Wednesday, February 1, 2023

A divergent experience of first and second generation immigrant characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake – Mavidi Papinaidu, Andhrapradesh



The main objectives of the study is to analyze the themes and works of the major India Diaspora writers in English with special reference to Jhupha Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake focusing on the various themes such as the experiences of the immigrant characters of Jhumpa Lahiri and the assumptions and the realities of Lahiri’s interpretations on her characters. Another important objective of this research is to study the themes of acculturation and contra acculturation of Lahiri’s characters and how the immigrant characters conflict between duel culture systems. Distinctive experiences between the first and second generation immigrant characters in the alien land in the present study. Another objective of this study is to show how the immigrant characters struggle for identity, and how they are dislocated.

KEY WORDS: Diaspora, assumptions, acculturation, identity, dislocated.

2.1. Introduction

“Languages are jealous sovereigns, and passports are rarely allowed for travelers to cross their strictly guarded boundaries.” (P-353)

Rabindranath Tagore, 1935

Immigration is part and parcel of human life. Not only human beings but also all living beings in the world move from a place to place in search of quality life and survival. All the works of Jhumpa Lahiri, whether it is her first short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies which is the Pulitzer prize winning literary master piece or her second literary work the novel The Name Sake or her New York best seller short story collection The Unaccustomed Earth depict the immigrants experiences of the middle class people not only from our subcontinent but also from some other parts of Asian continent.

Migration is nothing new to mankind. In the olden days, kings and emperors attack on the other kingdoms in search of wealth. Colonials also explored various countries for the purpose of business. In the modern era all kinds of human beings fly even over the seas for the purpose of quality education, business and employment.

Twenty first century youth never lose any kind of opportunity that comes into their lives to move alien land. Not only mankind but also all living beings leave for further distances for their sustenance. People may go from tropical region to coldest parts of the world and visa-visa.the distance among the countries is narrowed due to globalization because of flexible transport system and fast moving transport like planes and ships and trains. All these are the factors causes for the human immigration. Technology advancement is also the most important factor which fetches drastic change in the minds of people such as the entire world is one. The feeling of oneness is injected in human brain, despite their distinctive cultures, traditions, languages and countries. People aware there are only physical boundaries among the countries not emotional boundaries. So there is a lot of cooperation among the nations in terms of finance and society.

Immigration in the modern world created healthy environment in the countries and it’s people so that people migrate from any country to any country share the other cultures believes what not everything. It is an opportunity for the people to understand the diverse cultural backgrounds of other nations. It not only reduces the physical boundaries but also emotional, that is why man easily shifts and he is humbly respected which causes great harmony in the world. The greatest advantage is there is great uplift in the down trodden nations particularly in the African continent.

Business men, students to pursuit of higher education, engineers, highly skilled doctors every one and every category of people migrates which causes for the writing about the immigrants by the settled writers because as  immigrants every writer experiences both the pros and cons of immigration. Describing the lives of immigrants is the common themes of every Diaspora writer. At the same time immigration is not only an American dream but also a great night mare. It is really a great boon for the second generation immigrants whereas bane for the first generation. They struggled a lot in the alien land. It is really a bitter experience for the characters like Mr. Sen. in The Interpreter of Maladies, Ashoke and Ashima in Lahiri’s The Namesake who the first generation people. Even in Bharati Mukergy’s great novel Wife also has the similar kind of character who suffers a lot.

A close reading of Jhumpa Lahiri’s works especially, her first work the short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies makes very interesting study of the themes of the exile with its multiple experiences. Born in London to Indian Bengali parents who had migrated to the United Kingdom, many years ago, Jhumpa Lahiri is the second generation Diaspora writer. She had to move to road island with her parents where she spent her teenage. She travelled from one place to another place and never confine to any one particular place for a long time. Such frequent moments developed a lack of sense of belonging and created a sense of exile in Jhumpa Lahiri. In the observations of Depandu Das:

Immigration has been deployed as a concept beyond simply a forced removal from a given physical spaces in exile cannot be overlooked as physical location plays a decisive role in a cultural production. Threat and violence are not the only forces to cause exile, subtler forms of compulsion can do the same as well (P-64).

2.2. Sense of Belongingness

With the close reading of Lahiri’s short stories, it is clearly understood how the each character in the stories have the sense of un belongingness which is the most tragic experience of Indian immigrants. Shukumar and Shoba in the first story of The Interpreter of Maladies and the temporary matter are the apt examples. Shukumar is a research scholar at the age of thirty five who is not doing anything for their survival. Shoba is a working woman who always away from her husband and has separate rooms in the same house. Only at their dinner time, meet at the dining hall in the candle light where even cannot see their faces each other.

Another character is Mr.Pirzada has the deep sense of exile and detachment in the alien land. He has also multiple experiences depicted by Lahiri in one of the stories such as “Mr.Pirzada Came to Dine”. He is also a research scholar from East Pakistan. He has been working as Professor of Botany. He has been sent to Boston to upgrade his knowledge. He came to New England by leaving his entire family in the home land makes him to feel strong sense of isolation and exile. He stays in America makes him to feel in between’s. One side his family on the other side his perspectives by using university grants for his research. To avoid this kind of isolation he often visits Indian Bengali families and discuss Indian politics, conditions in Indian.

As Sandhya Tiwari commented these immigrants were for the sake of greater opportunities, perhaps a better standard of living and yet it was tough because they had taken such a huge step and left so much behind. Feeling as if they are in river with a foot in two different boats, they spend their immigrant life. Each boat wants to pull them in separate direction, they are always torn between the two cultural incongruity and marital understanding and this was the tragic part of their life. (P-36)

In the title story of The Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri portraits the  emigrants maladies makes us to make out the frustration and sense of deceive. Mrs.Das has an illicit son with one of Punjabi friend of her husband. She did a mistake and she is not able to hide it in her mind so that she tries to reveal it to Mr.Kapasi who is the real interpreter in this story. She wants solution for her malady from Kapasi. This shows how she feels guilty after doing a mistake. She is not getting relieved from her psychological pain.

Mrs.Das expresses her state of isolation and her responsible for the tragedy in her life. This kind of predicament baffles the life of immigrants, moving between values of collectivist and individualist cultures. They attempt at navigating relationship between the universal and the unique, but they find that the homogenizing forces of globalization, the chaos of mechanized living, and the silence of loneliness threatens cultural identity instead of fostering a sense of community and threatens individual identity instead of nurturing self learning.

There is another important story in the interpreter of maladies is the sexy which shows how the immigrants in the alien land have the bitter experience of illegitimate relationship with the native Americans which they feel it is nothing but a new experience. They simply ignore it is really disagreed in the Indian context and it is almost a sin according to the Indian customs and traditions. Dev in this story have a post marital affair with an American lady, Miranda who is easily attracted to Dev with his simple word that she is so sexy. In the absence of Dev’s wife they shared the bed each other. it is really an experience make the Indian immigrants exploits the rich lives in the alien land.

2.3. Contrast between First and Second Generations.

Experiences of the first generation immigrants contrast with the second generation. second generation immigrants like Gogol who is the protagonist and Sonia sister of Gogol in Lahore’s The Namesake really enjoy the fruits of immigration in the dream land of America but the first generation characters like Ashima and Ashoke, parents of Gogol and Sonia really have bitter experiences in the alien land because of advanced education, easy inculcation, second and third generation immigrants enjoy rather than first generation.

Gogol and Sonia are likeminded people so that they easily inculcate the new things such as change in the eating habits, dressing style and the way they communicate in the native accent with the native people. Easy mingling with all kinds of people who settled from various countries is also an added advantage for the second generation immigrants. Gogol and Sonia wear western costumes without any hesitation but Ashima, their mother even after long stay she is traditionally wearing sari which shows her strong sense of belongingness with native land. Her children habituate eating pizzas and burgers. This difference are between them because Gogol and Sonia born and brought up in the alien land therefore, they do not have that much of association with mother land even though they come to their mother land and staying here for a few days.

It is clearly reflected a feeling of in-between’s, nostalgia, displacement problem in every character of Lahiri because Lahiri also experience the same which is visible in her characters. First generation immigrants never easily accept the change due to their past background. Gogol parents often attend parties which are celebrated by the Bengali families on the occasion of either Durgapuza or Vinayakachaviti where the children are getting boredom with the unknown customs but they do not realize it is their mother land rich treasure.

So, immigration for the first generation in the alien land causes various problems such as conflict between two cultures, confusion in the multi cultured world. First generation immigrants try to accustom the new land but physically successful not spiritually because their souls are there with mother land only.

Being isolation is another major problem for Indian immigrants in the United States. As there is joint family system in India, all the members of family of different generations live in one home. They share everything among themselves. They habituate living with crowd both in and out. Once they migrated to any other country, they cannot bare the isolation because the family ambience in the alien land is not like in India.  Everyone is busy with something. They don’t have much time to spend with other family members except weekends that to they spend weekends predominantly with tours by eating in restaurants and sea coasts. Ashima in The Namesake, being first generation immigrant, getting isolated because her husband goes out to MIT, she does not know any neighbors for her accompany. So she stays back at home all the days without doing anything which causes for her isolation. Not only Lahiri’s Ashima but also Dimple in Bharati Mukergy’s novel wife experienced the same.

2.4. Sense of Exile.

Getting isolated is certainly a painful one for character like Ashima because she comes from such a big traditional Bengali family where she was born and brought up. Ashima gets isolated twice in the United States In the very beginning of her entrance and after the death of her husband. Unexpectedly her husband has died with heart attack. By that time she is alone at home because Gogol went with his girlfriend whereas Sonia has got married and living outside. Ashoke also went out and working on a research work. This mishap has happened. After twenty seven years of stay in the foreign land, Ashima slowly come out of isolation by working in the university library. There she has made friend ship with other women and forget about the absence of her family members. She realizes that this is happening in everybody’s life that to it is very common in the alien land.

However, Ashima forced to imbibe living alone in the United States. There is another miserable incident that has happened .When she is pregnant, she really frustrates from isolation because if she stays in India during her pregnancy, there are affectionate grandparents, parents, cousins, friends and relatives. Here in the Cambridge no one is there to be with her and her assistance. The most horrible thing in the hospital is no body is there with her except Ashoke. She reminds her family members and fell so sad about it. Even after giving birth to a baby boy, she does not know what name to be given to her son. Without elder’s suggestions, Ashoke has given name of a Russian writer Gogol to his son. This is all happened only because of isolated lives in the foreign land. Every human being in this world gets isolated at certain point of time in the life. But being isolated for a long time is really miserable one for Indian immigrants specially.

This long isolation causes for different psychological disorders. That is why dimple in the wife murder her husband. But Ashima in The Namesake bare it silently by crying. Weak family relations are the reason for this and the influence on the Indian immigrants. For every Indian there two worlds, one is the world where he is working another is home. That is why Indian immigrants even today they cannot imagine homelessness and detachment, where ever they are.

2.5. Detachment and Infatuations

Detachment and infatuation towards foreign culture is another strange experience of Indian immigrants. Gogol has girlfriend and keep on changing them one after another, first American girl Ruth next Maxine later Indian Bengali origin girl Moushami shows how easily Gogol infatuate the new culture. Sonia who is supposed to get married the person who has to be opted by her parents. But she also falls in love with Ben. Moushami, though she is from a traditional Bengali family, she resembles the Native American girl, all the time cigar between her fingers, and premarital relationship with all kinds of boys from various nations, early age attachment with school going boys which causes the big gap between the family members and their loved ones. Gogol in his father’s absence he has to visit his mother instead he spends weak ends with his lover. Such way Gogol has detached from his parents Moushami from her husband Gogol.

This infatuation causes also break up of strong relationship with family members. Moushami, in her appearance a pure traditional Bengali but in her attitude she is an American. She reveals her premarital relationships to Gogol when they get married which shows her frankness but at the same time it causes break up her post marital relationship with her husband. Loneliness is not a great concept to discuss in the second generation people but it is really painstaking to the first generation immigrants like Ashima. As Lahiri born for Indian origin Bengali women, she keenly identified the internal struggle of her mother. So she describes the lives of first generation immigrants beautifully.

Ashoke, though he is first generation immigrant, he never feels loneliness. He is all the time busy with either study or teaching or research. In the beginning of his stay in Cambridge he is busy with his PhD work in the electrical Department, Soon, in teaching, later in research, before his death. In the weekends he prefers to be with his family members, most of the time shopping with his wife and children. Gogol and Sonia as born on the alien land, they too never feel loneliness. They easily mingle with Native Americans. Besides this, Ashoke often spends his time by presenting papers in the conferences and attending seminars.

On the other hand, Ashima in the beginning of her stay in the United States, she cries for everything because not commanding over the foreign language. Even though she has neighbors like a sociology professor Mr.Montogomary with his wife Jude and children, she cannot mingle with them because of their strange habits like all the time in jeans and shorts, drinking wine before and after lunch and dinner and their eating habits which are different from her really makes her alone. More over her strong attachment with the mother land which she cannot forget very easily.

Ashima instead of moving here and there she confines to her home. She has no access with the new places. That is why she spends her maximum time, by reading letters which she receives from Calcutta, waiting for letters from her family members, looking the portraits of her family members and recollects the memories in Calcutta. Sometimes she is getting depressed with the materialistic lives of the people who keep on working and drinking and eating, spending mostly at restaurants and pubs. This causes great agony among Indian immigrant community in the alien land so that cannot accept anything whether it is language, life style, dressing style of the foreign people. Particularly, first generation immigrants such as Ashima frustrated a lot. So, they spend long years in confusion. In confusion, they neither belong to native land nor foreign land. This in-between’s makes immigrants lead their lives in great ambiguity.

Lahiri depicts various Diaspora themes such as Alienation, rootlessness, exile in her literary works which are nothing but the experiences of immigrants in their exile. Lahiri’s presentation of the themes in her short stories The Interpreter of Maladies, The Unaccustomed Earth and her novels The Name Sake and the recent novel The Lowland are really wonderful so that she got Pulitzer Prize for her first short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies and The Unaccustomed Earth gets the credit as New York best seller. The description of themes and characterization really touch the hearts of even the Native American readers.

Lahiri such way gets a remarkable place in English literary world. Migration seems close association with money generation and right flat form to prove the skilled professional. Ashoke in Lahiri’s The Namesake has gone to Cambridge to pursue his PhD in Electrical department. After his studies he may come to home land but he stays back and entered teaching profession later concentrate on research projects despite his great loss of affection from both the home and homeland. Even in Anita Desay’s popular novel Bye Bye Black Bird, we see the similar kind of character like Adit who has lust for wealth and fame also migrated to England even though he has secured job in India which he only earns meager amount. So he attracted towards England and works with the common problems of every immigrant.

Immigration makes the human being neither belongs to native land nor foreign land. Immigrants live in great confusion and non belongingness. As long as they are in the alien land, struggle a lot to accustom with new environment. When they come back to home land, they do not find the past affection from the people. It is happening not because of the people who remains in the native land, only due to change in the attitude of the immigrants. So it is mysterious for the people outside do the immigrants really enjoy the exile? It is an unanswered question for many learned people also. But it seems that the lives of immigrants like sugar coated pills. Internally conflicts a lot in the exile, externally pretends to be merry. Do only riches and properties and innumerable opportunities make the mankind migrate from one country to another country? Do they really comprehend the new lifestyle? Either it is Ashima, Mrs.Sen in Lahore’s novels or Admit and Dev in Anita Decay’s novel. Do these immigrants really make out the concept of immigration and its consequences? It is really a big conspiracy where the immigrants lead unwanted lives in the exile.

There are some similarities between the immigrant Indians in Jhumpa Lahiri to Anita Desai. But the immigrant Bengali family in the United States is exempted from the racial discrimination because it is a pool of immigrants of diverse people from diverse countries in the world. The common features of immigrants both in England and United States are constant humiliation, dissatisfaction, unwillingness. According to Rohit Phutela: Both the novels of Anita Desai and Jhumpa Lahiri tackle the common issue of the experiences and the condition of the immigrants from India put into some easier said than done circumstances.

In the process of immigration the world becomes smaller what the immigrants have already experienced. All of a sudden no immigrant adopts the alien culture. After a few years stay, gradually they are unwillingly accept the new. Ashima in the first stage struggle a lot but situations demand her to inculcate the exile. Immigrants are treated as second rate human beings in the alien land. The infatuation to gain money attracts the immigrants where they hope to enjoy every moment. But what is happening in their lives contrasts to what they have expected. They become rich; get so much of reputation from the people but they are indeed the pleasures of home land.


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Editorial Team of Indian Ruminations.


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