I don’t know how many of you are fan of Jhumpa Lahiri as a writer, but I for one am a big fan of what she writes. I still remember reading “The Namesake” when I was nearly 14 years old and crying at the end of almost every chapter. This was what Jhumpa is capable of doing to me.
I recently finished her latest book “The Lowland”, and surprisingly I finished it within two weeks (Given that I am a working mother of a toddler, trust me it is commendable ). And God was I engrossed in this one, totally. I probably need a week before I can take up anything else to read, to remain immersed in the sheer joy and sorrows of all the characters in the book. It was an interesting read, a page turner for sure. It had the typical Jhumpa backdrop of a scholar Kolkata boy reaching America, deciding to stay on, parents back in India, having a new generation to raise, torn between the odds but refusing to go back. But this time around the female protagonist was not the regular saree wearing, long haired, abiding to rituals and traditions, longing for her children to stay Indianized despite staying in the US female, but a young girl who reaches US in the most turbulent times of her life, a widow married to her brother in-law and carrying a child from her first marriage who decides to forego all behind and start afresh.
The female in the story is Gauri and her character intrigued me, she is portrayed as somebody you can easily end up abhorring during the course of the book, but her character is more complex than that. As the chapter unfolds I found multitude of dimensions to her character. She is raised by her grandparents with her brother amongst her uncles and aunts and her cousins, falls in love with Udyaan who is a Naxalite Activist and is killed during the course of his struggle, Udyaan’s brother Subhash who is settled in the US decides to marry her and take her to the US as she is expecting Udyaan’s child and his parents have not been very accepting of Gauri ever since her first marriage. She ends up in the US and though acclimatizing herself is not a big issue but her personality is. She chops off her long hair, wears trousers in place of sarees, walks out of her house and family to make her own identity. In the process she leaves Subhash and her daughter Bela to find her identity. By the end of the story she realizes she is alone but this is the life she has made for herself which she accepts and lives with it.
So her character gets a lot of thrash from the readers as she tries to break through the premises of the orthodox Indian society of being the perfect Indian wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. She is daring and willing to break the norms of the society. Fearless at heart she decides to live life at her own terms, and pay the price. At the end she is depicted as a loser, nowhere in life which only emphasis on the fact that perhaps living the conventional way is the only way to happiness for an Indian female. It bewilders me; I want to believe that her circumstances were such that she became such an unconventional female. A troubled childhood, a husband who lied to her and got himself involved in anti-government activities, risking his life, not once thinking how it would affect her life, she ignorantly gets herself involved in the murder of a policeman who has a toddler son on the behest of her husband. I feel she punishes herself of taking away a father from a child by moving out of her daughter’s life. She marries her brother in-law in an attempt to escape the city which has taken away all she had. So her act of rebellion is marked by a lot of incidents happening in her course of life. What we see is how callously she leaves her family to be on her own, but she has gone through a lot to finally have a life for herself. Having the child was not her choice, and not necessarily she was molded to be a mother. And is it not OK to not to want the conventional life of being a wife, mother, daughter in-law. Why is it not OK to just break free and flee?
I am no way justifying what Gauri did, it was wrong at many levels for her to leave her 12 year old daughter who looked up to her, her husband who had accepted her amongst all odds. But probably she was not carved for this role, she could have continued living like that trying to be the immaculate wife and mother but a bit of her would have died every day. She could not blame anyone for all the wrong that happened to her, but I feel there was absolutely no way we could discard her emotions, her turmoil. She made decisions for herself, wrong or right she lived with them, probably she regretted them by the end, but she had made the decisions for with which she could be content. She did not want anyone to set the rules for her, not anymore. So I feel that women who choose to live their life differently should be allowed and not condemned. Somehow a boy is allowed all the eccentricities he wants to indulge in but girls are expected to be all nice. Frankly why should boys have all the fun?
Overall I loved the book I loved all the characters, the story line, the flow of text. I enjoyed it and would eagerly wait for the next one from Jhumpa .