Being away from home for an extended period of time can be difficult. But it’s especially challenging when you have to leave home and move out of the country, the only place you’ve known your whole life, and adapt to an entire new culture and society. This is the exact struggle that Ashima Ganguli experiences in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. After marrying Ashoke, she leaves her family behind in Calcutta, India and follows her new husband to the city of Boston in America, where Ashoke decides to complete his engineering studies and become a professor. While Ashoke is happy to be seeing a different part of the world, Ashima is constantly racked with homesickness, to the point where she compares the experience of being a foreigner as painful as pregnancy.
It is clear from the onset of the novel that Ashima misses her home. On the very first page of the novel, Ashima attempts to recreate a concoction from India to consume during her pregnancy, which is “a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India” (Lahiri 1). However, she notices that, “as usual, there’s something missing” (Lahiri 1). Ashima’s efforts at trying to create a reminder of her homeland in her new home abroad can be seen as a representation of her homesickness because even though she has been living in Boston for a while, something is still out of place.
Throughout the rest of the novel, Ashima’s homesickness is more explicitly stated: she often ponders about the cultural differences between India and America, feels lonely without her family, cries when there are no letters from Calcutta, etc. Prior to her son Gogol being born, Ashima would “spend hours in the apartment, napping, sulking, rereading her same five Bengali novels on the bed” (Lahiri 35). Though life does improve when she has children, Ashima still feels saddened by homesickness. For instance, when the Gangulis move from Boston to a university town outside of the city, Ashima feels distressed all over again from having to leave behind a familiar setting. At the beginning of Chapter 3, her thoughts about this process are highlighted: “For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility…like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect” (Lahiri 49 – 50). The simile used here exemplifies how being a foreigner is like being pregnant. Ashima uses pregnancy as a comparison to her experiences as a foreigner to allow the reader to understand her emotions in a more familiar manner and to emphasize how difficult and painful it is.
Ashima’s pain as both a mother and a foreigner are addressed in this passage. Through the usage of similes, Ashima makes it clear how, as an Indian living in America, she constantly has to struggle with the burden of taking care of her status. She always has to combat homesickness, deal with new ways of life, and put up with ignorant people. Much like raising a child, the feeling as a foreigner never leaves Ashima alone, constantly demanding her attention, looking for a cure to the feelings of emptiness and desire for her former life of relative ease and familiarity.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Houghton Mifflin, 2003.