Review: ‘The Lowland,’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

One word for Jhumpa Lahiri’s brilliance of storytelling in ‘The Lowland’, is that she is just ‘Awesome.’ If I were to point out at one book by an Indian author, and ask people to read it, then it is this masterpiece. The novel begins with two brothers, 15 months apart, in the then Calcutta. The story revolves around the life of two brother and the tragedy that binds them. Subhas and Udhayan Mitra having born in the the town of ‘Tollygunge, ‘ lowland in the suburbs of the city. Though both very inseparable, yet are complete opposites.

Having been influenced by the ideals of Kanu Sanyal and Charu Majumdar, who had then began Naxalbari revolt, Udhayan had become the member of the then formed CPI (ML), calling themselves Marxist- Leninist, who were more inclined to Mao’s China than the USSR. The Naxalbari rebellion had lead to another turmoil in West Bengal. A small place, which was never heard of, had become famous overnight. The rebellion influenced a number of students, taught them to arm themselves, and fight against injustice. Subhas, dutiful son, does not follow brother’s political passion.

While Subhas left for the United States to complete his Doctoral Program, Udhayan was busy painting walls of city colleges about their cause at night and not being caught by the police, who Charu Majumdar believed that are anti-Indians. Udhayan frequently wrote letters  to his brother, about his wife, about how he fell in love with her. Gauri had married Udhayan, who was her brother’s friend. While Subhas was in intimate relation with Holly, who was separated by her husband.

 

Subhas leaves for India soon after he gets the telegram, which stated the death of Udhayan. The then Indira Gandhi government had ordered to bring down the Naxal movement. He was shot dead by the police for being involved in the bombing and killing of the police. At least that what Gauri tells Subhas when he asks her what had happened. He marries Udhayan’s wife, who was carrying Udhayan’s baby and move to the USA. They name the girl child as, Bella.

Life begin to unfurl when Gauri begin to feel guilty of having to raise Bella. She feels that Bella is reminder of Udhayan and never show the real care Bella needed. She starts to hate herself for not showing love to Bella. Bella and Subhas leave to India after the death of his father. Once they return to the USA, they find that Gauri had left to California, which she had mentioned in the a letter before leaving. But, he believes that he has to survive for Bella. Soon, Bella begin to inherit the same qualities of Gauri. She stopped talking to Subhas, did not wish on his birthday, for no mistake of his. Bella completes her college, but the relation with her father never really improves. Maybe, that she thought that her father did not do enough to prevent her mother from leaving.

After Subhas tells Bella the truth about her, him and about Udhayan, she becomes more sympathetic towards her father. Bella was carrying a baby in her womb, and wanted to raise her all by herself without a father.  She began hating her mother for having done what she did. The story is beautifully written. The narrative traces tension between husband and wife, daughter and mother, and Gauri battling her own independence. This is one of the best books by Indian authors, I have ever read.

Buy Now: ‘The Lowland’, by Jhumpa Lahiri