Perspectives in Western Climes. Wichitia: Native Publishing. 2012. p. 64.