Cultural Identity In Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake

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Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a central square apartment combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onions in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chillies pepper, wishing there was mustard oil to pour into the mix. Ashima has been consuming this concoction throughout her pregnancy, a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India, spilling from newspaper cones. Even now that there is barely space inside her, it is the one thing she craves. Tasting from a cupped palm, she frowns; as usual, there’s something missing. (Lahiri, 1).

An immigrant travels with luggage of several kinds. There are suitcases packed with practical goods
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The plot of the novel involves the conflict that an Indian immigrant and her American born child faces, as the former tries to uphold her Indian identity, while the latter tries to understand the importance of that identity. Ashima Ganguli, the female protagonist of the novel tries to maintain her ties with her homeland, Calcutta, by upholding her cultural values, traditions and her national identity, while at the same time, trying to juxtapose it with the complete assimilation into “America’s multicultural ethos” (Roy and Khushu-Lahiri, 110). The juxtaposition shown in the epigraph itself between the two images- a central Square apartment and Rice Krispies and Peanuts and chopped onion, immediately places the protagonist’s inner self in direct contradiction with the external reality. The conflict regarding her identity arises from her nostalgia; longing to get back with her family in Calcutta. In order to overcome those dilemmas of nostalgia, culinary practices are involved by the author, for the characters to maintain ties with their “homeland”. As Lekha Roy and Rajyashree Khushu-Lahiri have said in their paper Forging Transnational Identities: A Post-Ethnic Re-imaging of “Home” in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake that “Home becomes a “presence in absence” for the female characters in Lahiri’s novel, challenging the idea of an identity based on the nation as a fixed, geographical entity, and the culinary…show more content…
“Instead of cereal and tea bags, there were whiskey and wine bottles on top of the refrigerator, most of them nearly empty” (Lahiri, 32). Surrounded by a culture that has nothing in common with them makes them see themselves as aliens or foreign. Thus “home” becomes a nostalgic expression of the lost moment for the Gangulis. A cultural disparity that is made visible through their surroundings. “I thought Indians were supposed to be vegetarians”, she whispers to Alan” (Lahiri, 39). The moment they are considered as other” they turn to their home, to make it more like their past. “The inside of the home is seen as a space that is culturally sacrosanct, an Indian space where traditional Bengali food dominates, reasserting that for the Indian Diaspora, the homeland denotes a particular geographical region in India with its own distinct culture and language, rather than India as a nation” (Roy and Khushu-Lahiri, 120). Lahiri’s characters have been characterised by an unhappy existence, in a lifelong condition of “impossible mourning” (Mishra, 9), even in her short story “Mrs. Sen’s”, where the female protagonist suffers from painful memories of the homeland. “Jhumpa Lahiri is at the forefront of Asian diasporic writer who have explored the issues of race, ethnicity, nation, home, culture and identity affecting the Indian diaspora in

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