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Expounding Alienation, Home and Homeland in Manju Kapur’s The Immigrant

 


Expounding Alienation, Home and Homeland in Manju Kapur’s The Immigrant

 

Gunjan Choudhary

PhD Research Scholar,

Department of English and MEL,

Banasthali Vidyapith,

Rajasthan, India

&

Dr. Anupriya Roy Srivastava

Assistant Professor,

Department of English and MEL,

Banasthali Vidyapith,

Rajasthan, India

 

Abstract:

What is a home? It is about its people, objects and other acquaintances that make a house, feel like a home, than just being a physical boundary. A person is thus, habitual of that particular home and its surroundings. When a person, voluntary or unvoluntary, displaces from one’s homeland and shifts to a new land, he/she faces feelings related to loneliness. The displaced person is always in a dilemma as whether to accept and embrace the new culture or remain confined to the old one. In such a scenario, person either tries a mix of both cultures or leave both these cultures, and move to a third one, which would represent one’s new form of identity. Manju Kapur is one such woman author, who advocates the independence and freedom of her women characters. Through her novel, The Immigrant (2008), she captures the struggles of a 30-year-old Nina, who tries to adapt to the new life in Canada. Eventually, she grows into a liberated and self-sufficient individual. The present paper intends to highlight how in the novel, Nina faces several difficulties, when leaving his/her homeland and thus resorts to various third-spaces to form an independent identity for herself.

Keywords: Diaspora, Alienation, Independence, Identity, Homeland, Displacement.

Homeland is defined as the native land (Merriam-Webster dictionary), the one which is deeply associated with the individual’s identity and being. It is where a person has its own home, where one can feel comfortable and secure. Also, one’s culture and homeland reflect the persona of an individual. Certain behavioral characteristics, expected roles from different genders, food habits, heritage and culture, different language etc. all help a person in forming one’s personality. An individual has been introduced to and vested in these things since their inception. Thus, they are highly influenced with these facets being significant part of their individuality. This results in the feeling of belongingness to the particular culture or nation.

In this globalized world, it has become prominent to witness the displacement of individuals, whether voluntary or involuntary. People move out to different states or even countries mainly due to economic, monetary and technological gains. Thus, when they are displaced or uprooted from their native land, this feeling of belongingness is wavered. It involves leaving our current existence to become and adopt into a new person, which comprises of leaving past behind all our individuality. This new personality in the new world makes a person feel as an outsider or alienated. Displacement therefore, leads to troubles “…assaults of host people, alienation, fear of assimilation and acculturation, nostalgia, feeling of belonging, cross-cultural and multi-cultural issues, identity problems…” (Jaleel337). On one hand, one cannot forget their specific culture, language and people, and on the other hand, they find it daunting to accustom themselves in the new environment. Thus, once displacement happens, it is almost impossible to have a single state of identity.

Alienation is one of the major effects of displacement. The displaced is generally alone as they have no one to talk to or resort to. But it is crucial for human beings to have communal bonding and to express themselves through emotions and feelings. This is being fulfilled for humans at certain social spaces such as book shops, cafes, bars, public parks etc. Ray Oldenburg, in his The Great Good Place (1998) has referred to these social places as “third place” (16). The first place is the home, where an individual is born and spends most of their time. The environment of a home reflects most of the behavior and attitude of an individual. The second place is the work setting of an individual, where one is supposed to perform a particular role, which also provides the means of one’s livelihood. The third place is the “…the people’s own remedy for stress, loneliness, and alienation…” (20). Third places are centers for preserving psychological and emotional well-being of humans who are looking for peace or who suffer from isolation and feel disconnected from society. Oldenburg has provided eight characteristics to define the third place: (1) On Neutral Ground- “There must be places where individuals may come and go as please…” (22) as there are no monetary or legal ties attached to it. They are there simply because they want to be. (2) The Third Place is a Leveler- People from all the categories of society are welcomed here and “…does not set formal criteria of membership…” (24) Here, social and economic status does not matter. (3) Conversation is the Main Activity- The conversation here“...is lively, scintillating, colorful, andengaging” (26). People are open to express their feelings without any filter or guilt. (4) Accessibility and Accommodation- Third places are where “…one may go alone at almost any time of the day or evening…” (32) and they must be prepared to serve other people’s social needs. They should be easily located for the members. (5) The Regulars- these regulars set the mood and atmosphere for the new members and everybody else by making them “…feel at home”(34). They help the new people feel encouraged and comfortable. (6) A Low Profile- “the third place is typically plain” (36). Though these third places look plain, they are approachable and welcoming. (7) The Mood is Playful- “The playful spirit is of utmost importance” (38). Here, joy and laughter rule over apprehension and isolation. (8) A Home away from Home- It is “…more homelike than home” (39). It has same feelings of belonging, warmth and comfort as found in one’s home. Thus, a third place is a powerful remedy to feelings of exclusion and isolation of human beings. It reinstates the social connection and bond, provides identity and support and lets people to be their honest self.

Homi K. Bhabha is an Indian-British physicist and a scholar, who has contributed immensely in post-colonial studies. Bhabha In his book, Location of Culture, discusses about hybridity and in-between space. He has defined hybridity as a state which is “new, neither the one nor the other” (25). Thus, hybridity is a situation of being in a flux, wherein an individual is trapped between the two cultures. It tries to find answers to questions such as who one really is and where one really belongs to, therefore disrupting the beliefs of having a stable and permanent, self as well as home. This increases the in-between spaces which “…provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood- singular or communal- that initiate new signs of identity and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself” (1-2). Hence, it leads to formation and reformation of several cultural identities. Herein, the displaced person attempts to establish fresh character and identity, somewhere between the former and newer identities, finally developing a tertiary identity.

Literature and art have always been the medium to express oneself, as well as the society surrounding oneself. The significant concepts like question of identity, home and homeland, alienation, and displacement have been suitably depicted by literature, specifically diasporic literature and more commonly in Indian English texts. The term diasporic literature is a broad area with issues like sense of loss, longing and remembrance, displacement and alienation which is prominently because of expatriation and migration. The women writers of post-Independence era of India such as Samina Ali, Nayantara Sahgal, Manju Kapur, Kiran Desai, Manju Kapur, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, etc. have fashioned their own discrete literature by portraying contemporary difficulties and issues particularly related to women. Rashmi Bajaj, in her Women Indo-Anglican Poets: A Critique enunciates about the English writings of Indian women that, “We have here increased social consciousness, a strong awareness of identity as woman, championing of women’s cause, problems of alienation and identity crisis, daring portrayal of sex and emphasis on the study of personal relationships” (28). In all these contemporary texts, a new and liberated woman arises. Hence, in the beginning “… all of the characters feel alienated on their life journey, which is an essential part of identity formation, but they learn to face the pain with courage” (Borgohain, Ammari 227).They duly learn to take their own decisions regarding as whether to reside in the host land itself or go back to their native place or move to a completely new land.

Manju Kapur is one such contemporary Indian woman novelist of Indian English literature. She has composed several novels such as Difficult Daughters (1998), A Married Woman (2002), Home (2006), The Immigrant (2008), Custody (2011) etc. She has used fiction as a medium to demonstrate the struggle of women in the Indian society to achieve equality and an independent position in the family and the society. Her works depicts the journey of a silent and a subservient woman to a confident, an empowered and an awakened woman, who gradually resist patriarchal customs. Her novel, The Immigrant revolves around Nina and Ananda, her husband. As a 30-year-old unmarried, Nina faced several indictments from her stereotypical mother and society. Initially, Ananda after moving to Halifax suffered from loneliness, but gradually incorporated in himself the new culture. Soon after the marriage, Nina also begins to feel alone and secluded. To keep herself occupied, she even joins several clubs and groups. Her library science course finally gave her the wings for independence. Neither Nina returned to her old culture nor she chose to live here in the new society, instead she chose a third option altogether. Nina evolves into an independent woman, who is not fearful at all to live and begin her journey altogether in a new land. The present paper intends to highlight how a person faces several difficulties, such as alienation and existential rootlessness, when leaving his/her homeland and then resort to various third places to lessen their loneliness and how in The Immigrant, the third-space creates a new and independent identity for Nina by implementing the theories of Homi K. Bhabha and Ray Oldenburg.

Nina, the central character, suffers from loneliness since the beginning of the novel only. On her 30th birthday, she reflects her life and exclaims that, “Socially she was nothing” (49). Her routine is fixed, she goes early in the morning and returns in evening from the college and sometimes she used to visit her only friend, Zenobia. Soon she gets married to Ananda, an Indian dentist in Canada. Initially, during their pre wedding days, Nina “…began to think she was no longer fit for this city” (61). Already she started to think about the times when she used to live in Brussels along with her parents and this longing to move abroad grew stronger.

On her journey from India to Canada, she started to feel that “…links between her and home stretched tighter and tighter” (102). It shows the physical and literal separation from her home and homeland. It is not long that she starts to feel “…out of place” (104) at the airport only. It can be observed that she is already in the zone of existential outsideness as described by Edward Relph in his book, Place and Placelessness. She exclaims, that she feels “…like an illegal alien” (107). The experience of immigration check at the airport makes her realize that she is not a part of these people and that she is unwanted here, “she does not like her introduction to the new world” (107). Thus, before even beginning her new life properly in Halifax, she feels a certain kind of separation from this new country as well as its culture. It shows the beginning of her journey towards her diasporic self. When she was in India, she couldn’t wait to move to Canada, but as soon as she started her journey from old towards a new self, she was already feeling secluded, as someone who does not belong to this new place.

Nina faces tremendous changes in her life after moving to Halifax. Though she felt lonely earlier in her life, but there was still some amount of gratitude and satisfaction if nothing else, she was satisfied of her teaching career and she had her companions in the form of her mother and Zenobia. But here in Halifax, since the early days only, she felt alone as “it was strange to have no sign of any living thing around her” (115).Looking at the grey environment at Canada, she thought, “…day after day, nothing but grey. It is so depressing…” (299) implying herown void, dull and gloomy presence in Canada without anyone to share her feelings and thoughts. Though Ananda thought that Nina “…was the perfect mix of East and West. Her devotion to her mother and her willingness to consider an arranged introduction proved her Indian values, while her tastes, reading, thoughts, manner of speech, lack of sexual inhibition all revealed Western influences…” (85) Nina was now in a state of flux, that every displaced or immigrant goes through, knowingly or unknowingly, as she comments that, “these immigrants are always in two minds” (120). Nina thinks that the immigrant wife faces more difficulty as she is “…alone for many, many hours” (122).W.E.B. Du Bois, in his The Souls of Black Folk (1903) has expressed this feeling of “two-ness” (9) wherein a person, here Nina, is constantly comparing the new and the old culture including the food, relatives, clothes, luxurious objects and supermarkets, and every other little thing that she could observe and compare. And this constant comparison and divided self, made her feel “homesick… often forlorn” (122). This divided self could also be seen during Ananda’s early life in Canada, he used to say how there were so many servants in India to do his daily chores, unlike here in Canada, where everything is to be done of one’s own, also there was no sign of having a family or to support oneself. Ananda understood this fact in the beginning days only, but Nina, on the other side, found it difficult to accept this new culture readily and easily.

To reduce the feelings of homesickness and isolation, Nina went back to her old companions- the books, thinking, “with a book how could she be lonely” (135) and unlike Ananda, she was not one of those people who thought, “life is not all books” (135). She purchased and read several books for several days. But soon, she was full of reading books and thus wanted some other modes to reduce her isolation as she was missing a human bond from a long time. Her sense of out of place and alienation craved for “third place” as defined by Ray Oldenburg. Third places such as cafes, supermarkets, public parks, book shops etc. are places where human bond and a sense of community and familiarity could be established, irrespective of one’s gender, race, caste, age, and religion.

It can be observed in the novel, that she used to visit various third places to reduce her sense of loneliness. The first instance of the third place in the novel is the supermarkets such as the “…Dominion Food Store…the Shopper’s Drug Mart, Canadian Tire… Nell’s Green Thumb, Flo’s Bakery…” (125) She always got excited on visiting these supermarkets, even if she is with Ananda or alone, “…because here she was not a deprived onlooker…” (117) and there was always someone with whom she could talk. Another instance is the La Leche League, which was introduced by Sue, Ananda’s friend. Since Nina was having trouble in conceiving, Sue thought it might to help talking to these nursing mothers. It was the first place where Nina could actually face her inner troubles and there were people to listen to her, she says despairingly, “…is there anything wrong…should I see a doctor, is it too early…I am thirty-two. Is it already too late?” (162) She was so desperate to have a child as she thought the child could help her “…focus in this new country” (167). The dominant characters in the novel also visit Indian restaurants and at their friends and families’ place as third places to cherish their Indianness. For them, these places are like a home away from their home which provides them a sense of familiarity like Ananda and Nina who reclaim Indianness by going to such places.

The library there was the most important third place in Nina’s life in Halifax. She claims, “I come almost every day, this is my home away from home” (202). As she was a regular and always considered the books as her part of life and to feel secure, she decided to take a part time job in the library. Library was important also because, it changed the direction of her life. In the library, she met Beth who told her about her support group, “…designed to strengthen ourselves” (212) and to “…provide us with a safe place …to express ourselves, to grow without fear of criticism” (214). This support group is one of the biggest and important instances, as it also fulfills almost all the features of a third place. There are no financial or legal bounds to join the group. And also, it was a low-profile “ramshackle” (213) house for meetings. A third place is a leveler, that is everyone is welcomed there such as, in this group, some were white and others were brown. Conversation is one of the main features of the third place and here, “her words found a tender home…Nina felt more alive than she had in days. Talking, sharing, it was amazing what it could do” (216). Nina’s need to be part of such groups reflect, “she was lonely”(213) and had absolutely no one to talk to. She accepts her fears- “I don’t know what I want. At home it was much clearer. I feel so lost here” (229). This acceptance of her fears enabled her to take action towards her career, and thus she decides to have a library degree, thinking that it “would give her independence” (232). During her degree, she visited many new libraries and even many new places, which helped her to find her new sense of self. Hence, these third places hold a special place in her life. Here, she found people to talk to and her new sense of confidence which enabled her to take charge of her life as she says, “I need to find my feet in this country. I can’t walk on yours” (213) representing her strength and fearlessness.

Though Nina’s first experience in the new country was not a welcoming one, yet she tried to accommodate and amalgamate as much as she could with the new culture. She was in a continuous flux between two cultures. Though she enjoyed reading the texts of the West and the cool climate, but at the same time she used to criticize the Canadian practices such as no communal bond, everybody enjoys being on their own, familial relationships are limited etc. In the beginning, it can be seen that she could not eat or even touch meat, she comments that it would be “inevitable” (125) and she also faced dilemma while deciding on western clothes. Thus, as expressed in Key Concepts in Post- Colonial Studies (1998), hybridity “…can be compared to this space of deferral and possibility (thusa culture’s difference is never simple and static but ambivalent, changing, and always open to further possible interpretation) …” (Ashcroft et al 61). Later, she acclimatizes with the new culture through accepting the “new clothes” (152) and consuming the non-veg food, agreeing that, “there were more possibilities in the world she could be open to” (268). Thus, she was trying to imbibe some of the new things in her identity while sticking to some of the old ones, eventually moving to the third space. Her husband was the only resort in Halifax and on knowing the truth of Ananda’s deceit, she could no longer be a part of his life. She neither wanted to return to India, to her old self nor she wanted to stay here, thus she decided to move to some new place, somewhere she could reinvent herself and her identity: “she thought of those who had been nice to her, wayfarers on the path, nothing permanent, but interacting with them made that stretch easier…ones that made your journey less lonely…” (330)

This feeling of alienation made Nina to visit these third places, so as to help reduce loneliness in her life. Library as a third place gave her an opportunity to join library science course, which opened new dimensions and doors for her. It gave her impending independence and courage, also a chance to move out of her struggled and chaotic married life, “I need to be by myself” (329). Finally, instead of going back to her former culture or just staying here in with the new culture, she opted for a third alternative. Manju Kapur here has blurred the borders of a land, “when one was reinventing oneself, anywhere could be home…Find a new place, new friends, a new family. It had been possible once; it would be possible again” (330).She whole-heartedly accepts herself as an immigrant for life and emerges herself as a “new woman” (Bande42) who can take bold decisions and stand up for herself, if and when needed.

Works cited

Ashcroft, Bill, et al. Key Concepts in Post- Colonial Studies. Routledge, 1998.

Bajaj, Rashmi. Women Indo-Anglican Poets: A Critique.Asian Publication Services, 1996.

Bande, Usha, &Ram, Atma.Women in India Short Stories: Feminist Perspective. Rawat, 2003.

Bhabha, Homi. K.Location of Culture. Routledge, 1994.

Bois, W.E.The Souls of Black Folk.A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903.

Borgohain, Indrani Atul and Ammari, Deema.“Between the Homeland and Diaspora: Identity Dilemma in Indian Literature.” World Journal of English Language, vol. 12, no. 1, 2022, pp.221-229.

“Definition of homeland.” Dictionary by Merriam-Webster.<https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/homeland#:~:text=%3A%20a%20state%20or%20area%20set,national%2C%20cultural%2C%20or%20racial%20origin>.

Jaleel, Abdul. “Displacement and its Aftermath in Diaspora: A Study on Mira Nair’s films Mississippi Masala and the Namesake.”International Journal of Research – Granthaalayah,vol 5, no. 6, 2017, pp. 331-338.

Kapur, Manju. The Immigrant. Penguin Books, 2010.

Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Da Capo Press, 1999.

Relph, Edward.Place and Placelessness. Pion, 1976.