The Lowland is a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. This is the story of a middle class Bengali family caught in the maelstrom of political turmoil of late 1960s and early 1970s. It is the story of a father who loses his two sons, along with hopes and aspirations, one to police bullet and the second one to the USA. Parents who are not allowed to perform last rites of their son, yet who have to live on reminiscing memory of their departed son.
Two siblings who are temperamentally different, yet have a deep bond of brotherhood. Younger brother, Udayan, is daring, passionate, intelligent and ready to takes up cudgel on behalf of poor and disposessed. Udayan joins naxalite movement during his days in Presidency college. Udayan also marries a girl of his choice, Gouri. Udayan kills an off duty police officer. He suffers from the guilt of his action. Eventually, Udayan was hunted down and killed by central reserve police force in front of his parents and newly wedded wife.
Subhash is the older brother, who is cautious, conventional, responsible, and obedient. Subhash completes his chemical engineering degree from Jadavpur University and moves to Rhode Island for a post doctorate. Subhash is not a rebel but he is not selfish. Subhash marries Udayan’s widow in the face of prophesy of Subhash’s mother “Gouri may never love Subhash, because she loved Udayan. Also, Gouri is too aloof to be a mother.” Udayan’s daughter, Bela, was born in Rhode Island. Bela considers Subhash to be her father and a beautiful bond emerges between them even when Gouri leaves Subhash and Bela.
Gouri is one of the most complex character. She loved Udayan, yet she marries Subhash. Gouri was never grateful to Subhash. She slept with Subhash, yet she never loved Subhash. Gouri was aloof to her daughter Bela. Gouri left Bela with Subhash and moved to west coast of the USA. Other side of Gouri was her desire to study philosophy, her brilliance and her desire to excel. She completed her doctorate. Was Gouri a selfish and opportunistic person? Did Gouri not want to associate with any symbol that reminded her of Udayan? Gouri did not bother to take her daughter, indicating she lacked maternal instinct. Was she being generous to Subhash, knowing how dearly Subhash loved Bela? Gouri did not face Subhash to inform about his decision to leave for west coast. Does this indicate her guilt or lack of any accountability? Or Gouri was so haunted by Udayan’s memory that she was on the run from Udayan’s family, Udayan’s child and from herself?
Bela is a second generation American kid who had her roots in India. Bela is scarred by her mothers departure. She is afraid to get into a relationship. Also, Bela becomes furious when informed Subhash was not her biological father Yet she acknowledges the sacrifices Subhash has made for her, and fatherly love Subhash has bestowed upon Bela. Bela grows up like a copy of Udayan. She has rebellious streak of her father, the same sense of independence and strong will. Like her father, Bela distrusts capitalists system. She does not like corporations, supermarkets etc. and grows her own food.
The Lowland creates characters that are realistic with geunine aspiration and despair, happiness and pain, shades of selflessness and self centeredness, impulsive and calculating. The Lowland is a story that deals with human agony. However, the novel is not dark and depressing. There is hope, at each page and each chapter one anticipates something new and different. For me the most beautiful part of the book is when Bela tells a shell shocked Subhash, after Gouri has left them “Baba I will never leave you”. I encourage everyone to read the novel. Jhumpa Lahiri has a very flowing style of writing. At no stage reader is bored. Always there an anticipation of what is coming next.