Migration And Mantra: ‘damini’ Without A Body In Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

The theory of aesthetic consciousness depicts the aspect of aesthetic experience which lies in multifarious connotations of the Art of Performance. ‘Natyasastra’( Sanskrit for ‘theory of performance’) divides the dramatic nuance into two parts- on one hand, there’s ‘Natya’ meaning staging of an event in its imitated form in the real world; and ‘Nataka’, on the other hand, comes under the genus ‘poetry’, the very manifestation of the imitation through verse. Why Damini and not any other Indian origin name and why her identification in Indian female diaspora literature is important, are intended to be discussed in this paper. The shadow of racial collision and the ever-building tension from transgenerational immigrant culture will be shown through Jhumpa Lahiri’s work ‘The Namesake’ (2003).

The novel, ‘The Namesake’ presents the whole transgenerational trauma and its prolonged melancholia based on identity crisis, racial collision, and the process of becoming. Jhumpa Lahiri becoming a namesake of her own name (we Bengalis have two names, one a pet name and a good name; she was no different than this receiving Nilanjana Lahiri as a good name, and Jhumpa was her pet name)as Jhumpa was easier to pronounce by Americans and so it was settled on her, much to her dislike. We don’t choose our parents or our names, but given the option of two, she had to abrogate herself to the idea of ‘easily pronounced’. For Indians /Bengalis, names are everything. The novel mentions the naming ceremony where the names are given have the profound meaning as well as a hope intact that the child will later grow up and live up to his/ her own name. Lahiri lost hers when she became Jhumpa from Nilanjana, which meant strength and depth like the ocean; just how the protagonist lost his hope while trying to oscillate between the names given to him- one was Gogol, an identity overshadowed by Nikolai Gogol; and the other was Nikhil, influenced by the Hindu heritage that his parents, Ashima and Ashok brought with them to America. He disposed of the name Gogol in his process of becoming Nikhil- the brave, and also the whole world; something that Lahiri couldn’t do in her own stage of reality. Indian- American- Bengali – the complicated image of identity that Lahiri was born into is reflected in the novel and hints at cultural trauma that Indian diasporas face to date. The pull of the ‘Nataka’ played its strings from the reality where Nikhil took the stage in the real world and Lahiri turned into a character from her own novel.

This postcolonial literature identifies four migration stages at which there is significant potential for traumatogenic experiences that may lead to serious psychological distress: 1) premigration trauma, i.e., events experienced just before migration that was a chief determinant of the relocation; 2) traumatic events experienced during transit to the new country; 3) continuing traumatogenic experiences during the process of asylum-seeking and resettlement; and 4) substandard living conditions in the host country due to unemployment, inadequate supports, and minority persecution. Ashima’s journey as a first-generation Indian immigrant- her marriage to Ashoke in just three weeks through the common practice of arranged marriage and her travel to the USA, Her astonishment to gas supplies 24 x7 and also a certain disgust for the common laundry section- the equal rights for the homeless, mixed feelings assert both her dissociative state of mind and alienation. Throughout the novel, Ashima wears saree- Indian clothing, her nine yards of elegance was her only desperate attempt to remain Bengali, remain Indian, and remain a Hindu. She received certain independence she wasn’t used to it’s a woman’s job to be of service to her husband and her family till the last of her existence through unnumbered and unspoken sacrifices, her life as a wife and a mother had to be more important than her life as a woman which became impossible to maintain as she stepped into the American soil- her Indian husband assumed a different role here, he turned into a liberator. Lahiri’s representation of marriage, the marital roles, and the reversal of the roles are very prominent and dissect the empirical weights we Indians carry wherever we go. The concept of marriage as a holy bond that should survive for this life and seven lives to come, the portrayal of the husband as the guardian rather than an equal partner contrasts with Gogol’s marriage; The symbolic fire that binds two people in a marriage for forever contrasts with the vows; the cultural marking that only a married woman carries contrasts with the rings- the empirical weight that she carried with her does not match with her son’s- she has a home to call her own, he hasn’t. It was enough for her to love her husband that they speak the same language and are from the same country but for Gogol and his wife Moushumi being ‘being Bengali is just not enough.’

Melvin Seeman, in his paper ‘On the Meaning of Alienation, tries to put this complex structure of alienation into order by a five-fold classification: Powerlessness, Meaninglessness, Normlessness, Social Isolation, and Self-Estrangement.

“I wasn’t born here, but I might as well have been” in her interview article, ‘For Pulitzer winner Lahiri, a novel approach’, USA Today, (2003).

Lahiri’s desire to pick a country of origin rather than pick a race for her identity designs the alienation motif of the novel. But where is the androgynous form? It lies in her attempt to express herself through not just one but all three of them- Ashoke, Ashima, and Nikhil (Gogol). She became Ashoka when he packed his bags and stepped out as an immigrant; she became Gogol when he couldn’t understand Ashoke’s remark, “We all came from Gogol’s overcoat”; and she became Ashima when she finally owned up to her name while others couldn’t and became free (Ashima means the one without borders). Human life has a vortex flow that develops transcendentally and keeps changing through its adventurous voyage. Self-consciousness requires resistance from peripheral objects, but this resistance can only come from other rational beings, making consciousness a social phenomenon. Because of this, people are inevitably involved in relations with others that Fichte calls a ‘relation of right.’ The relation of right relies on mutual recognition of rationality and consciousness by all parties involved. Each conscious agent, Fichte thinks, should retain their own ‘sphere of freedom’ in which they are free from outside forces.

Seeman defines ‘normlessness’ as the third variant of the alienation theme that manifests itself through isolation. In other words, normlessness refers to a situation lacking effective norms or in which individuals assume that unacceptable behaviors are required for success. Behaviours Gogol will be scorned for as an Indian, becomes acceptable to him through his Americanization- he resists racism yet becomes a racist himself, or in other words, maybe the diaspora author’s need to clutch on to one identity to view the world with. Racial collision is not just about cultural differences but about the option of getting to pick one race to view the others.

Fichte’s triad is the formulation of this vortex flow as Jhumpa Lahiri in The Namesake has pictured Gogol’s life. Narcissism- Gogol’s adoration for his own imitation of American image against the racial identity he neither could accept nor reject. The Indian in him wanted his wife to take his name, but the American Gogol had to accept it when she didn’t want to; the Indian shaved his head for his father’s funeral, and the American felt a little ashamed. With age, with experiences from Gogol to Nikhil and again becoming Gogol he just became an immigrant traveler than an Indian American.

The bipolarity of forging the cultural performances between the first generation and second-generation Indian immigrants is viewed in the present novel. Cultural performance generally plays an instrumental role to construct an immigrant’s identity. The nurturing of the Bengali culture through Nazrul and Tagore songs, the argument over the films of Ritwik Ghatak versus Satyajit Ray, as well as debate over the political parties of West Bengal among the Bengali immigrant community in the USA illustrate their proximity with the Indian soil. Cultural performance generally plays an instrumental role to construct an immigrant’s identity. Inversely, second-generation immigrants like Gogol get involved with American music than Indian classical music: show a video. “… a cassette of classical Indian music he’d bought for Gogol months ago … still sealed in its wrapper”. But Gogol found his calling as an architect on Indian grounds, amid the dexterity of Tajmahal walls. But here, Gogol wasn’t expected to be an Indian or Bengali but to adhere to the Russian author. To travel the world through books- did Nikolai Gogol traveled through his book to the Indian consciousness and gained another identity?

Hegel’s discussion of alienation can be drawn out in two major senses: alienation-as-separation, and alienation-as-surrender. Hegel, as they claim, argues that “through self-analysis and contemplation, the human moves from an immature sense of universality to a powerful sense of his/her own individuality, but as universality is essential to all things spiritual, this process leads to an acute sense of self-alienation from one’s inner nature and the extremity of discord. This is alienation-as-separation. This sense of universality is mature and the experience is one of actualization, although Hegel remains vague on how this occurs. This is alienation as surrender. This literature reports a myriad of complex emotional and physical tasks that must be accomplished by people who leave their homelands. The immigrants’ loss of family, community, and physical environment are themes that reverberate through both clinical and creative literature, alike. The loss of familiar social networks is especially hard on families and women, who often find themselves isolated, forced to deal on their own with the multiple demands of life in a foreign environment. A downturn in socioeconomic status is the unfortunate norm for most immigrants across the social and educational spectrum. This is often a bitter surprise for those who harbored hopes of fresh horizons in a country of new opportunities.

Damini is identifying the cursors of trauma due to post-migration stress and cultural crisis. Identifying the strength of the word, hearing the symphony of the meaning, and further infusing it with connotations of segregation and trauma may create a new angle to view these novels than we were doing till now.


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