Volume XV, Number 1, 2019

"Surviving the Diasporic Home: Renegotiating Homeland and Hostland in 20th-Century Indo-American Literature" by Shreya Bera

Shreya Bera is currently a second year PhD-student in the Doctoral School of Literature at the University of Szeged. The research interests include 20th-century American literature, postcolonial literature, diaspora studies, theories of the sublime, trauma theories and narratives. Email:

Abstract: The paper aims to explore the transcultural aesthetics of Indian diaspora and its gradual transformation through 20th-century Indo-American literature while observing reconfiguration of the domestic boundaries in North America. Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explore the three-dimensional socio-political construction of home and re-read the themes of migration and resettlement. The intention is to showcase the relationship and co-existence between homeland and the hostland through a comparative study of selected works by these authors by focusing on the angle of ‘diasporic home’ through unfamiliarity, hostility, adaptation.

Keywords: Diaspora, Indo-American literature, Postcolonial, Migration



E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924) starts with the convenient westernised idea of the ‘other’ as opposed to the supremacist ‘self’ as he writes: “The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye” (Forster 1965, 3). The superiority of the western ‘self’ and subservience of the eastern ‘other’ creates a distinction of culture as well as a sense of competition, an unfamiliar hollow between the two realities. Forster tries to bridge the western achievements with the Indian generational wisdom and connect materialism to spirituality. The western sense of rationality, personality and exclusion faces the Indian expression of impersonality and inclusiveness (Mondal 2016, 39) and creates juxtaposition between fear and desire. The idea of diasporic home invests in this juxtaposed relationship: fear of confinement and the desire to be wanderers and be global settlers and confounding the communal identities and distinctive perspectives in regards to homeland and hostland. The limitations of language, religion, and culture may challenge the wholeness of the respective countries (India and America) but the concept of home within the Indian context also has a scope to evolve beyond the familiar zone, due to the unfamiliar tenets of migration and diasporic existence. This feeling of unfamiliarity takes us to the discussion of the Indo-American literature mainly concerned with the literary works of Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

The intention of this article is twofold: firstly, to read this sense of uncommonness of Indian diaspora in relation to homeland and hostland; and secondly, to establish the reconfigured boundaries of home (as Indo-American literature posits) and its evolution to a ‘diasporic’ home. Before starting with the homeland and the hostland argument, it is beneficial to provide a general overview of the concepts that will be gradually introduced in the article. In these three Indo-American writers, one common theme is the idea of home and its hostility. In their thematic approach, Mukherjee, Lahiri, and Divakaruni focus on three things: firstly, the constituents of the concept of home; secondly, how home shifts its paradigm in terms of diaspora; thirdly, how the home is equally hostile and nurturing. These recreate the notion of domicile and establish a fourth tenet- how the home can become a ‘diasporic’ home.

Diasporas are complex social formations shaped by political imaginaries and defined by the materialities of national borders and economies. Scholars across disciplines have grappled with the concept of diaspora and its paradigmatic constructions of forced dispersal, nostalgia and imagined homelands. The term diaspora is evoked as an umbrella or catch-all term, an analytical category, or a heuristic. (Hedge and Sahoo 2018, 22)

Alternatively, the term is critiqued for disintegrating the mass according to their disparate colloquial experiences due to flexible mobility. With continuous and radical changes in the conditions of migration, in terms of both indentured labour and free labour under ‘neoliberal globalization’ (Hedge and Sahoo 2018, 47), recognizing the transnational bonds and cultural contradictions became too indispensable to frame the idea of diasporic lives. These experiences of inter-border crossings and replacements raise argument regarding assumed nationality, appropriation and belonging. Contextualizing this argument based on the diverse experiences and historical trajectories constitute the purpose of diaspora studies. The geographical multiplicity of the Indian diaspora shaped itself against the milieu of the historical forces of colonialism and cultural nationalism. “In each of these global conjunctures, the demand for workers has led the Indian diaspora to various locations, each with its particular sets of challenges” (Maira 2009, 27). Observing on the dissimilar streams of flexible employment that categorize the diaspora, Susan Koshy notes: “No other diaspora offers this comprehensive a view of the continuous renovations in forms and modes of migrant labour because no other diasporic population has been at the centre of these shifts for such an extended period of time” (2008, 3). Even though each stream of Indian migration shows a distinct nature of historical peculiarities in diasporic movements, it also flexes the light on the various hyphenated and diasporic activities in other nations introducing the perplexity of diasporic phenomenon. The spatial politics of home that the diaspora deal with in relation to imperialism, decolonization and multiculturalism seek to extend feminist and postcolonial ideas about peripatetic homes and critical identities of ‘mixed race’ studies and these authors voice their opinions (Blunt 2005, 7). The novels selected are: Bharati Mukherjee’s Desirable Daughters (2002), Jasmine (1989); Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake (2003), The Lowland (2013); and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Mistress of Spices (1997), The Forest of Enchantments (2019)- altogether studies the hereditary differences between Indian and American culture, the textual and sexual silences and the domesticated behaviour. The experiences and memories of home are transgenerational and depend on the cultural inheritance of customs and rituals. These ambiguous experiences reside in a large spectrum of spontaneous and collective adaptation due to the process of migration, in the journey of being an ‘American.’

Anglicization and the Boundaries of Home

The introduction to postcolonial discourse came through important 20th century works by Homi Bhabha, Romila Thapar and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and showed the way towards the imperialist attitude of supremacist privileges. Not only the effects of colonization, but the process of decolonization also creates the paradigm shift in the colonial textuality and mimicry. The signifiers of the colonial discourse such as the disparity between being British and being anglicized; the inequitable identities constructed across traditional cultural tropes and categorizations – all are metonymies of the present anglicized conflict within the spirited binaries of homeland and hostland. In this conflict, as Hugh Tinker observes, there is a question that if Indian diaspora relate to their anglicized version of ‘self’ more than the Indian self in the host society,

[t]he Asians create their own difficulties by their own way of life, and by remaining separate from the host society; or do their troubles arise mainly from excess chauvinism or racism in the country of their adoption? Do they offend because they are, visibly, both pariahs and exploiters in alien societies? Or are they scapegoats, singled out for victimization because their adopted country (or its government) needs an alibi for poor performance in the national sphere? (Tinker 1977, 138-139)

The colonial social organisation strictly followed the racial lines and the colonial authorities in the USA did little to support racial integration among the Indian diaspora communities. Hence due to the residential ghettoization, the different communities were ignorant of each other’s social and cultural values, and communal biases became ingrained (Maharaj 2018, 32). Socially, the colonial segregated system suited the conservative Indian lifestyle, and some communities preferred to be left alone to follow their respective religious practices and the Bengali descent immigrants kind of exercised a segregated communal behaviour that improvised with the American living standards while balancing the anglicized nature.

The Indian-American community consists almost exclusively of writers as Bengalis were singled out for anglicization and trusted with positions within the colonial bureaucracy (Mishra, 2007, 4). This emblem of respectability and privilege seems to have been transported to America and prominent in the works of Indian-American writers who carry the Bengali heritage. But along with this emblem of respect comes communal inconsistency regarding the loyalty towards one’s own culture; comes the doubt regarding the authenticity of the cultural background of the Bengali community due to the heavy influence of British imperialism (Mishra 2007, 2). The collective inconsistencies regarding the basic constituents of the Bengali culture and household in the hostland are noticeable in the argument of diasporic home and I have singled out the topic of home that can be discussed through the themes dealt with by Mukherjee, Lahiri and Divakaruni.

The experiences related to migration, or the dilemma of a suitable lifestyle (internal need to prove that migration was a better choice); the process of readjustment with privileges or preoccupation with memories of childhood and nature; gendered roles and experiences of diaspora – all together create a sense of ‘in-betweenness’ (Bhabha 1994, 86) and a gradual split in the consciousness of the diaspora. Double consciousness (Dubois 1994, 21) and unhomeliness are the two skins of postcolonial diaspora. The British imprinting on the Indian communities is related with the identity crisis and communal idiosyncrasies which are noticeable till this date and resembles the desire of ‘Americanisation’. Lois Tyson explains this split:

Double consciousness’ or unstable sense of the self is the result of forced migration colonialism frequently caused. In the diaspora this feeling of being caught between cultures, of belonging to neither, rather than to both of finding oneself arrested in a psychological limbo that results not merely from some individual psychological disorder but from the trauma of the cultural displacement within which one lives is referred to by Homi Bhabha and others as ‘unhomeliness’. To be ‘unhomed’ is not the same as being homeless. To be unhomed is to feel not at home at even in yourself: your cultural identity crisis has made you a psychological refugee, so to speak. (Tyson 2006, 421)

Within the ideas of home and the hostland, nostalgia for the past and the ambiguity of rootlessness infests the obvious gaps in the feeling of ‘belongingness’ and these gaps are reflected in their observations of diasporic lifestyles through their writings. Mukherjee, Lahiri and Divakaruni seemingly suffer from the feeling of homelessness and explore these gaps not only in their novels but also through their personal experiences as diaspora.

“…My older sister…[who lives] in Detroit and has been here for the last thirty-five years has chosen to remain an Indian citizen but a green card holder, whereas I became an U.S. citizen as soon a s I became eligible. ”- (Mukherjee, 1998)

“I was not born here, but I might as well have been.” – (Lahiri, 2003)

“I wasn’t the anomaly but rather part of the definition of American culture. That my struggle of finding my place in this foreign land was a struggle that had been mimicked by hundreds, even thousands, of Indian women of all ages..”- (Divakaruni, 2013)

Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Chita Banerjee Divakaruni, in their respective interviews emphasised on their existence in the USA. Depending on their answers, these novelists may be aware of the privileges that come along with their apparent Americanisation, But where Mukherjee and Lahiri observe the desire to Americanise themselves as an opportunity, Divakaruni reflects on the struggles of Indian migrant women coming to America from different walks of life. Immigrants commit themselves to becoming a part of the host society, whereas expatriates see themselves as living in a foreign land. Expatriate writing emphasizes the inborn country that has been left behind and dwells on the nature of ex-status back in the homeland, while an immigrant looks forward to the experiences in the new country. Expatriates and immigrants have historically come together and balanced their understanding and quality of imagined Indianness and reproduced themselves through “intensified investments of Indianness” (Shukla, 2003, 23). These writers form a group where their writing style, plot and narrative strategy coalesce in a unique blend and posit the necessity to discuss the reconfiguring constituents of home.

Home and Diasporic Home

Homing desire is trying to realise ‘the homeland’ through given identities, colour, ideals and social class amid traumatic experiences of migration, resettlement, gendered and ethnic struggles. In his The Literature of the Indian Diaspora Theorizing the Diasporic Imaginary (2007), Vijay Mishra leads a thorough investigation of home and how it is normal to re-read this desire under emerging theoretical studies. Mishra starts his argument by addressing the uncomfortable character and deformity of the political identity of the Indian diaspora in their hyphenated yet non-hyphenated state. Diasporas would want to explore the meaning of the hyphen, still not press it too far, fearing colossal “communal schizophrenia” (Mishra 2007, 1). They are unsteadily stuck within the mirror of actual or fictional displacements, self-induced idea of exile, haunted by the rising of separatist movements. Diasporas are democratic societies for whom dominion and territoriality do not stand as prerequisites of nationhood, rather the communal bounds, irrespective of location create the notion of home away from the homeland. This new concept of home in the hostland changes the domestic relationships between men and women and the expectations from the traditional heterosexual normative begin to shift. This change in the thought process challenges the diasporic man, towards the role of a nurturer rather than a mere provider, changing the construction of home from patriarchal roots. It challenges his cognitive abilities, his existence, his ways of life (one was used to and one was now facing). All these contribute to his idea of global imitation for he feels juxtaposed by the idea of home – a feeling of in-betweenness at the intersection of home and the hostland.

The three-dimensional dogmas of home and identity in certain ways articulate both mobility and displacement alongside location and positionality. But even though the diasporic communities posit no conditions to identify with the host-land, the idea of the homeland still dependent on naturalised hierarchies within family, cultural memories and natural conditions. Due to the gaps in cultural familiarity, the home evolves from a familiar and safe haven, to a hostile environment. The shift in the paradigms of home in the host society observes few other categories, such as, femininity and the hostland, trauma and the hostland etc. Consequently, this moral awakening creates a paradigm shift amid the complexities of senses and passion in our mundane experiences, constructing ideals based on the family, food and cultural origins, ethnic ties and familiarity of language. It creates a different scope beyond the common order of an orthodox society in the boundaries of home. This apparent orderliness looks beyond the initial emphasis on beauty, decency, and order being as the major criterion in the formation of home.

The themes of darkness, delineation of cross-cultural conflict, patriarchy are important landmarks in Bharati Mukherjee’s works. In her novels, like in Jasmine (1989) or Desirable Daughters (2002), the exposition of darkness is quite grim and revolves around the domicile. In Jasmine, we see the character evolving only through struggles, beyond the superstitious life that was dropped on her. Her Indian dream was to get out of India – not to be widowed, not to be loveless, and not to face the fear of loss. Nevertheless, the choices that led her towards the American dream only came through loss and her illusion of home. In this regard, Amba Pande’s observation might be apt:

The concept of welfare of the immigrant women from the third world countries revolved around ‘modernising’ or ‘liberating’ them according to the Western paradigms. These ethnocentric and neo-colonialist theories and concepts were in many cases not even relevant from the perspective of the third world societies whose cultural formats were different and produced different readings of women’s position and experiences. (Pande 2018, 5)

Mukherjee’s Jasmine finds a balance within the inherent blend of superstition and ambition and thrives for a future that centres on her and not the other way around. With her name change (Jyoti/Jasmine/Jane) runs the impulse to change the way she looks, the way she behaves and the way she thinks. It was necessary for Jasmine to assimilate to her new home and not think the way people do back ‘home’. It was necessary for her to be less exotic and more normal – a little more American. Jasmine’s predicament reverberates within Celaya’s image from Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo, o, Puro cuento (2003) and her “Mexicanness as well as her Americanness unveil an admixture of home and homelessness that lead her to ceaselessly remodel her subsequent Mexican and American identity into a new, inter-American one (Cristian 2015).” From Jyoti (Hindi for ‘light’) she becomes Jasmine (the flower) only to shift from the idea of safe haven, only to find herself alone with her rapist and eventually killing him. Her journey to become a good American starts with a murder; and on the way she became Jane, who knew how to be American in speech, in food and in name. Jane Ripplemeyer, in her final identity had nothing resembling Indianness and she truly did “reposition her stars” (Mukherjee 1989, 240).

No one to call to, no one to disturb us. Just me and the man who had raped me, the man I had murdered. The room looked like a slaughterhouse. Blood had congealed on my hands, my chin, my breasts. What a monstrous thing, what an infinitesimal thing, is the taking of a human life; for the second time in three months, I was in a room with a slain man. My body bloodied. I was walking death. Death incarnate. (Mukherjee 1989, 119)

Being raped at the very onset of her journey and being ‘westernised’ afterwards takes a toll on her relationship with herself. The relationship of Jasmine with her different identities results in unruly fancies where it might be necessary to detach imagination from the discussion of the hostland and its experiences. Detaching oneself from cultural displacement prepares for the elevation of the moral values. Even in fiction, in the formation of a communal desire, imaginative writing works as a unique method aiding moral awakening in an individual. Discordance in the new idea of home showcases a damaged yet a thriving self in the hostland but the incidents of cultural alienation still create fear: fear of loss or actual loss through an incident and contributes to the whole obscurity or formlessness through darkness and solitude in Mukherjee’s novels. In Desirable Daughters (2002), Mukherjee teases on her concept of a patriarch.

For girls of our class, only a convent-school education would do. This meant that until we reached the age of marital consent, we could be certified (of course) as virgins, but also as never having occupied unchaperoned confined space of any kind with a boy of our own age who was not a close relative. (Mukherjee 2002, 28)

Mukherjee explores her idea of paternalistic dominance with her characters including life skills such as a positive self-image and emotional intimacy with their father. Most of Mukherjee’s protagonists, however, share a distant, almost negative emotional relationship with their fathers. This emotional distance tends to create a complex with the patriarch and affects the quality of relationship in their marital life. Manisha Roy in Bengali Woman comments on the tolerance, control, and the absenteeism of emotionally damaged characteristic of the father-daughter relationship in a Bengali family:

The daughter must also obey the father and father figures who give her instruction in schoolwork, in music, and in introducing her to the world of literature, music, imagination, and introspection. In this case she is permitted to ask for indulgence through their affection and she demands overt demonstration of their affection … the cultural ideal in this case is supported by the religious ideal based on the Hindu myth of Durga who, as a little girl Uma, was loved and adored by her father, the king, and his subjects. Every girl in her father’s home should be treated as Uma, soon to leave for her husband’s home. (Roy 1975, 157)

Jhumpa Lahiri manifests this darkness into the hostility of home, beyond its nurturing convention, which develops into a stark reality. Lahiri hovers on emptiness and Chitra Banerjee draws the curtain with her intense treatment of looming silence. The Indian idea of father-son relationship comes out in stark contrast with that of the American one and the reversal of expectations create the whole story of The Namesake (2003). Ashok’s pride in being part of the American society and living the life of modern-ness and aristocracy, despite occasional incidents of racism; Nikhil’s (or the other name Gogol) inward racism and trials to become a full-fledged American, not just by birth but by heart and ethnicity; Ashima trying to form an Indian home within the American society through her sarees, food and Indian moralities – all contribute to the sense of emptiness that all these characters continue to mask in the novel. Lahiri showcases Nikhil’s unfamiliarity with Indian culture, the one that was bestowed on him and his sister since birth in contrast to American familiarity. This heightens his possibilities and privileges in the hostland in comparison to those in the homeland. Ashok’s migration to America also had the intention to thrive for a better lifestyle where a possible observation may be that migration is a journey from orthodox domestication to liberal wildernesses – just like Ashok was reminded:

Do yourself a favor. Before it’s too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late. (Lahiri 2003, 16)

But Ashok’s journey changes his perspective as a diaspora and repositions his western illusion within the bounds of cultural limbo and he struggles to find his in-betweenness in this limbo. Hence, Nikhil (or Gogol) too, is dragged on with the communal inconsistencies. Name, in both Mukherjee and Lahiri’s works is a constant allusion to identity crisis and Nikhil, being a second generation Indian-American identifies with this crisis and also the internalized racism. He could not bear the burden of his namesake Gogol as it reminded him of the 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol’s tragic history and his father’s guilt. Lahiri’s desire to pick a country of origin rather, to pick a race for her identity, designs the alienation motif of the novel. Lahiri became Ashok when he packed his bags and stepped out as an immigrant; she became Gogol when he couldn’t understand Ashok’s remark, “We all came from Gogol’s overcoat” (Lahiri 2003, 112); and she became Ashima when she finally lived up to her name while others couldn’t and became free (‘Ashima’ means ‘the one without borders’).

Subhash in Lahiri’s The Lowland (2013) deals with the spatial intensity of home throughout the novel, concerning both Indian and American culture. His search of home was not because home in Kolkata was insufficient, but was due to his desire to go beyond the known boundaries, the Naxalite riots and political upheaval and to feel appreciated by others. It is a given for immigrants who travel to the USA that they have escaped their own country in the expectation of improvement in lifestyle and certainly privilege is in conflict with preference. She asks:

Do you like it here?
No one had asked him this, until now.
He looked out at the water, at the steel piles of the two water bridges stretching across the bay. (Lahiri 2013, 64)

However, Lahiri and Subhash, both reflect on their internal desire to belong in the USA, that contrasts with their cultural origin and generational nationality. Lahiri was part of the second-generation diaspora whereas Subhash was an immigrant but both of them nourished the desire to belong to the USA, to embrace unfamiliarity as their new home, or the home that was meant to be more important than the one they were born into. “I spent much time in Kolkata as a child-idle and spent a lot of time-often at home with my grandmother […] I could seal myself off psychologically. It was a place where I began to think imaginatively. Kolkata nourished my mind, my eye as a writer […] (Maity 2018, 12).” Subhash seemed to be searching for something extraordinary that will still retain the hints of the previous home, adjustable with the childhood memories. It was his journey to search for a Kolkata in the American land, amid American people.

This trial to locate familiarity with homeland celebrates the act of migration as great and exceptional. Hence, the very first feeling of starting a new life among unknown faces, unknown colour and culture strikes the mind with an internal joy, and spreads a merriment and delight through all its faculties of adaptation. While observing uniformity in the hostland puts his memories of un-unified India in an unbalanced state and he ascends to the transitions of life in America where, with time, he could be part of the collective joy and grief of the people around him beyond colour, race and gender; he may be, though an immigrant, allowed to feel “There is no sense of [it’s] boundaries, where it begins or ends, whom it grieves… and pass, respectfully, out of its shadow” (Lahiri 2013, 330). Through the resistance of identities, Lahiri could realise the origin of desires in all three characters and marked these desires for identities as deformities, not in just her protagonist, but also in herself, as a diaspora woman, in her own diasporic home.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s thematic exploration on the other hand, concerns the Indian myth, reality mixed in magic realism, acculturation and culinary identification. Divakaruni’s Mistress of Spices (1997) and The Forest of Enchantment (2019), the act of migration may be interpreted as the journey from orthodox domestication towards liberal wilderness. The Forest of Enchantments, though a mythical retelling, explores the theme of migration from twisted angle of Ramayan’s original tale and Ravan’s ‘Lanka’ can be seen as the prized land of America where Sita has to relearn her boundaries to constitute her home, and to be the woman, or wife within those boundaries as she proclaims the following:

Let the citizens of Ayodhya whose minds are filled with prejudices- as were ours when we lived within the tight boundaries of what we believed to be the sole civilized world. Let there be goodwill between all creatures in Ramrajya. (Divakaruni 2019, 220)

Divakaruni, in her various interviews, mentioned the prolific Bengali writer Ashapoorna Devi and the way she influenced Banerjee’s writing style, thematic orientations and cultural ignitions. Ashapoorna Devi’s Subarnalata (1967) is a novel set in early twentieth-century British Kolkata, in a middle class, patriarchal household contrasting with the idea of liberation in both the housewives and nation. Banerjee’s writings seemed to be influenced by Devi’s stylizing of the concept of home, its mundane blues and the pride of a housewife as well as her despairs for not being a man. Early twentieth-century Kolkata, even under the British realm fought with the idea of liberation of women, women illuminated by the touch of foreign light of education, only among few good things that colonialism could provide. Where some Bengali welcomed the idea of equal opportunity, some still remained restrained and far off the sight of the outside world. Divakaruni’s women, Tilo (in Mistress of Spices) and Sita (The Forest of Enchantments) both feel perplexed about which role to assume to maintain a perfect household. In her novels, these women are challenged by the notion of liberation and equal rights in terms of maintaining and raising a family. The natural responsibility to nourish and nurture that is instilled within their body and mind is in contrast with the free will and rights to break free – to be a woman or to be a wife. Tilo, being a woman who impends on fortune- telling depending on spices, stops herself from belonging to any man fearing disloyalty to her spices, to which she believes she’s married to. She and her spices create the home that she has desired and like the patriarch, spices remind her of the consequences of disloyalty. Divakaruni stresses that

[T]he world does not work that way, the foolish Mistress who thinks she can roll up the falling waterfall, can make the forest fire suck in its blaze-red tongue. Or as that man waiting in his car would say, hold again in your hands the bird already flown. (Divakaruni 1997, 303)

Apart from this, Divakaruni explains the way of parental disciplining in a common Indian household in contrast to its American one, hinting at different results. Jagjit, a boy from Punjab, still essentially adhered to his Indian roots, comfortable with his cultural identity and confused about the transitions of migration. His inability to speak the language of the Americans, his silence amid the constant bullying earned him a disturbing reputation.

Jagjit with his thin, frightened wrists who has trouble in school because he knows only Punjabi still. Jagjit whom the teacher put in the last row next to the drooling boy milk-blue eyes. Jagjit who has learned his first English word. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. (Divakaruni 1997, 39)

This contributes to a distorted relationship between a native and an immigrant. His own parents are hostile to his problems, and his home has turned against him. In contrast, Sita retells the story of Ramayana from her perspective and how she couldn’t be the desired wife because she dared to cross her boundary – both Jagjit and Sita crossed the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ (Divakaruni 2019, 184). Divakaruni assumes the voice of the narrator and retells the story of Sita in comprehension of thousands of migrant women who are dependent on the patriarch to protect and provide due to the lack of any formal position or education. In Sita’s case, it is Ayodhya or Lanka, in the case of migrant women, it is America. The western world is often portrayed as a liberating space for women, and Lanka may have provided the chance for Sita to stand up against the considerate patriarch, Ram, just as America creates a space for Tilo or Jagjit. Hence, while facing reality, many of these constructions of the idea of home are challenged and Divakaruni perhaps observes for both Sita and Tilo aptly the following.

In that state, I understood many things, though I am not permitted to speak of them, I understood that things happen to us for many complicated reasons, arising from both the past and the future. Thus am no longer sorrowful for all that has taken place in my life- or the things that are about to happen in yours. (Divakaruni 2019, 290)

The shift in the constituent of home creates a non-clear status in the image of boundaries and intensifies the fear – fear of identity crisis and not belonging to anyone, anything or particularly existing in a limbo of hybridity. The mind of a man compares to the enclosed entity of a home, and then the idea of living under constant restraint imposed by the cultural orthodoxy creates a frustrated zone here in the narrowness of thoughts. The mind, in the absence of a ‘spacious horizon’ only learns to adapt the oral traditions and the burden that comes along with the concept of home. This burden is related to one’s own nostalgia; his domestic experiences and the ability to adapt the domicile changes while identifying with these experiences and moving towards the development of the shifting paradigms of home in the hostland. Roberta Rubenstein writes that

nostalgia encompasses something more than a yearning for literal places or actual individuals. While homesickness refers to a spatial/geographical separation, nostalgia more accurately refers to a temporal one. Even if one is able to return to the literal edifice where s/he grew up, one can never truly return to the original home of childhood, since it exists mostly as a place in the imagination. (Rubenstein 2001, 73)

The landscapes of memory create spatial narratives of the past and present, a nostalgic desire for home represents a journey from desire to desire. As the feeling of imagined displacement manifests, home becomes a temporal signifier implying a longing for an illusory and unachievable past. The unachievable longing for the familiarity of the boundaries of home challenges the new ones making home in the hostland a hostile confinement. Nevertheless, uncommonness enhances the single perception of home and makes the regularity more sustainable – that unfamiliar, hostile nature acts as the cracks on the neatly confined structure. Every time Ashok relives his train accident through his son’s existence; or even when Tilo or Sita tries to self-immolate themselves as tributes to her cultural ties – in all these cases, a certain grandeur is reachable in terms of greatness to somehow showcase the mundane struggles of life in negotiation to the transition of the diasporic home.

The South Asian studies concerning different Indo-diaspora communities focus upon the anthropological accounts of the extended families and how the system of blood-relation orients and functions, especially among families that entered the western world for better prospects. Women in Divakaruni’s novels are the carriers of culture from the homeland and the connection between passion and heredity hints at the transgenerational ideas where one is rather subjected to generational impulses than free will. The inference that appears in a global context is how Indians took global citizenship to an all new level by occupying almost every country in the world, even though the sense of nationality runs strong in their collective consciousness.

Mukherjee, Lahiri and Banerjee rarely look beyond this collective consciousness that is severely anglicised and they observe the deconstruction of the image of Kolkata alongside the nostalgia of American streets, walls and colours. This re-reading of Kolkata is a big part of the Indian dream that they push on in their literary experiment. Mukherjee though was a first-generation immigrant who welcomed the idea of being an American citizen, still couldn’t reject her innate ‘bengaliness’. Lahiri, who spent only few years of her life in Kolkata, etched the city in her memories and carried it around the world and her change of status in citizenship couldn’t replace those memories and she kept on reconstructing her Kolkata in parts and pieces and Kolkata existed as fragments within the American memories, experiences and dreams. For Banerjee, it was a little different – she didn’t face challenging identity issues within herself, she accepted her Indianness, her generational nationalism and embraced it like an expatriate. In her case, she didn’t just stop at relating Kolkata to her foreign extravagance but tried to locate foreignness in her image of Kolkata – the streets, the walls, through food, through smell and through nature. Her aim was to find America in the face of India, existing as each other’s alter egos.


The whole discussion evokes the question as to how these particular characters and their ordeals change their idea of home in the novels and therefore conclusively prove that there is a difference between home in the homeland and home in the hostland. On one hand, there’s an effort to determine the change among the mundane incidents of a household (in both homeland and hostland) and on the other hand, these experiences occur in every migrated Indian family who struggle to balance their Indianness and their American identity. Jasmine’s rape might raise more pain and passion from the women of her background, her social status, or even colour and national origin, but her struggles might be too normal for people who do not observe similarity with her condition in their lifestyle. Ashok’s accident can be just a mere accident and there is no importance of the distinction between inherited and imposed Indianness or Tilo’s fictionality with her spices is too abundant and unrealistic for the American minds. But altogether, these novels focus on three things: firstly, on the transgenerational changes in the domestic ethos of ‘American’ home; secondly, how an individual responds to migration and identifies with the concept of home differently; and thirdly, how the Indian diaspora create a different home in a foreign land bridging the cultural dichotomies of both lands.

In contemporary foreign society, the overwhelming feeling of constructing a new home by the familiar cultural standards and norms turns out to be challenging and there are adjustments made to the domestic thinking, in terms of gendered roles, expectations and equality (Blunt 2005, 37). The aim is to renegotiate the structure of an Indian home in America and observe how the basic constituents (such as gendered notions, patriarchal images, communal rituals and habits) of an Indian home vary from place to place due to the effects of migration. Bengali-descent Indo-American writers like Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni reflected on the idea of home, boundaries and traditions beyond the cultural propaganda and making domesticity exist in a state of flux. They have taken the elements that structured home, patriarchy and transgenerational customs, and established these through gender-neutral experiences. The social values, religious beliefs, technologies, food habits and branding that are mixed with the cultural traits of India seem to coalesce with foreign thinking, they influence one another and create a diasporic home where national identities, cultural orientations and socio-political doctrines may not dictate a definite structure of home and domestic behaviour. The discussion of home in the hostland justifies the existence of diasporic home continuing with the tradition of Indo-American writings and evolving into a broader perspective in global diasporic studies.


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