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      Etymologically, the term Diaspora was
coined from the Greek word ‘Diaspeirein’
which means “to scatter about, disperse”. It was used by the ancient Greeks to
refer to citizens of a dominant city-state who immigrated to a conquered land
with the purpose of colonization, to assimilate the territory into the empire. The
Indian Diaspora is a term used to describe the people who migrated from the
territories of the Republic of India. Today it is largely the “success
story” of the Indian diaspora in the Silicon Valley and the other professionals
mainly settled in the U.K., North America and Europe.

 Diaspora is defined as displacement and
relocation across geo-temporal distances and diasporic experience is marked by
nostalgia for the original home and a desire for acculturation in adopted home.
Food, especially is a “potent site for construction of memory” and
both food and memory are “floating signifiers” that can be engaged
with in multiple ways to construct identities of self and communities (Holtzman
362). In displaced families, “the act of eating is transformed into a
performance of ‘gastro-nostalgia’ “(Srinivas 196). To make this
performance possible in the diaspora; recipes of homeland food are
indispensable and are often passed down as familial legacies. Recipes are the
culinary blue prints that enable the migrant to reconstruct and remember their
home in the other land.

In
this paper presentation an attempt is made to trace the interconnectedness of
home and food through the study of a diasporic novel, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. In the past migration was forced,
but in the present, it is voluntary migration to metropolitan centres in the
global north in search of better prospects. Like the adage – East or West, Home
is the best- people though they migrate to different parts, cling on to their
roots and cultures and try to recreate them especially through their native
cuisines. Food acts as a link to their identity, lineage and heritage.

For
Indians, food is not a meal for survival it has an emotional and cultural
sentiment. A food item whether an evening snack or sumptuous meal is always
filled with the love, affection and care of the maker i.e. mother. Food creates
a nostalgic feeling in the mind of the people for it is always connected to
home, the stories of childhood and memories of our ancestors.

The Namesake is an evocative story of
‘Ashima Bhaduri’, a student in a degree class in Calcutta who becomes Ashima
Ganguli after her marriage to Ashoke Ganguli of Alipore. Ashoke shifts home to
Boston for pursuing his Ph.D. in Fiber Optics. Ashima’s immigrant experience,
the clash of cultures in United States and her non- acceptance of the American
society are the main concerns of the novelist. Ashima feels upset and homesick,
spatially and emotionally dislocated from her ancestral home and her only
source of comfort is food.

Food
is not any dish that we eat, but it is the food that defines us. Jhumpa Lahiri
in her first novel The Namesake talks
about the dilemmas faced by an immigrant family, how they try to overcome it by
trying to recapture the homeland through food and memories. Ashima Ganguli is
the protagonist of the novel. The very beginning of the novel sets in tone the
role of food in the life of a diasporic Indian, Ashima. She craves for her rice
krispies during her pregnancy;

“On a sticky August
evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of
a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and
chopped red onion in a bowl…. Tasting from a cupped palm, she frowns; as usual,
there’s something missing”. (1)

Her
simple act of craving is an attempt to visualize the real or imagined past in
the faraway country i.e. an attempt to recreate homeland by revisiting the
imaginary homeland. Food seems as a conduct to ventilate Ashima’s sense of
emotion, nostalgia and alienation. The Bengalis as a scattered community in America’s
metropolitan environment enjoy their cultural activities with fervour. They are
a scattered community, found in different professions and doing their best to enjoy
life in America’s materialist society. Re-orienting their life in a new
socio-political environment they exude a cultural resilience and keep
acquaintance with one another on family get-togethers, regardless of each
other’s qualifications, professional engagements and economic status.

 Indians always hold on to their culture no
matter where they are or how rich they are, for it is ingrained in their soul
and the culture embodies who they are. In America occasions are topped off with
a bottle of champagne but for Indians each occasion is special and food is an
important factor that distinguishes each one from the other. Alan and Judy,
Ashima’s neighbour’s welcome Gogol by sharing a bottle of cold champagne which
is their custom while Ashoke and Ashima pretends to take sips, for Indians it
is lassie that acts as their welcome drink.

In
America Ganguli’s celebrate Gogol’s annaprasan (consumption of solid food
ceremony) and miss their relatives from distant Calcutta. But the ceremony is
carried out by Bengali friends who become Gogol’s honorary uncles and aunts.
There is no baptism for Bengali babies and their first formal ceremony of life
centres on the consumption of solid food. And Dilip (Ashoke’s friend) plays the
part of Ashima’s brother and feed Gogol rice, the Bengali staff for the first
time. Ashima prepares Bengali food to welcome all their guests. Though it takes
many hours to cook all the dishes, Ashima is happy for they are all connected
to each other even though there is no blood relation between them. A sense of
home is being recreated through the whole process of cooking, sharing and
dining together.

Ashima
tries to hold on to her Indian culture by recreating the homeland foods. For
her it is these foods that provide her not just comfort in the alien land but
it also gives her financial support, making her independent. In order to
preserve their culture and identity, the second generation i.e. the children
are taught Bengali language, literature and history by sending them to special
Bengali classes. They are taught about their family lineage, religious customs,
rites, beliefs, food and mannerisms. Children memorize Tagore’s poem, names of
Hindu deities like Saraswati, Lakshmi, Kartik and Ganesh who adorn goddess
Durga during the pujo. Ashima and Ashoke try hard to hold on to their
Indianness -a belief in their culture- that they cannot let go.

Food
is not only to fill your belly; it is the taste that which gives an identity.
Ashima clings on to her ethnic Bengali tradition by preparing the payeesh on
Gogol’s birthday. Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate. Ashima
makes it a point to prepare Gogol’s favourite dishes along with American dishes
for his birthday party. Ashima makes her rice krispies frequently, this act of
Ashima to make krispes is just because it is her comfort food. People with
strong relationships with their mother land preferred the taste of comfort food
when they experience feeling of social isolation in the alien land. This is
probably because individuals associate a particular food item with members of
their family, social gatherings, or people taking care of them, which is why we
see a lot of comfort foods that are either traditional meals or sometimes
street snacks, remainder of good old days.

The second generation immigrants
i.e. the children always favoured the host culture for them that is the culture
they have seen around them. But Gogol and Sonia understand the value of native
cuisine quite lately, “for ten days following his father’s death, he and his
mother and Sonia eat a mourner’s diet, forgoing meat and fish.” (180) The
mourner’s meal brings together the family which was earlier not at all connected.

Food not only does it
filly our tummy but it also fills our heart too. People busy in their life,
running in the rat race to succeed just gobble down what is readily available.
But they always return to their native cuisine in the end- either to celebrate
their victory in the race or to face their failure. For these favourite dishes
usually comprises of childhood delicacies and these dishes always invoke in us
the memory of mother’s love, care, tales of childhood days and so on. The
nostalgia associated with food often varies from one person to another.

Cultural displacement
involves the loss of language, family ties and a support system. Lahiri
stresses culture and its importance in immigrant experience with a humanist
outlook. The loss of roots, language and social norms are the three most
important parts of the definition of what it is to be a human being. Lahiri’s
first generation Indian-Americans cherish their past and its memories as an indispensable,
integral part of their roots and their being, her second generation
Indian-Americans reflect both proximity and distancing from it, they seem to
perceive and adopt ‘new angles at which to enter this reality’.

 At the end of it all, the novel sketches the
transformation of its central character Ashima from a timid wife, lost
homemaker to a confident individual, who has successfully recreated home in the
alien space via food. At this instance the Sanskrit phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam seems contextual, that multiculturalism
should not be regarded as threat but as a part and parcel of life of all human
beings living on the earth, reaching the great ideals of world peace, harmony
and universal fraternity. As Gandhiji has once stated “I do not want my house
to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures
of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to
be blown off my feet by any.”

Post Author: admin