Jhumpa Lahiri Culture

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In Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, published in 2003, food is a ubiquitous motif that plays a crucial role in the main characters’ transition from life in Calcutta to life in Boston. When Bengali immigrant Ashima Ganguli first arrives in Boston, she feels very isolated from the American community, knowing nobody but her husband. She tries to find solace in these early stages of her life in America by maintaining a pure, untarnished version of her Bengali culture in her own home on Pemberton Road. Her unwelcoming attitude towards American culture is reflected by her desire to cook Indian snack foods void of all influence from Western ingredients. However, her inability to emulate the authenticity of her favorite Indian snacks only makes her feel …show more content…

One of these dishes is Jhal Muri, a snack food native to Calcutta streets. “Ashima has been consuming this concoction throughout her pregnancy, a humble approximation of snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India, spilling from Newspaper cones” (Lahiri 1). Ashima’s entire pregnancy occurs in a foreign and intimidating place, and the consumption of Jhal Muri is one of the few things that helps her maintain her connection to her Indian roots. The snack reminds her of the overflowing streets and chaotic city life of Calcutta, and represents comfort for her in the unknown, bustling metropolis of Boston. She spends these nine months of her pregnancy making multiple attempts to create Jhal Muri of the same taste and consistency of that from India, but is always unsatisfied with the result, calling it a “humble approximation” of the real thing. She continues to make these efforts, despite facing the same setbacks every time: lacking authentic Indian ingredients and being forced to use subpar cooking utensils “coated with grease”. The fact that she refuses to succumb to defeat is indicative of her unwillingness to acknowledge her true distance from home and consequent need to adapt to the conditions of a foreign …show more content…

By crafting Bengali food, Ashima can control its ingredients and recreate familiar scents and tastes that remind her of her native country. Both the familiarity and control that cooking instills in Ashima make the practice an essential part of her immigrant experience and encourage her to utilize it as a link between her Bengali roots and her family in America. However, through her continuous nonfulfillment of her goals to perfectly emulate dishes like Jhal Muri and lamb curry, Jhumpa Lahiri is suggesting that moving to America causes a dilution of immigrants’ native culture that extends beyond the healing powers of mere food. Even though her outlook might seem somewhat negative at first glance, Lahiri is not making a pessimistic point about the overall process of immigration. Instead, she is arguing that the blending of cultural lines is both essential and unavoidable for a smooth, healthy transition from life in one country to life in

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