Nandini mostly spends her time talking about things over which she has no control. What else can one do!
I have ambivalent feelings about Jhumpa Lahiri. Whenever my colleagues, students, friends, neighbors find out that I am Bengali, they say, “Oh, I’veread Jhumpa Lahiri.” I dread the question that immediately follows – “ So what do you think about her?” As if I hold some special magic to understanding Jhumpa’s fiction, because we both happen to be Bengali. Never mind the fact that she grew up in Boston and I in Kolkata. But I’m not surprised. Before Jhumpa burst onto the literary scenario, it was Bharati Mukherjee. And I would take Jhumpa Lahiri over Bharati Mukherjee any day of the week. Although I hate Jhumpa Lahiri. I hate Jhumpa Lahiri because of the fact that I am expected to know her. I hate Jhumpa Lahiri because in every photograph I’ve seen of her, she comes across as mass-culturally beautiful, accomplished and sophisticated. In many pictures, she looks distinctly white. I have never met Jhumpa Lahiri, so I have no idea how she looks in real life. But she is marketed in a certain way. And it is specifically this marketing of South Asian women writers in the Euro-American market that I have come to resent. Jhumpa Lahiri is a brand unto herself, and I detest everything that comes with that branding.
Yet my feelings about Jhumpa Lahiri as a writer are far more complicated. Unlike a lot of South Asian diasporic women writers who came before her, Lahiri writes about the everyday middle-class Bengali immigrants and their children with a kind of complexity not predicated on binaries. Hers is not a world of the “east” versus the “west,” the “First World” versus the “Third World”, the “native” versus the “immigrant.” Her narratives are not plot-heavy. Instead, they chart out in detail the melancholy and boredom in the lives of professional, middle-class Bengali immigrants. In lots of ways, Jhumpa Lahiri has provided me with the permission to write well-crafted stories where “nothing happens.”
At the same time, Jhumpa’s characters are painfully homogenous. Not only are they profoundly middle-class, they are apolitical, unquestioning, accomplished and tasteful, but afraid of tearing apart the pre-determined borders and boundaries. In America, they never face any racism. When they move out of their Bengali diasporic communities, they almost always interact only with white Americans. Other groups and individuals of color are conspicuously absent from Jhumpa’s urban American landscape. When political histories are hinted at in Jhumpa’s narratives, they appear as mere backgrounds. For example, one can think of the 1971 war in Bangladesh forming the background of her short story “When Mr. Pirzada Comes To Dine.” Or, the shadows of Partition looming large in the short story “Burima.”
But generally speaking, Jhumpa’s characters engage in a kind of disporic melancholia, one which submits to larger forces. Theirs is a world of dignified submission which does not even disrupt the status quo, let alone upset it. If there is one overarching generalization I have to make about Jhumpa Lahiri as a writer, it is this: she is afraid of writing resistances. Her characters inhabit quite squarely the space of a “model minority” – that loaded term so often used to describe Asians in America. The hard-working, professional, staying-out-of-political-resistance-movement, upwardly mobile, peace-loving Asian immigrants. “Model minorities” as against the “unmodel” minoritydom of African-Americans and Latinos. Jhumpa’s characters are, by and large, model minorities. When they are not, they are either brushed out of the narrative too quickly or penalized for their failures to stick to the norm. Think of Moushumi Mazoomdar in her first novel The Namesake. Or Rahul in her long story “Only Goodness.” Yes, Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters are complex, but they are complex in their absolute non-resistivity.
So, honestly, I was a little taken aback when I came across an early review of Jhumpa’s latest novel The Lowland, which supposedly deals with Naxalbari. Is there a way one can write the story of Naxalbari without writing about characters who engage in deliberate, political resistance? Even before I completed reading The Lowland, therefore, I was aware of the fact that in this novel, Jhumpa had to push against her writerly boundaries. In fact, she pushed them quite a bit. She is not writing this novel from within her writerly comfort zone. As a writer myself, I respect that. Because I know how hard that is.
The Lowland, as a novel, demands that it be understood in terms of certain competing demands of our times. For any reader of Bengali literature, there is nothing novel about a full-length fictional work on Naxalbari. After all, most Bengali writers of a certain era have attempted to write one. And, I would say, the field of “Naxal literature” in Bengal, if one can talk about such a thing, is not homogenous at all. There are novels like Samaresh Majumder’s Kalbela, Bani Basu’s Antarghat. Both Samaresh Majumder and Bani Basu are writers who have operated from within the most mainstream of the literary spaces in Bengal. There is Mahasweta Debi’s Hajar Churashir Ma. And, obviously, narratives penned by writers who were activists within the movement itself – Saibal Mitra, Nabarun Bhattacharya and Raghab Bandopadhyay, to name a few. In other words, in writing about Naxalbari, Jhumpa Lahiri is walking into a complicated literary terrain, where the representations of what it means to be a Naxalite are already a site of debate, ideological and aesthetic difference and conflict.
Yet, there is a difference between such works and Jhumpa’s novel. The difference lies precisely in its belatedness. The Lowland is a retrospective look into a moment in history – a historical novel of sorts. In its short life as a published novel, it has made Naxalbari visible to an international audience in a way none of the other writers and literary works I have mentioned before could do. There is hardly anything that is surprising in that. The Lowlands, after all, is written in English. Written in English by a writer of Bengali descent who was already a brand. However, it would be wrong to say that The Lowlands is the first Anglophone novel that explores the legacies of Naxalbari. Naxalite characters have made their appearances in Indian English fiction – most notably in Upamanyu Chatterjee and Arundhati Roy’s works. I would like to keep Arundhati Roy aside. Precisely because her trajectory of engagement with the contemporary radical Indian social movements, and more specifically, Maoism, demands that we engage with her literary oeuvre in ways that are slightly different from the ways in which we read writers like Upamanyu Chatterjee and Jhumpa Lahiri.
In works such as Chatterjee’s, Naxalite characters, when they make an appearance, appear as stereotypes – educated, passionate, but monolithic and radical left fundamentalists. Like all stereotypes, they lack interiority or complex well-roundedness. In contrast, in Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, Udayan, her Naxalite character appears as a complex figuration. A character with a childhood, a very specific social history, intellectual life, Udayan is capable of filial and sexual-romantic love. To be more specific, Jhumpa’s attempts to write about Udayan from within the boundaries of a maximalist mimetic realism. That aesthetic choice endows him with a kind of humanity clearly absent in other Anglophone representations of Naxal activists.
Besides, no one before Jhumpa Lahiri had attempted to go back to that very moment in the late 1960s West Bengal – the moment of the “actual” Naxalbari rebellion, so to say. In Upamanyu Chatterjee or Arundhati Roy’s novels, Naxalism has been explored in its multiple migratory forms – in a Malayali Dalit’s desperate embracing of it in the context of CPI(M)’s failure to address the precarity of his caste existence, in the 1980s resurgence of it in the rural, tribal heartland of India. What has often been lost within those explorations are its originary moments in Bengal. Jhumpa Lahiri goes back to that original moment, and in going back to that original moment, enables the entry of 1960s Bengali radicalism into the archives of that contested category – the “global novel.” Global novels, if writers like Tim Parks is to be believed, are written with the pre-supposition that it is going to be read simultaneously all over the globe. Critics like Rebecca Walkowitz describe such novels as “born-translated.” One can then safely assume that The Lowland was written with a non-Bengali audience in mind. An audience that would not necessarily be aware of the many vicissitudes of Naxalbari and its literary figurations. An audience that is definitively liberal in terms of its primary political affiliations, but are not necessarily radical.
But there are still some other observations that need to be made. The Lowland, after all, is a historical novel of sorts. True, its narrative moves between the past and the present, the historical and the contemporary, forcing us to rethink critically the relevance of the self-help book maxim: live in the moment. A moment, too, after all, made up of other moments. The moment that has gone by. The moment that is yet to come. The legacy of Udayan – Jhumpa’s Naxalite character – thus lives on within the pages of the novel even after he is himself physically dead. In the lives of his parents, brother, wife and daughter. As does the legacy of Naxalbari within the social-cultural matrix of our lives. On the outset, then, The Lowland is a novel which resists the linear progressivist view of time and history. This, given the moment of the novel’s emergence, is not outstanding by any means. I would place The Lowlands within an overarching trend that is sweeping the global literary marketplace – the turn to history, the turn to archives, the turn to memories.
No historical event – whether it is slavery, indenture, rebellion, revolution, civil war, or even a natural disaster – is safe from writers’ scrutiny right now. The more catastrophic the history of a particular place, the better it is for writer. After all, large-scale social catastrophes produce complicated conflicts over existences and identities, thus providing the writers with kinds of raw materials that are hard to come by within the boredoms of our everyday middle-class existences. The Lowland, then, needs to be placed within the historical novels of our times – Art Spigielman’s Maus, Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us, Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy, Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, the string of Partition novels we have seen being published in our very Bengal, including but not limited to Haasan Ajijual Haque’s Agunpakhi, Meena Kandasaamy’s The Gypsy Goddess and many many others. In fact, right after Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland came Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, another Naxalbari novel, which shares, in many ways, much of the terrain that The Lowland covers. Of course, there are also important differences between the two. Differences that need critical reflection. But this essay is not exactly the place for that. What comes across is that Naxalbari, right now, is hot.
And Naxalbari becomes hot, not surprisingly, during a time of proliferation of memories within the literary-cultural public spheres. Historical museums are on the rise, often sponsored by transantional corporations. Who can, at the end of the day, deny that we all have a traumatic memory to relate. What is more, our traumatic memories intersect with bigger occurrences in history. More often than not, our individual traumatic memories would not find themselves in official archives – the state files, the mainstream newspapers, government accounts. Who else but artists and novelists would recount those individual memories? And, novel, especially, happens to be a form that survives on narrativizing stories of individual triumphs and struggles. It does not, therefore, demand a whole lot of intelligence – political, social or otherwise – that there are many Naxalbaris. For every legendary activist who survived the state, the police and the torture chambers, and lived to narrate the tale, there are many others who didn’t. Every neighborhood in Bengal, can, after all, boast of its own story of Naxalbari. Stories of lost young men and women, stories of disappeared young men and women. Stories of young men and women who survived physically, but never could bring themselves to process the confusion that comes with the guilt of survivorhood. In fact, I would argue, Naxalbari is a complex legacy whose story is yet to be written in all its complexity. And, that story will be written by many individuals. In many forms.
There is a paradox in that very claim. The most visible sections of the Naxalbari movement were, after all, extremely literate and literary. Who wrote extensively. Naxalbari’s legacy, after all, is not like the legacies of the rebellions that the slaves led within the plantations. Naxalbari’s legacy is not like the legacies of the strikes the indentured attempted within the post-slavery plantations. Legacies which, in the absence of first-hand documentation, can survive only in tentativeness, in speculation, in imagination. And even within Naxalbari histories, those sites of tentativeness exists. How do the indigenous activists, the illiterate peasants who participated within the movement, theorize and understand their own participation or the movement itself? We don’t know. Mostly. But that question does not arise for its middle-class, literate and literary participants. In fact, some would say, that particular middle-class, literate and literary aspect of the movement makes it overtly visible within the public sphere.
I would not necessarily disagree, but I would also say, Naxalbari, with all its visibility, remains only partially visible. The rest, still, remains to be discovered. It remains to be discovered in a way that can only be discovered and uncovered in retrospect. In its belatedness. And there is nothing strange about that. Jhumpa’s novel is one such retrospective critical narrativization of the Naxalbari – a critical retrospective which attempts to narrate the movement through the story of one individual, one family. That’s precisely the terrain of a novel that depends on a form of mimetic realism for its essential aesthetic foundation.
Yet Jhumpa’s novel can also be placed within an over-growing body of second or third generation Asian writers in United States of America “returning” to their parents’ or grandparents’ homelands in Asia, often in search of viable, writeable material. Think of Amit Majumdar’s Partitions, numerous short stories in Krys Lee’s Drifting House, Barbara Jane Reyes’ Diwata, Tarfia Faizullah’s “Interview With A Birangana.” The list can go on and on. In most cases, these are extremely well-crafted works of art, authored by writers who are self-conscious, self-aware and willing to question their own locations and the art they produce within a bigger schema of things. So, what I am going to say isn’t necessarily a comment on the quality of their work, but rather a reflection on our specific historical and cultural moment. With that historical and cultural moment in mind, I will argue that so-called “immigrant literature” – penned by the second or third generation Asian writer – is on the wane. Within the literary circles in America, there is an overwhelming feeling that the Asian immigration story, with all its accompanying tropes of cultural clash, cultural alien, quest for heritage and politico-cultural citizenship, has been overwritten and over-explored. There is hardly anything new that the trope of immigration can explore anymore.
And like all marketplaces, the literary marketplace survives on exploring new frontiers. Literally. It needs newer stories to feed the machine. Of course, one might ask, how really new are these new stories. For example, how “new” really is the story of Naxalbari? In the same way, there is hardly anything new about the “birangana” story or the muktijuddhho story in Bengali literatures from Bangladesh. Are we then to conclude that the Anglophone “global” literature always comes after the more localized, regional, non-English iteratins, tailing after such vernacular representations in a way that is both retrospective and appropriative? Maybe yes. Maybe not. But, what is definitely the case is that, The Lowland comes during a time when there is an overarching feeling within the American literary mainstream that the immigration novel has exhausted its literary potential.
Interestingly enough, this feeling intersects more or less squarely with the economic crisis in United States. Some critics would say, this is the beginning of the fall of the US Empire as we have known it. The cultural politics of that Empire had predicated itself upon certain now-familiar tropes – exportation of “democracy” to Third World nations, notions of the “traditional” Third World as against the “liberated,” “modern” First World, and of course, the ghost of Communism. Inside United States, this cultural politics has often assumed the form of a cultural politics which has produced certain clear-cut aspirations and markers of affluence – a suburban home with manicured lawns, a domestic space with consumer goods and gadgets, a car, two and a half kids. But, it’s precisely that standard of living that has come to be questioned in the recent times. What has been revealed, instead, the shadow that lurks behind such affluence – the mountains of debt, often unpayable.
Structurally speaking, the post-2008 financial crisis in US puts into question precisely that financialized lifestyle. Ideologically speaking, this crisis – along with the new social movements that have emerged in USA during this period – questions the dreaminess of this very American Dream. How much of that much-ballyhooed American Dream is really a dream, and how much of it is really a nightmare? It is precisely that unasked question that hangs in the air – often in extremely diffuse, sublimated ways – when Asian-American writers go back to their ancestral homelands in search of stories and answers. The Lowland is not an exception.
But there is also something very specific about Jhumpa’s material. After all, 1965 and 1967 are almost coterminous. 1965 happens to be the year when the US adopted the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, by which Asians could legally migrate and become citizens in the country. In other words, Jhumpa Lahiri pits two historic events against each other – the Naxalbari uprising of 1967 and the legal opening of the United States to Asian immigrants. The two brothers in Jhumpa’s novel, Udayan and Subhash, represent these two trajectories respectively. There is nothing new about this novelistic strategy. Individuals, in novels, after all, represent and embody more abstract events, histories, emotions and ideologies. What is noteworthy in Lahiri’s novel is the fact that this juxtaposition is neither innocent nor politically neutral. Subhash comes to represent in this novel the emerging, victorious global narrative – the rational, resilient, ever-lasting trajectory of the US Empire and those who choose to avail themselves of its opportunities. Udayan, on the other hand, comes to embody the story of the vanquished – the failed radical-left uprising, the story of left failure. Failed and erased. Erased and silenced. Within the novel, this is enacted by Udayan’s literal death. Within the world of Jhumpa’s novel, there is no after-life for Udayan. He does not come back from the prison, with a broken body and a confused mind. As did many in real life and real history. He does not come back from the prison and try to reorganize his life as a left activist. Again, as many did in real life. And most of all, he does not live to become a well-established academic, bureaucrat or corporate executive, leading a life that has nothing to do with his once-upon-a-time-life-as-a-radical. And as we all know, that too is an inextricable element of the story of the afterlife of Naxalbari. Instead, he is dead. Literally. With his death, the left-radical trajectory within the novel undergoes a literal death. There is no life after Naxalbari for Udayan. There is no life for his political philosophy after Naxalbari. In other words, the novel replicates a well-known Cold War story – a story that has been repeatedly told in almost all forms of American mainstream media. It does so sensitively. It does so through a rhetoric of humanization of the revolutionary figure, but it repeats and reiterates that story with a steady hand. In fact, the theme of the death of the revolution is one of Jhumpa’s predominant preoccupation. In keeping with that theme, the novel reports the news of the Naxalite leader Kanu Sanyal’s suicide. A piece of news with which Udayan’s wife, Gauri, now a professor of philosophy in California, finds herself obsessed by. Gauri, who so far has stayed away from the movement. Gauri, who so far has refused to comment about the movement. Ironically enough, Kanu Sanyal’s death also happens to coincide with the resurgence of Maoism in Indian politics. And social movement of many other forms, within which left radicals have continued to play important roles. But neither Gauri nor Jhumpa herself is interested in Naxalism’s resurgence. What they are interested in, is its death. Yet, one also needs to admit that The Lowland is a complex novel. It is a complex novel precisely because it does its ideological work through a rhetoric of sensitivity and humanization. A rhetoric that demands a deeper close-reading of the novel.
Unlike the Naxalite activist Supratik of Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, in Lahiri’s novel, Subhash and Udayan belong to a lower middle-class family in South Calcutta. Jhumpa’s archival-historical research is meticulous, as is evident in her plotting of the Tollygunge region. There is Major William Tolly, the man who engineered the Tolly’s Nullah. There are Tipu’s descendants. For someone like me, who has grown up in South Calcutta, not too far from Tollygunge, and in whose childhood’s geography Tolly’s Nullah has played a huge role, this is exhilarating. This is hardly the elite South Calcutta of tennis club and Ballygunge. Rather, this is the lower middle-class, post-Partition South Calcutta comprised of refugees, poverty, deprivation, and unsatiated cravings. This simultaneous sense of deprivation and craving, this simultaneous existence of having just-enough and yet wanting-more, that possibly frames the backbone of all lower middle-class existences, has been explored well in Jhumpa’s novel. Nothing establishes the brothers’ class identity more than their trespassing into the golf-club. The golf-club, which, emerges in the novel as the site of that elite belonging in the city, which, although intersecting with their lives in its sheer geographical proximity, would never be in integral part of their socio-cultural existence. In doing this, Jhumpa’s novel, identifies the middle-class in Bengal as a complex, heterogenous formation: the gulf between the lower middle-class and the upper middle-class is almost unbridgeable, and it is the latter, which often provided the leftist social movements in Bengal, including Naxalbari, with its steadiest activists, organizers and supporters.
Jhumpa uses a well-explored narrative strategy for family stories. Two brothers with easily recognizable traits from childhood, traits which define and separate them even as adults. Udayan is “naturally” transgressive, prone to questioning social norms. Subhash, more cautious, a hard-worker, and deferential to authority. Yet, they share a deep bond amongst themselves. Almost like twins, but not quite: “In spite of their differences one was perpetually confused with the other, so that when either name was called both were conditioned to answer. And sometimes it was difficult to know who had answered, given that their voices were nearly indistinguishable. Sitting over the chessboard they were mirror images: one leg bent, the other splayed out, chins propped on their knees” (11). And, by this very token of difference, Udayan, almost predictably, becomes a Naxalite. After all, to be a Naxalite is to be a romantic. After all, to be a Naxalite is to have a heightened sense of social justice. After all, to be a Naxalite, is to say no to the ordinary routinized middle-class existence. After all, to be a Naxalite is to say no to the rationality of one’s own upward mobility. On the other hand, Subhash, quite predictably, comes to United States of America, first as a graduate student, then decides to stay on as a scientist and academic. In a way, he too, rejects the routinized existence of his class, the social environments of postcolonial Bengal and Calcutta. But his rejection follows the predictable path of migration, the overexplored trope of individual pioneerism that has flooded global immigrant literature.
Yet there are moments when the narrative speaks against its own predictability. One such moment is when Subhah reads Udayan’s letter about his marriage to Gauri. There is nothing exceptional about that marriage except for the fact that Udayan had been in love with her for a couple of years. Gauri is “finishing a degree in philosophy at Presidency. A girl from North Calcutta, Cornwallis Street. […] She prefers books to jewels and saris. She believes as I do.” (46). In other words, Gauri is the New Bengali Woman. Not only is she the New Bengali Woman, she is the New Radical Bengali Woman, who could have emerged only with the emergence of the Naxalbari movement.
As a reader, I feel intrigued: am I actually seeing this? Am I going to get a full-blown representation of a Naxalite woman activist in all her complexities? Because that is indeed rare in Bengali literature. Except for a few autobiographical writings by activists themselves, Bengali writers, irrespective of their gender, have done a poor job in representing radical women with independent political subjectivities. But this is a theme that demands a separate article all by itself. While I will briefly touch on this topic later in the essay, this article is not going to deal with gender too explicitly. For now, let’s get back to Udayan, Subhash and Udayan’s marriage to Gauri. Udayan’s marriage, accomplished with a marked rejection of familial authority and norms of arranged marriage, quite predictably, does not make their parents happy. Udayan is eloquent about his rejection of arranged marriage in his letter to his brother. As he is about this new idea of coupledom that he is embracing in his life. His representation as a quintessential romantic in the novel thus comes to a full circle – not only is he a revolutionary, a political radical, he is also a sexual rebel, a believer in a new kind of conjugal-romantic love.
Subhash’s reaction to Udayan’s marriage is not one of brotherly support. Instead, he recognizes few things about himself, his brother and the relationship they share:
Not only had Udayan married before Subhas, but he’d married a woman of his choosing. On his own he’d taken a step that Subhash believed was their parents’ place to decide. Here was another example of Udayan forging ahead of Subhash, of denying that he’d come second. Another example of getting his way.
The back of the photograph was dated in Udayan’s handwriting. It was from over a year ago, 1968. Udayan had gotten to know her and fallen in love with her while Subhash was still in Calcutta. All that time, Udayan had kept Gauri to himself (47).
In other words, that ultimate yardstick of modernity, with which the cultures in South Asia have been judged so far in Western/First World feminisms, that ultimate trope of India/Bengal/South Asia’s “bakwardness”, that ultimate trope of feminist rebellion that keep appearing and reappearing in South Asian-American/diasporic women’s writing, has been reversed here. It is not the migrant brother who breaks that ultimate marker of feudal backwardness. It is the left-radical brother who accomplishes that act of transgression, and in doing so, heralds that kind of sexual modernization which the migrant brother could not even dream about!
I will be honest: for someone who has to talk too many times about arranged marriages to perfect strangers in America, I consider this to be an important landmark, an important narrative reversal. Here is a complex commentary on the nature of sexual rebellion within Bengali modernity that very few diasporic writers have paid attention to. According to that reversal, even if we take the Western liberal standards of existence as ideal, it is the left-radical brother who achieves them earlier than the brother who decides to migrate to the West. And he does this with a passion and a disdain for authority that the other brother can never really conceive of. This is one of the moments, where I would argue, not unlike other great works of mimetic realism, the novel begins to speak against its own ideological thrust. And there are other moments such as this one that are peppered throughout the narrative.
But also noteworthy is the way the novel uses this moment to comment on the ways in which Subhash had been excluded from his brother’s life. The fact that he had not known about Gauri for this long is more than just a comment on his exclusion from his brother’s life, it also comes in to stand for the Bengali immigrant’s historical exclusion from radical cultures in and within Bengal. Even the familial bond that Udayan shares with Subhash, cannot bridge that political divide. Subhash, therefore, has no place in the new political coupledom that Udayan and Gauri bring into being while it is still in the making. In the same way, he is excluded from the majority of his brother’s life-experiences as a political activist. The familial relationship, then, cannot trump the new radical collectivities that are being formed. Udayan and Gauri, then, share something more than a sexual affinity and a functional domesticity. And, that something is their common belief in a political ideology.
At the same time, it is precisely this allegedly abstract and nebulous space of sharing – political ideology – that Subhash is excluded from. Obviously, for Udayan, a life lived solely within the realm of familial belonging is not enough. Subhash, on the other hand, has nothing but notions of familial love through which to understand their relationship as brothers. In fact, the very idea of “family” plays more than a significant role in the way the novel has been structured. Udayan, for one, has always placed political and ideological responsibility before his familial responsibilities. And, Subhash has approached life precisely the other way around. Family, then, in Jhumpa’s novel, has been elevated to a political entity. Not that there ever is a time in our social or literary existence when it isn’t, but in Jhumpa’s novel, family and a radical political collectivity stand face to face with each other, competing for primacy.
If Udayan stands for giving primacy to the latter, Subhash comes to stand in for the former. Yet, the boundary lines between the two are blurred. Subhash, after all, does not stay close to his parents in Kolkata to take care of them, as a more rigorous notion of family responsibility would demand him to do. Instead, he leaves. And, it is precisely in leaving, in becoming a Bengali-American migrant, that he completes his familial responsibility. Or, more specifically, he completes the task begun by Udayan. Not the public, political work. But, the incomplete family business. Thus, with another predictable turn of events and plotlines, Subhash marries Udayan’s widow, Gauri, once he is killed in a police “encounter” and becomes the father to his daughter. Udayan and Gauri’s daughter, Bela, born long after Udayan has become only a memory, grows up assuming Subhash is her father. Meanwhile, Kolkata and Tollygunge remain a distant entity in their lives. Between Subhash and Gauri, they come back to Kolkata only twice – unable to find their own places within the city that has obviously transformed, politically and otherwise.
But the boundary lines are blurred in other ways too. Subhash, apolitical and cautious as he is, goes through a trajectory of political growth as he tries to grapple with his brother’s choices. This attempt to grapple with Udayan’s choices and belonging, also leads him to recognize certain crucial things about his own location within the American society as an Indian international student during the tumultous times of the Vietnam War, the anti-war protests and the civil rights movements. Thus, Richard, Subhash’s American roommate, turns out to be a student in sociology and an anti-war activist. In that way, Richard turns out to be a vague shadow of Udayan, although, Richard takes care to mention he is not a Communist. Rather, he is a “fan” of Gandhi. In spite of this difference, it is to Richard that Subhash mentions Udayan for the first time during his stay in America. Because Richard and Udayan share something which Udayan and Subhash do not share – political commitment. A closer look at a passage reveals those complex anxieties:
There’s going to be a protest in Boston. I have friends who can put us up for night. Why don’t you come with me?
I don’t think so.
You’re not angry about the war?
It’s not my place to object.
Subhash found that he could be honest with Richard. Richard listened to him instead of contradicting him. He didn’t merely try to convert him.
As they drove back to the village Richard asked Subhash about India, about its caste system, its poverty. Who was to blame?
I don’t know. These days everyone else blames everyone else.
But is there a solution? Where does the government stand?
Subhash didn’t know how to describe India’s fractious politics, its complicated society, to an American. He said it was an ancient place that was also young, still struggling to know itself. You should be talking to my brother, he said.
You have a brother?
You’ve never mentioned him. What’s his name?
He paused, then uttered Udayan’s name for the first time since he’d arrived in Rhode Island.
Well, what would Udayan say?
He would say that an agrarian economy based on feudalism is the problem. He would say the country needs a more egalitarian structure. Better land reforms.
Sounds like a Chinese model.
It is. He supports Naxalbari.
Naxalbari? What’s that? (42)
What we have in this passage is complex. In Subhash’s resolute determination to stay away from anything that is remotely political, we find the genesis of the South Asian model minority. Yet, what stands out in this passage is not necessarily Subhash’s absence of politics, but Richard’s ignorance of what’s happening at Naxalbari. In some ways, this is the norm. The white American youth, even when he embraces left radicalism of sorts, does so from within the confines of his lives within the American Empire. Those confines are as much about the everyday material existence as they are about the ideological, political insularity that necessarily accompanies that material existence. Richard does not know about Naxalbari, because he has never cared to. India, he has never associated with any radicalism. It is not that he is unconcerned. When he sees India, he sees it through its “problems” – the caste system, the poverty, and the lone heroic figure of Gandhi, noble in his non-violence. His concern for India, then, is precisely rooted in a vision which sees it as stuck in a kind of static backwardness. A static bakwardness that does not leave any space for left political activism. Naxalbari, and Udayan, therefore, do not fit into his political perceptions. If we see in Subhash the resolute Bengali/Indian/South Asian model minority, in Richard we see the liberal white American Orientalist. And, I would claim, it’s the clash of these two perspectives, that has historically formed the backbone of Jhumpa’s fiction, if not the majority of the South Asian diasporic literature. Left political radicalism does not figure in any prominent, decisive way in this clash of perspectives. Therefore, Udayan, as a figure, poses a narrative and ideological problem for Jhumpa. A problem that she does not quite know how to resolve.
Yet in spite of not knowing how to resolve the problem of Udayan, the novel does reveal certain contradictions. Richard might not know what is Naxalbari, but Udayan knows about the anti-war protests that are rocking America. In knowing about them, he also brings the historical-cultural memory of a certain kind of left internationalism into the pages of the novel. We are, then, faced with a two-pronged problematic. On the one hand, it is obvious that Richard’s whiteness, his location within a privileged elite American university, and radical democratic sensibilities have not given him the knowledge to understand Udayan. On the other hand, Udayan, who had never left Kolkata, has been armed by his political ideology to understand and tear apart Richard’s more moderate liberal-democratic sensibilities. Where does then that leave the American immigration-based modernity in the bigger schema of global modernities? Is Jhumpa’s novel – reluctantly – admitting, then, that certain projects of modernizing the individual is accomplished better by a left radical movement than it is by America’s imperial, settler-colonial, dependent-upon-immigrant-labor modernity? The novel does not provide any definitive answers. But, herein lies this novel’s complexities – it raises questions it cannot necessarily answer. And we need to acknowledge it as such.
For The Lowland, Jhumpa chooses a narrative strategy that she has used before for her previous novel – The Namesake. She chooses a protagonist who is not interested in questioning with the social status quo per se, and then uses his point-of-view to narrate the world around him. For The Namesake, it is a strategy that worked, given the novel was not trying to explore anything more than the blandness of the middle-class Bengali-American life. Of course, it can be argued that the choice of such a strategy does not do justice even to the complexities of middle-class Bengali-American life. But, that’s the topic for a different essay. In The Lowland, in the same way, Jhumpa uses Subhash. While the novel uses a third-person omniscient narrator to narrate the story, if there is one character whose eyes the narrator chooses to see the world through, it is Subhash.
In lots of ways, Subhash is like The Namesake‘s Gogol. Neither too good, nor too evil. Not very stubborn, not very passionate, not very questioning, not too disobedient, not much of anything. If there is anything that marks Subhash as different from his social environment, it is his decision to go to a university in Rhode Island. The novel tells us, in the course of his story, that it is to escape Udayan’s overwhelming shadow, that Subhash decides to leave. Yet that difference, given that it is precisely the viewpoint of individuals like Subhash that has formed the default, hegemonic perspective of much of the South Asian diasporic novels so far, is not much of a difference at all. In other words, the point-of-view of a character like Subhash is hardly adequate to write a novelistic history of Naxalbari and its aftermath. Clearly, in Jhumpa’s novel, this strategy falls flat on its face.
Subhash is not curious about his brother’s political involvement. Neither is he interested in any left political project as such. For much of the time when Udayan is developing as an activist, Subhash is not in Kolkata to bear witness to his brother’s activities. Consequently, he cannot provide any meaningful understanding of his brother’s political involvement. Udayan’s life comes to Subhas in bits and pieces, in fragments, in the infrequent letters he writes to Subhash. Like Subhash, the narrator of the novel, too, remains largely uninterested in digging deeper when it comes to representing Udayan’s political subjectivity.
As a result, both Udayan as a character and the political movement he represents – the Naxalbari uprising – remains explored within the novel’s pages only in terms of their exteriorities. As readers, we are informed of the historical details – the formation of the CPI (ML), the historic rallies, the summary of Kanu Sanyal’s speeches, the well-known slogans. They appear to the readers as elements of a list. As artifacts, shorn of any emotional belonging, political subjetivity and the essential transformative drive of the activists who attended them, and used them. Within the novel, Subhash knows of these events, but he knows of them in the way we all know of current events. Without being involved. Yet the novel is persistent in representing the events almost exclusively through his point-of-view. For example, the subjective, emotional note that follows Jhumpa’s account of the historic rally of May Day, 1969, is that of Subhash: “Subhash knew that Udayan had been there. He hadn’t accompanied him to the rally, nor had Udayan asked him to come. In this sense they had already parted” (33). But what if the novel had, instead of Subhash’s, provided us with Udayan’s perspective? His interiority? His emotions at not having his brother accompany him to the rally?
Doing that, would have required Jhumpa to really question her comfort zone. The novel never really attains that kind of maturity. Using Subhash’s perspective as the primary point-of-view of the novel enables Jhumpa to step into her own comfort zone amiably: the suburban landscape of the US-American East Coast, the university campuses, other Bengali and Indian academics, the immigrant domesticity, the interactions with white Americans, who remain forever enthralled by the cultural difference the Bengali graduate students and immigrants bring onto the predominantly white landscape of the university towns. In other words, using Subhash as the vantage point makes it possible for Jhumpa to land much more quickly into the central elements of an immigrant novel. The Lowland, then, I will argue, never really becomes anything other than an immigrant novel. Obviously, the immigrant’s trajectory in this novel has been shaped and informed by Naxalbari, to a large extent. The spectre of Naxalbari keeps haunting the immigrant characters. As does Udayan. As much as the novelist tries, neither of them can be erased completely or accommodated perfectly within the folds of the everyday life. Yet, it is in writing Subhash’s life in America that Jhumpa is most comfortable. It is in writing Subhash that she shows her empathy as a novelist.
Udayan, on the other hand, has been explored perfunctorily. And, as I have already noted, in terms of exterior realities. Think of this passage for example:
Once he was home again he was unable to leave. His parents, anxious for his return, preferred him there than anywhere else. They made sure no one saw him. No neighbor, no workman, no visitor to the house. The houseboy was sworn to secrecy. They got rid of his things, as if he were already dead. His books hidden, his clothes stored in a trunk under the bed.
He kept to the back rooms. Never showing his face from a terrace or a window. Never speaking above a whisper. His only freedom was to go up to the rooftop in the middle of the night, to sit against the parapet and smoke against the stars. Because of his hand he needed help dressing and bathing. He was like a child, needing to be fed (107).
In many ways, this passage provides an obtuse fictionalization of the ideological backbone of the novel: the gradual, but insistent shrinking of the man who dared to dissent. Pay attention to the specific details and phrases: “as if he were already dead”, “like a child, needing to be fed.” This passage is also succeeded by a persuasive account of his bodily ailments.
To the readers of Bengali literature, this desire to explore the radical revolutionary through tropes of physical disability is nothing new. Remember Animesh in Samaresh Majumder’s Kalbela? What is uncanny is its reproduction in Jhumpa’s novel after almost three decades. In fact, both in Samaresh and Jhumpa’s accounts of their Naxalite characters, physical disability comes to play an ideologically significant symbolic role– it is in their embodiment of their physical disabilities that the revolutionaries in these novels have been rendered hollow, their political ideologies ineffective and their own subjectivities, at best irrelevant. The disability, then, in both of these accounts, comes to represent the restoration of the social-political status quo. The social-political status quo which must restore itself by committing violence upon bodies of those who dare to question its legitimacy. However, Samaresh writes Animesh through a rhetoric that vascillates between sympathy and a grudging respect, acknowledging the integrity of his revolutionary heroic romanticism, even if the politics he believes in has been rendered hollow. Samaresh’s novel also ends on a positive note – in the evolution of Animesh’s radicalism in his son in a different form, through a different language. It’s a tenuous and problematic representation, undeniably. But, Animesh’s radicalism is not erased out of the narrative in absolute terms.
In contrast to such a representation, Jhumpa’s revolutionary figure has been infantilized, and left without any ideological inheritance. Are we then to conclude that, for Samaresh Majumder, writing from within the popular and hegemonic spaces of Bengali literature, from within the patronage of the Anandabajar group, it was simply not possible to erase the legacies of the movement? Perhaps, the lasting political legacy of the Naxalbari uprising within Bengal ensured that even in order to succeed as a popular Bengali novel, Kalbela would have to pay a certain kind of respect to the history of political resistance that Naxalbari has irrevocably unleashed? Jhumpa, on the other hand, writing from within the confines of the Anglophone “global novel”, catering primarily to an audience, disseminated within the globe, alienated from and ignorant of the local ramifications of Naxalbari, has no such commitments. Consequently, Jhumpa’s representations of Udayan, although skilfully and sensitively rendered, especially when compared to the other contemporary novelistic representations of radical activists, also draws dangerously close to the global Anglophone novel’s stereotypes of the figure of a “terrorist.”
But even then, Udayan happens to be one of the most complicated characters that Jhumpa has ever undertaken to write about. Thus, as much as Subhash or even Gauri – and the novelist along with them – attempt to erase his memory, he keeps popping back up. Often enough, during inconvenient moments – in dreams, in involuntary flashbacks. His memory raises its head during Subhash’s honeymoon in Ireland. He reappears in Gauri’s dreams, young as he was during the time of his death. In some ways, his memories are much like the actual social and political movements throughout the sub-continent – movements which emerge in the most unexpected of places, movements while never being flawless or perfect, claim inspiration from Naxalbari. Indeed, much like Udayan’s memories, Naxalbari’s legacies refuse to be erased. In a strange kind of a way, then, the political unconscious of Jhumpa’s novel grants Udayan and the Naxalbari that space, even when her conscious writing does not necessarily want to. And, that is why probably, the novel has to end on an account of Udayan’s death. This final chapter, brief as it is, thus, comes closest to an exposition from Udayan’s perspective.
We get a thoroughly charted details of his execution by the police. Again, to those familiar with the history of Naxalbari and its literary representations, this is nothing new. In order to do this, the novel, for the first time gets inside Udayan’s head. Yet even when the narrative gets inside his head, it can give us only the ways in which Udayan is grappling with the physical realities, his bodily discomforts, his desire to survive. His political emotions, as well as the entire trajectory of his political growth, are given as a rushed summary. There is no desire to construct this long and complicated history – beginning from a lower middle-class boy’s witnessing of social deprivation and poverty, to becoming a Naxalite activist – in terms of actual interactions, scenes. Instead, it all comes as a quick afternote. Even Udayan’s sense of loss and disappointment with his brother not following his political path has been summed up in one sentence: “His brother’s disapproval had angered Udayan, but their parting had filled his with foreboding, though he tried to shake it off, that they would never see one another again” (337). What could, thus have been a fertile ground for exploration, replete with political, sociological and emotional complexities, has been reduced to a sentence. In essence, then, it seems, that one of Jhumpa’s conscious attempts was to relegate Udayan’s story into the background, into the margins of the immigration story. Udayan keeps reappearing in the most inopportune moments, and it is only by coming back to the story of his un-ordinary, if not heroic death that the narrative can conclude itself.
Indeed, it is only in writing that death sequence that Jhumpa’s own political-ideological belongings are betrayed. Think of the ways she writes Udayan’s interior monologue during the moment of his “encounter” with the police:
He wondered if this deafness was what it was like to visit a country where one did not understand the language. To absorb nothing of what was said. He had never been to another country. Never been to China or to Cuba. He remembered something he’d read recently, the final words Che had written to his children: Remember that the revolution is the important thing and that each one of us alone is worth nothing.
But in this case it had fixed nothing, then why was he so desperate to save himself? Why, in the end, did the body not obey the brain?
All at once his body overcame him and he surfaced, his head and chest exposed, his nostrils burning, his lungs gasping for air.
Two paramilitary stood facing him, their guns raised. One of them was shouting into a megaphone, so that Udayan had no trouble hearing what was said (334).
There are some obvious familiar tropes that the novelist has used to write Udayan here. And, I would say, some conscious reversal of some others. For starters, Udayan here is hardly the larger than life revolutionary figure of the socialist realist novel. Unlike such socialist realist literary heroism, where a figure like Udayan would have been represented through a lens of revolutionary aplomb, Udayan has been stripped of his heroism in Jhumpa’s hands. Stripped of that political heroism, Udayan had been reduced. And, one might even say, humanized. This intimate attention to how his body responds to this final moment operates as a literary tool of that reduction. As such, this could have been a potentially interesting moment. If, as the Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy has commented in one of his recent articles, no twenty-first century radical left revolution worth its salt can accomplish anything without a serious stock-taking of the failures of the twentieth century ones, the socialist realist strategies of constructing cultural representations of revolutionary heroes is also one that needs to be questioned and rethought. Yet what Jhumpa does here is hardly that kind of critical questioning that is undertaken without losing sight of the political project of a radical restructuring of society. Instead, she reverses the thrust of the heroism. It is not Udayan who emerges as the ultimate hero here. It is the state. The state which avenges his killing of the policeman as part of the much discussed “liquidation of the class enemy” line of the Naxalite activists of the late 1960s. In very specific ways, then, Jhumpa uses the rhetoric of humanization as a tool to deradicalize Udayan.
It is not that Jhumpa reads Udayan’s “encounter” as politically desirable. As readers, we are expected to see it as an injustice, an unjust crime committed by the state itself. After all, if the liberal dictats are to be trusted, one expects the “democratic” state to behave better, right? Especially, when faced in an obvious comparison with radical left rebels. Yet, inspite of that critique, the way Jhumpa writes Udayan’s execution, it appears as an instance of poetic justice. His crime has finally been avenged. It has been avenged by none other than the murdered policeman’s colleagues. The state, thus, appears in Jhumpa’s novel as the ultimate purveyor of justice. Yet that is not all. This passage stands out precisely because this is one of the scant moments within the text when Udayan’s political world has been explored. What Jhumpa writes, is a garbled, confused denunciation of his politics.
Of course, every political movement carries within itself its multiple critiques, often born from within the ranks of its very participants. Naxalbari is no exception. Careful attention to its multiple archives and its social spaces would communicate that much to any sensitive writer or intellectual. This moment could, then, well have been one of those moments when Udayan delivers a desperate, if not a scathing critique of the movement. But, at the same time, no critique of any social movement is ideologically neutral. Even the most scathing and radical critique of an existing movement, done with a certain political sympathy towards its goals, would differ from the ones which fail to understand or identify with its basic politics. The critique that we get in the pages of the novel, written in the form of Udayan’s interior monologue, falls nothing short of the rejection of the movement itself. A rejection couched in terms of repentance. But a profound rejection nonetheless. Again, unlike a writer like Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa delivers this with a certain kind of sophistication accompanied with a soft narration. Udayan’s ruminations are, in their very essence, a rejection of the movement or its ability to bring about any positive political changes.
And, lo and behold, it is couched in terms of exactly those binaries that flood South Asian diasporic writing – the trajectory of individual mobility as against finding oneself within a collective project. And, of course, Udayan, who has rejected the former, unlike is brother, is reduced to nothing. Literally. His death ensures that much. But what is remarkable in this case is Jhumpa’s complete inability, as a novelist, to recognize what might have guided someone like Udayan towards his actions. That “what” is constituted by an utopic drive that moves beyond the dreams of one’s own individual success. This utopic drive that propels an individual to critique whatever that constitutes the systemic. This utopic drive that propels an individual to take forward that systemic critique and plunge towards an intangible future. Put simply, the kind of failure that Jhumpa exhibits within this novel, is not one of her archival research. (Although I am tempted to say, the novel also suffers to a considerable degree from the fact that its writer does not know how to read or write in Bengali.) It is not really a failure of her skills. It is a failure of her ideology, it is a failure of her imagination. That imagination which leads an artist to imagine the interior landscape of someone who rejects all the “rational” paths of self-improvement to embrace a social utopia that is yet to come.
In the absence of that utopic drive, the novel reverts back to Udayan’s betrayal of the familial. In other words, his betrayal of what exists. What was there all along. Udayan’s final moments, then, are written in that same language of repentence. A repentence for his inability to perform his familial responsibilities:
The last he’d seen of his parents was the ground at their feet, as he’d bent down to ask for their pardon. The softened rubber slippers his father wore around the house. The dark brown of his mother’s sari, the end of it draped over her face and wrapped around her shoulders, held by her fingers at her throat.
It was only Gauri he’d managed to look in the face, at the moment his hands were being restrained. He could not have turned away from her without having done that.
He knew that he was no hero to her. He had lied to her and used her. And yet he had loved her. A bookish girl heedless of her beauty, unconscious of her effect. She’d been prepared to live her life alone, but from the moment he’d known her he’d needed her. And now he was about to abandon her.
Or was it she abandoning him? For she looked at him as she’d never looked before. It was a look of disillusion. A revision of everything they’d once shared (339).
The fracture of trust between him and Gauri, therefore, is not a political one. Not an ideological one. In fact, it is in being ideological that Udayan has betrayed Gauri as a husband. Of course, there is another theme that needs to be explored here: the problematic gender politics of this novel.
As I have noted before in this essay, Jhumpa’s writing of Gauri as a “bookish girl heedless of her beauty” who shares with Udayan his thought and politics, opens up the possibility of a rare representation of a politicized Bengali woman. Indeed, it is Gauri who keeps an eye on the policeman Udayan eventually kills – noting down in details the times of his comings and goings. Yet, within Jhumpa’s novel, this act, has been completely hollowed off its politics. Gauri does this not because he is herself a political woman, who believes a man who works for the police, however minor his position might be, is a class enemy, but she trusts and loves Udayan. What has been a thoroughly political act, then, is made into a private act, thus depriving Gauri of her political subjectivity. Thus, the gendered status quo has been restored – Gauri’s love for Udayan then is not that political after all. The novel even happily restores Gauri to the world of domestic widowhood – the ultimate status of a victim – to be rescued by the immigrant brother Subhash. Where Udayan thus fails, Subhash succeeds. And in rescuing his brother’s wife, from that world of domestic servitude and despair, Subhash becomes the man Udayan never could be. It is not revolutionary heroism, then, that ultimately comes across as the ideal form of masculinity in Jhumpa’s novel. Rather, masculinity is what that enables one to transplant oneself in the heart of an imperial society that’s not one’s own. Subhash, in becoming that successful immigrant, also adheres to the familial. If Udayan has been vilified within the novel for placing an undue importance to his radical political commitments, and thus ignoring those to his family, Subhash has been glorified precisely because his commitments never moved to anything beyond or larger than the familial.
In contrast to Udayan and Gauri, Bela, their daughter, is represented in the novel in a fairly complex manner. Bela, raised primarily by Subhash, chooses to become a food justice and organic agriculture activist. She rejects the life of an academic, not wanting “to cut herself off that way” (221). Not only that, she rejects the stability of a middle-class life, choosing to live her life dependent on odd jobs, commune-style living and lack of any fixed address. Quite predictably, in Bela’s rejection, Subhash sees shadows of Udayan, “suddenly turning cold to his education, just as Bela had” (221). In the same way, when Bela lays out before him her beliefs – how she is “opposed to eating food that had to be transported long distances” or patenting of seeds or unequal distribution of wealth, Subhash thinks she could be as “self-righteous” as Udayan. In other words, the readers are made to feel that Udayan’s political-activist legacies would be carried forward in Bela. If not exactly as an evolution of his radical leftism, in some other way that Bela’s own social and cultural environment permits.
Yet as we move through the narrative, we are told that Bela leads her life the way she does as a reaction to her mother’s abandonment of her. We learn she stays away from marriage and procreative sexuality not because she questions those things politically, but because she has not yet been able to deal with the trauma of her mother’s leaving. One must concede, Jhumpa writes Bela with lots of empathy and sympathy, making sure that we understand the complexities of her second-generation existence, torn between a characteristic cultural alienation from her parents’ culture – like almost all South Asian-Americans – and the dysfunction that prevails within her own family. And, we do begin to feel a kind of sympathy for her. But, at the end of the day, the crisis of Bela’s confusion needs to be resolved within the course of the narrative. Jhumpa resolves it by throwing Bela back into a world of procreative domesticity and a relatively stable middle-class life, replete with a child and a white partner. Concomitant to that choice, Bela shows little curiosity about Udayan even when Subhash reveals the truth of her paternity. Similarly, even when Gauri comes back, there is no reconciliation between them. To her friends, her partner Drew and her daughter Meghna, Bela describes Gauri as dead. The novel tells us, over the years, she has come to believe in this story herself. The “real” punishment, for Udayan and Gauri, lies not in his execution by the state nor in her failure to build up a sustainable life for herself, but in their daughter’s complete rejection. Along with them, the novelist attempts to erase the very legacy of Naxalbari itself. What emerges as the ultimate finale in Jhumpa’s novel is the restored familial status quo. Subhash, married for the second time. Bela, safe and secure in her relationship with Drew. But is that all? The answer is a resolute no.
But then again, why Naxalbari? Forgive me, dear readers, but when someone like Jhumpa Lahiri takes up Naxalbari as her subject, we do need to sit up. At least a little bit. Maybe something has been in the air for a while now? Cairo, Tunis, Rio, Istanbul, Kiev, Kochi, Hong Kong, Kolkata, Jadavpur… the music of political chants, the sound of thousands of feet walking together… the new slogans, the old recycled ones alongside the new. I am writing this essay with that music of protest playing in the background. Yes, the histories of Naxalbari are being rewritten right now. They are being rewritten within the new social movements flooding our globe. But where else to write the histories of older social movements if not within the belly of the new ones? No, Jhumpa Lahiri and her like will not provide the definitive rewritings of our radical histories. Because Jhumpa Lahiri’s Naxalbari is not my Naxalbari. Because Jhumpa Lahiri’s Naxalbari is not our Naxalbari.