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DIASPORIC SENSIBILITY IN THE NOVEL *THE NAMESAKE"BY
]UMPHA LAHIRI
x Prakash Bhadury
Abstract:
The word 'Diaspora', etymologically means'dispersal', and involves, at least
two countries, two cultures, which are embedded in the mind of the
migrants, side by side. Although the past is invoked now and then, the focus
is persistently on the 'moment'. The past is invoked to indicate a certain
contrast, wliich must be incorporated, and controlled in the present life in
order to negotiate the network of social relations in the immediate world. My
paper explores the lived experience of the diasporic subjects as represented
in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake'(2003). It demonstrates how an individual
life gets inevitably mixed up and messed up with those of others in different
spaces, which lie in proximity to each other and contribute to his/her identity
formation. Hybridization, Tran cultural dilemma and diasporic sensibility are
explored through the characters and setting of the Novel. Language carries
the culture and the skillful use of language brings home the heightened
sense of homecoming, The protagonists Ashima and Gogol at different
stages become obsessed to absorb the world inherited and finally in the
process of assimilation they long for belonging.A balance is finally struck in
their lives.
Introduction: The Namesake is the cross cultural multigenerational story of
a Hindu Bengali family's journey to self acceptance in Boston, The story
takes the Ganguli family from their tradition bound life in Calcutta to their
alien setting in America. Ashok and Ashima get the first shock with the
change of the geographical location after their arrival in the USA. Amid the
"heaps of broken snow,"(Jhumpa Lahiri 30) "the frigid New England chill"
(ibid) "leafless trees with ice covered branches "(ibid) "not a soul on the
street" (ibid) etc. Ashima realizes the intensity of the loss of the family and
community support. Her pregnancy in the new space brings her the Trans-
cultural dilemma as it signals the entry of a member of the second
generation who will represent a hybrid generationa. Between 1968 and
2000, Ashok and Ashima make some progress regarding their acculturation
with the U.S, but they could not move beyond the Indian frame of mind.
Being unable to settle down mentally they think that one way of finding
connectedness is to purchase a house which becomes a symbol of belonging.
This reminds us the dilemma of V.S Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas in
which Biswas Longs for a permanent home but ends up realizing that there
is no permanent home.
The act of Ashok and Ashima of owning a home is indication enough of their
acceptance in the secular space. In the meantime, their ties with the
ancestral land begin to weaken. "As their lives in New England swell with
fellow Bengali friends, the member of that other, former life slowly
dwindle"(Lahiri-63). They are therefore forced to distance themselves from
the endearing, fictional family and community back 'home'. They slowly but
surely allow themselves to move towards a hybrid cultural location,
Hybridization: Gogol, the protagonist, having been named after a Russian
writer in memory of a catastrophe years turns out to the reader as
Hybridized identity. Ashima and Ashok make peace with their pasts, but
their son, Gogol, attempts to eradicate his heritage. This becomes evident
when Lahiri describes how Gogol and his sister resent childhood trips to
India during which they are forced to interact with family and give up the
material comforts of American life. Unlike his parents, Gogol does not see
himself as a stranger living in a foreign land. He wants to be seen as
American, free of the expectations of foreign land. Gogol's rebels against his
pastas he feels uncomfortable with his name. He often wonders how he can
truly fit with his American friends or American girls with strange name like
Gogol. In his early romances, he is careful to avoid any contact with his past
or upbringing. India is rarely discussed and his girl friends are not allowed to
meet his parents. With one woman named Maxine, in fact Gogol attempts to
become an entirely different person. He adopts Maxine's carefree lifestyle;
he listens to Maxine's music, drinks her wine and even for a while he lives in
Maxine's house, all in an effort to build a wall between his parents and his
past. The novel, thus dramatizes the generation gap and cultural conflict of
two generations of Indian family in America and neither of them could fully
accept or reject the cultures hitherto. Hybridization has never been a
pleasurable experience for Indian community in the USA. Lahiri never
becomes judgmental in her delineation of the characters. The throes of
hybridized identity are dug deep and writ large by her small patches. The
comparison of other characters like 'shobha' in A Temporary Matter, or Boori
Ma in A Reat Dawn with Gogol show that all are caught in a maze of culture
from where they long for a breather. The author herself speaks through her
characters as she feels: "I always find myself in exile which ever country I
travel to, that is why I was tempted to write about those living their lives in
exile".(Bookbrowse.com/authorinterviews/=929)7'Thequestionofidentity
has been a difficult one for the culturally displaced immigrants or for those
who grow up in two cultures anywhere simultaneously. The sense of an
exile, loneliness, and a longing for belonging is more prominent for the first
generations as the second generation is more acculturate to the new nation.
On the other hand, the second generation feels the absence of any cultural
moorings , for they belong to none. This has even been the author's own
experience in America. Divided identity always vexes an individual as s/he
has to act in duality, one to satisfy the parents and their culture and the
other to the peers of the land of immigration.
Trans - cultural dilemma: The family traverses a long journey where all
the characters encounter difficulties in different spaces and undergo
transformation of identities through the drama of cultural conflicts that
create pain and passiveness and anxieties and alienation. Transculturation
begins with Ashoke and Ashima and shifts to their next generation. Ashima
attempts to cope in the alien culture by reading the Bengali novels she
brought with her or retreating with her familiar world, The dilemma becomes
acute when her son Gogol is born for the difficulty of raising the child there.
They adopt first the process of acculturation for the sake of their child and
simultaneously start losing many of their own thus undergoing a process of
transition, hybridization and the conditions of diasporas there of all at a
time. Gogol too in his career suffers bears the brunt of cultural alienation
and identity crisis. His very name epitomizes the confusion of cross-cultural
dilemma. Just to fit into the American culture he not only adopted their
culture but also started hating his own name, culture and roots. He distances
himself from his family, Indian acquaintances and values. He takes India not
as his homeland but as a country the way other Americans view it to be.
While he tries to become more an American, dates with American girl
Maxine, adopts her lifestyle and changes his own name little does he realize
that it is difficult to realize fully the alien culture, The name still remains of
Indian origin. Further, he fails to understand that an identity is not in change
of llfestyle or name; it's something more than that
Gogol though reacts against the parental influences but he seems to be
more balanced than Moushumi whose Hybridization is evident in her
disintegrating personality. Moshumi's attempt to 'reinvent herself without
misgivings, without guilt' (Jhumpa Lahiri-233) finds parallel with Chitra
Banarjee or Bharati Mukherjee who love to celebrate their Hybrid identity.
Even in an award winning ceremony Chitra Banerjee declares the world of
her pleasure of being awarded the coveted Prize as an American. Jhumpa
Lahiri is herself suspended between two cultures and attempts to find the
interrelation of the world in a post modern and post colonial situations. Both
post modernity and post colonialism share a common concern of the
sentence of history on common man, the distinction of centre and periphery.
Ashima could never settle to her hybridized identity in her attempt to belong
to an alien culture. She found herself to belong nowhere, This sense of non
belongingness is rooted into the deep psyche of the protagonist. Ashima
tries to set back to her own culture. Hera love of family, for instance,
influenced her to create a close-knit web of immigrant friends. This group
practices Indian custom, speaks the Bengali language, and in many respect
become a substitute family for the vast collection of relatives back in India.
To a large degree her life is consumed by recreating indian culture in
America. Ashima's Calcutta linage constantly haunts her and makes her a
sojourner in America. Her home is a meta-American home from the outside,
but typically Bengali from inside. She remains typical Bengali lady in spite of
her physical location in Cambridge, or Massachusetts for so many years.
Diasporic Consciousness: Second generation protagonist Gogol Ganguli
struggles with a sense of namelessness. His struggle with naming is
emblematic of the nominal crisis that pervades in the diasporic community.
In an act of self definition he abandons the name Gogol and tries to become
Nikhil, the conventional Hindu name that was given to him late. Gogol's new
name is a salute to his future, a future without having to justify or explain
his confusing name, Gogol, it seems, believes that switching his name can
erase the complications of his past. Gogol cannot ignore the memories of his
past- his name, his parents, and his Indian heritage. They have shaped his
character and defined him as a human being. Gogol slowly begins to realize
that he cannot after all resist the pull of the family. He realized that he
cannot simply walk away from who he is. For better or for worse, he loves
his family and their Indian customs, He even begins to realize that his
passionate efforts to create an entirely new person are ultimately just
reactions against his past. He slowly becomes the student of his past, and he
learns to discover a peaceful future which is extremely Diasporic in nature.
Jumpha Lahiri throughout her novel looks at her Indian counter parts, from
her own diasporic lenses. The characters, in a trans- cultural situation,
attempt to belong while celebrating their roots. Sometimes the attempts to
erase the history are discursively found in literary text but the author could
drive the reader's attention to the fact that the history is inerasable,
something permanent.
The characters struggle with the memory of their homeland as it happens for
the author herself or many other diasporic authors, like Rushdie and Naipaull
as India is a homeland in their imagination. Rushdie in his Imaginary
Homeland has shown the vexed issue of cultural displacement when he says:
"A full migrant suffers, traditionally a triple disruption. He loses place. He
enters into alien language...what makes immigrants such a pathetic figure."
(Imaginary Homeland-Rushdie) It is diasporic Consciousness of the
protagonist hat their memories engage them in a struggle against forgetting.
Conclusion: Gogol accepts the destiny, his own unique roots and turns
more emotionally balanced and matured. Ashima and Gogol occupy different
geographical spaces, away from their roots and attempt to assimilate the
alien culture at different stages. In other words they move from an
epistemological situation i.e. understanding their two worlds to the
postmodern trend of fragmentary experiences. But they find meaning and
belonging in their diasporic situation with the amalgamations of Indian roots.
Work Cited:
1. Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Henry Louis Gates, )r., Eds. The
Dictionary of Global Culture. New York: Alfred A.Knof, 1996.
2. Foucault, Michel. *Of other Spaces. Heterotopias'(1976) (trans. Jay 
Miskowiec).3&6 .
3. Field, Robin E. writing the Second Generation: Negotiating Cultural
Borderlands in Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies and The
Namesake. South Asian Review XXV.2 (2004):165-77.Print
4. Ashcroft, Bill, Griffith and Helen Tiffin. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial
Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.Print
5. Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2OO4.print
6. Encyclopedia of Virginia. New York: Somerset, 1993. Print.
Barnet, Sylvan. The Practical Guide to Writing. Toronto: Longman,
2003. Print.
7. Boo kb rowse. com/a uthor_i nterviews/fu I l/i ndex. cfm ?a uthor-n u m ber= 92
9.web.28 Feb'11
Copyright @ 2011 Rock pebbles

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Diasporic.jhumpa,2011.

  • 1. httpl/ /www.rockpebbles.inlISSNt 2230 - 8954 DIASPORIC SENSIBILITY IN THE NOVEL *THE NAMESAKE"BY ]UMPHA LAHIRI x Prakash Bhadury Abstract: The word 'Diaspora', etymologically means'dispersal', and involves, at least two countries, two cultures, which are embedded in the mind of the migrants, side by side. Although the past is invoked now and then, the focus is persistently on the 'moment'. The past is invoked to indicate a certain contrast, wliich must be incorporated, and controlled in the present life in order to negotiate the network of social relations in the immediate world. My paper explores the lived experience of the diasporic subjects as represented in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake'(2003). It demonstrates how an individual life gets inevitably mixed up and messed up with those of others in different spaces, which lie in proximity to each other and contribute to his/her identity formation. Hybridization, Tran cultural dilemma and diasporic sensibility are explored through the characters and setting of the Novel. Language carries the culture and the skillful use of language brings home the heightened sense of homecoming, The protagonists Ashima and Gogol at different stages become obsessed to absorb the world inherited and finally in the process of assimilation they long for belonging.A balance is finally struck in their lives. Introduction: The Namesake is the cross cultural multigenerational story of a Hindu Bengali family's journey to self acceptance in Boston, The story takes the Ganguli family from their tradition bound life in Calcutta to their alien setting in America. Ashok and Ashima get the first shock with the
  • 2. change of the geographical location after their arrival in the USA. Amid the "heaps of broken snow,"(Jhumpa Lahiri 30) "the frigid New England chill" (ibid) "leafless trees with ice covered branches "(ibid) "not a soul on the street" (ibid) etc. Ashima realizes the intensity of the loss of the family and community support. Her pregnancy in the new space brings her the Trans- cultural dilemma as it signals the entry of a member of the second generation who will represent a hybrid generationa. Between 1968 and 2000, Ashok and Ashima make some progress regarding their acculturation with the U.S, but they could not move beyond the Indian frame of mind. Being unable to settle down mentally they think that one way of finding connectedness is to purchase a house which becomes a symbol of belonging. This reminds us the dilemma of V.S Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas in which Biswas Longs for a permanent home but ends up realizing that there is no permanent home. The act of Ashok and Ashima of owning a home is indication enough of their acceptance in the secular space. In the meantime, their ties with the ancestral land begin to weaken. "As their lives in New England swell with fellow Bengali friends, the member of that other, former life slowly dwindle"(Lahiri-63). They are therefore forced to distance themselves from the endearing, fictional family and community back 'home'. They slowly but surely allow themselves to move towards a hybrid cultural location, Hybridization: Gogol, the protagonist, having been named after a Russian writer in memory of a catastrophe years turns out to the reader as Hybridized identity. Ashima and Ashok make peace with their pasts, but their son, Gogol, attempts to eradicate his heritage. This becomes evident when Lahiri describes how Gogol and his sister resent childhood trips to India during which they are forced to interact with family and give up the material comforts of American life. Unlike his parents, Gogol does not see
  • 3. himself as a stranger living in a foreign land. He wants to be seen as American, free of the expectations of foreign land. Gogol's rebels against his pastas he feels uncomfortable with his name. He often wonders how he can truly fit with his American friends or American girls with strange name like Gogol. In his early romances, he is careful to avoid any contact with his past or upbringing. India is rarely discussed and his girl friends are not allowed to meet his parents. With one woman named Maxine, in fact Gogol attempts to become an entirely different person. He adopts Maxine's carefree lifestyle; he listens to Maxine's music, drinks her wine and even for a while he lives in Maxine's house, all in an effort to build a wall between his parents and his past. The novel, thus dramatizes the generation gap and cultural conflict of two generations of Indian family in America and neither of them could fully accept or reject the cultures hitherto. Hybridization has never been a pleasurable experience for Indian community in the USA. Lahiri never becomes judgmental in her delineation of the characters. The throes of hybridized identity are dug deep and writ large by her small patches. The comparison of other characters like 'shobha' in A Temporary Matter, or Boori Ma in A Reat Dawn with Gogol show that all are caught in a maze of culture from where they long for a breather. The author herself speaks through her characters as she feels: "I always find myself in exile which ever country I travel to, that is why I was tempted to write about those living their lives in exile".(Bookbrowse.com/authorinterviews/=929)7'Thequestionofidentity has been a difficult one for the culturally displaced immigrants or for those who grow up in two cultures anywhere simultaneously. The sense of an exile, loneliness, and a longing for belonging is more prominent for the first generations as the second generation is more acculturate to the new nation. On the other hand, the second generation feels the absence of any cultural moorings , for they belong to none. This has even been the author's own experience in America. Divided identity always vexes an individual as s/he
  • 4. has to act in duality, one to satisfy the parents and their culture and the other to the peers of the land of immigration. Trans - cultural dilemma: The family traverses a long journey where all the characters encounter difficulties in different spaces and undergo transformation of identities through the drama of cultural conflicts that create pain and passiveness and anxieties and alienation. Transculturation begins with Ashoke and Ashima and shifts to their next generation. Ashima attempts to cope in the alien culture by reading the Bengali novels she brought with her or retreating with her familiar world, The dilemma becomes acute when her son Gogol is born for the difficulty of raising the child there. They adopt first the process of acculturation for the sake of their child and simultaneously start losing many of their own thus undergoing a process of transition, hybridization and the conditions of diasporas there of all at a time. Gogol too in his career suffers bears the brunt of cultural alienation and identity crisis. His very name epitomizes the confusion of cross-cultural dilemma. Just to fit into the American culture he not only adopted their culture but also started hating his own name, culture and roots. He distances himself from his family, Indian acquaintances and values. He takes India not as his homeland but as a country the way other Americans view it to be. While he tries to become more an American, dates with American girl Maxine, adopts her lifestyle and changes his own name little does he realize that it is difficult to realize fully the alien culture, The name still remains of Indian origin. Further, he fails to understand that an identity is not in change of llfestyle or name; it's something more than that Gogol though reacts against the parental influences but he seems to be more balanced than Moushumi whose Hybridization is evident in her disintegrating personality. Moshumi's attempt to 'reinvent herself without misgivings, without guilt' (Jhumpa Lahiri-233) finds parallel with Chitra
  • 5. Banarjee or Bharati Mukherjee who love to celebrate their Hybrid identity. Even in an award winning ceremony Chitra Banerjee declares the world of her pleasure of being awarded the coveted Prize as an American. Jhumpa Lahiri is herself suspended between two cultures and attempts to find the interrelation of the world in a post modern and post colonial situations. Both post modernity and post colonialism share a common concern of the sentence of history on common man, the distinction of centre and periphery. Ashima could never settle to her hybridized identity in her attempt to belong to an alien culture. She found herself to belong nowhere, This sense of non belongingness is rooted into the deep psyche of the protagonist. Ashima tries to set back to her own culture. Hera love of family, for instance, influenced her to create a close-knit web of immigrant friends. This group practices Indian custom, speaks the Bengali language, and in many respect become a substitute family for the vast collection of relatives back in India. To a large degree her life is consumed by recreating indian culture in America. Ashima's Calcutta linage constantly haunts her and makes her a sojourner in America. Her home is a meta-American home from the outside, but typically Bengali from inside. She remains typical Bengali lady in spite of her physical location in Cambridge, or Massachusetts for so many years. Diasporic Consciousness: Second generation protagonist Gogol Ganguli struggles with a sense of namelessness. His struggle with naming is emblematic of the nominal crisis that pervades in the diasporic community. In an act of self definition he abandons the name Gogol and tries to become Nikhil, the conventional Hindu name that was given to him late. Gogol's new name is a salute to his future, a future without having to justify or explain his confusing name, Gogol, it seems, believes that switching his name can erase the complications of his past. Gogol cannot ignore the memories of his past- his name, his parents, and his Indian heritage. They have shaped his character and defined him as a human being. Gogol slowly begins to realize
  • 6. that he cannot after all resist the pull of the family. He realized that he cannot simply walk away from who he is. For better or for worse, he loves his family and their Indian customs, He even begins to realize that his passionate efforts to create an entirely new person are ultimately just reactions against his past. He slowly becomes the student of his past, and he learns to discover a peaceful future which is extremely Diasporic in nature. Jumpha Lahiri throughout her novel looks at her Indian counter parts, from her own diasporic lenses. The characters, in a trans- cultural situation, attempt to belong while celebrating their roots. Sometimes the attempts to erase the history are discursively found in literary text but the author could drive the reader's attention to the fact that the history is inerasable, something permanent. The characters struggle with the memory of their homeland as it happens for the author herself or many other diasporic authors, like Rushdie and Naipaull as India is a homeland in their imagination. Rushdie in his Imaginary Homeland has shown the vexed issue of cultural displacement when he says: "A full migrant suffers, traditionally a triple disruption. He loses place. He enters into alien language...what makes immigrants such a pathetic figure." (Imaginary Homeland-Rushdie) It is diasporic Consciousness of the protagonist hat their memories engage them in a struggle against forgetting. Conclusion: Gogol accepts the destiny, his own unique roots and turns more emotionally balanced and matured. Ashima and Gogol occupy different geographical spaces, away from their roots and attempt to assimilate the alien culture at different stages. In other words they move from an epistemological situation i.e. understanding their two worlds to the postmodern trend of fragmentary experiences. But they find meaning and belonging in their diasporic situation with the amalgamations of Indian roots.
  • 7. Work Cited: 1. Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Henry Louis Gates, )r., Eds. The Dictionary of Global Culture. New York: Alfred A.Knof, 1996. 2. Foucault, Michel. *Of other Spaces. Heterotopias'(1976) (trans. Jay Miskowiec).3&6 . 3. Field, Robin E. writing the Second Generation: Negotiating Cultural Borderlands in Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake. South Asian Review XXV.2 (2004):165-77.Print 4. Ashcroft, Bill, Griffith and Helen Tiffin. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.Print 5. Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2OO4.print 6. Encyclopedia of Virginia. New York: Somerset, 1993. Print. Barnet, Sylvan. The Practical Guide to Writing. Toronto: Longman, 2003. Print. 7. Boo kb rowse. com/a uthor_i nterviews/fu I l/i ndex. cfm ?a uthor-n u m ber= 92 9.web.28 Feb'11 Copyright @ 2011 Rock pebbles