ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Some Lows, Many Highs

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is intellectually and emotionally captivating, even though some elements in the plot seem unconvincing.

A novel set against the backdrop of the Naxalite movement in Bengal in the late 1960s and the 1970s, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland centres around family relationships. Udayan and Subhash, brothers in a lower middle-class family of Tollygunge, Kolkata, grow up as intensely close siblings, until Udayan is drawn into the Naxalite movement and Subhash leaves for further studies in the US. The killing of his brother in a false encounter with the police brings Subhash back to India where he marries Udayan’s wife, Gauri, who is pregnant, and takes her off to Rhode Island to escape the conservative atmosphere in their Kolkata home. In the US Gauri gets drawn to academics and ultimately deserts her family and their daughter Bela to move away in pursuit of an independent career.

Perhaps the most feminist of Lahiri’s novels, The Lowland portrays two types of feminism – an individualistic kind of feminism in the character of Gauri, the Naxalite sympathizer, who abandons everything to pursue a career in philosophy, and a kind of eco-feminism in her daughter, Bela. Ironically, it is Bela who ends up practising the lifestyle of a proletariat, taking up organic farming instead of higher studies, living an anti-capitalist lifestyle, and becoming a single, unwed mother.

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