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Immigrant experience

n Before We Visit the Goddess, Mrs. Mehta is brought to America after her husband’s death. He came to America to live with her son and her daughter-in-law. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni introduces, Mrs. Mehta as “They were married for forty-five years, mostly good ones. The one night while they were watching TV, Mr. Mehta’s slumped to one side. He was gone before she could call ambulance. Soon after that, it was decided that she should come and live with her son” (BWVTG63). She has a difficult time in adjusting to the American way of life. When Mehta went for a holiday tour she thinks that “They fight because of me. The other day, I heard them mention divorce” (B WVTG 64). Mrs. Mehta was left in house under the caretaker, Tara. She reacts very harshly and utters“Just dump the old woman with whoever shoes up, so what if they suffocate her with a pillow and steal her jewelry. Why don’t you kill me of yourselves?” (BWVTG55). The feeling of insecurity and anxiety of being a burden to others in the old age has been reflected in her harsh words. The caregiver, Tara refuses to crumble in the face of malicious misbehaviour from Mrs. Mehta. She refuses to eat anything other than chapathi. Tara encounters the stubbornness of the old woman with studied indifference until she capitulates. She relents when Mrs. Mehta, who has remained cooped up in the house, worried about her lack of social relationships. She tells, “it’s so quiet. Not one live person, not even on the street, to look at or wave hello. I feel like I’m being buried alive”( BWVTG 60).

In this situation, old people are in need of any alternative work which deviates them from thinking more about the family issues. In the Short Story Mrs. Dutta Writes a letter, Mrs. Dutta indulges herself in writing letter to her Indian friend even though she decided not to post it. In Before We Visit the Goddess, understanding the stressful situation of Mrs. Mehta undergoing in her son’s house in America, Tara takes Mrs.Mehta to the shop in which she works. And she encourages her to try different makeovers to divert her from feeling depressed out of her loneliness. Mrs. Mehta sheds her cotton sari and wears western clothes. “She seems to have shed several years…doffs her glasses, has a haircut – she emerges with a perky bob and a defiant smile… Goes on a shopping saree and has a good time: But I haven’t had so much fun since I came to America” (BWVTG 61- 64). Dr.S.Devika in her article hints Rao opinion “the aged may be involved in constructive programmes or other activities so that they are relieved from isolation, boredom, and idleness and get a sense of belongingness” (Devika49). In Before We Visit the Goddess, Mr. Lawry, the shopkeeper sensing the selling ability of Mrs. Mehta hires her for a day. Mrs. Mehta changes her attitude towards living in America changes all of a sudden when she went for a date with Mr. Lawry. “She will encourage the younger Mehta’s through bad behaviour, if necessary to take several vacations in the coming year. Each time, she will insist on being her caretaker. We’ll work at nearly and go on forays into American Life” (BWVTG 66). But her ultimate goal remains returning to India, to familiar terrain.

As the sense of belongingness was disturbed in the winter years, the elder immigrants start to lament not only for their physical displacement but also for the disconnection with their native people and surrounding. Old age immigrants often want to re-establish their relationship with the native country. It is represented through their nostalgic stories. The novelist notes:

Over dinner, Mrs. Mehta tells me of her Indian days, growing up in a joint family with eleven cousins. They lived in old house that had so many wings added on that it resembled a warren. They didn’t bother to make friends with outsiders because they had each other… Her husband, she tells me, saw her at a Diwali party when she was seventeen and sent his uncle to her parents with a proposal. She didn’t want to get married soon…But she gave in—that’s what girls did those days. They were married for forty five years, mostly good ones.( BWVTG 63)

Geeta’s grandfather sees Geeta’s marriage as an opportunity to connect with India, so he decides to choose an Indian boy for Geeta. The elderly people were supposed to move to new land. They have to leave their traditional practices and their language. And it is very hard for them to mingle with their own family who are already used to the new way of life. Geeta’s father cannot accept her own daughter who was assimilated to the American culture. Not only their family, and the new culture and tradition, the alien food habits, language, social relationships and life leave them in chaos. Geeta’s grandfather says to Tilo, “But mental peace I am not having, not even one iota, since I crossed the Kalapani” (TMS 85). While comparing the male old age immigrants with female immigrants, female immigrants seem to be more aware of the present situation and able to accept it. Mrs. Mehta says: We’re only getting bread and cheese and may be a salad. She accedes magnanimously. “But of course. I understand. I am in America now.” (BWVTG 66)

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The old age immigrants, as they have already spent three fourth of their life in their native, are always inundated by the feelings of nostalgia. The American way of life seems to be very different from the Indian way of life. In America, individualism has been given more importance whereas in Indian society social living is encouraged. So, it is very hard for them to accommodate in America. So they prefer to live alone in India rather than living with their family in America. Geeta’s grandfather was searching for an opportunity to return back to India. Like Geeta’s grandfather Mrs. Mehta in a letter to Tara informs that finally she has returned to India. Cross cultural crisis put them in great displeasure. The novelist portrays:

May be OK for all these fringi women in this country, but you tell me yourself didi if a young girl should work late –late in the office with other menand come home only after dark and sometimes in their car too? Chee chee, back in Jamshedpur they would have smeared dung on our faces for that. And who would marry her. But when I tell Ramu he says baba don’t worry they’re only friends. My daughter knows better than to get involved with some foreigner (TMS85).

They want their offspring to follow their native culture. “Arre baap, so what if this is America, we are still Bengalis, no? And girls and boys are still girls and boys, ghee and lighted match, put them together and soon or late there’s going to be fire”( TMS 86). It shows that he sticks on to his ancient thoughts. This scenario is realistically presented by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni through the rift between Geeta’s grandfather and Geeta. He says, “Ramu, he said Come… Come… Baba we are all here, what for you want to grow old so far from your own flesh and blood, your granddaughter. But I tell you, better to have no granddaughter than one like this Geeta” (TMS 85). And he adds, “Hunh! With my own two eyes I have looked into her purse. Mascara, blusher, foundation, eye shadow and more whose names I am not remembering and the lipstick so shameless bright making all the men stares at her mouth” (TMS 86)

In India, girl children are supposed to follow some stereotypes. As the elders were used to these types of stereotypes, they expect their immigrant grandchildren to follow the same. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has projected a few of these stereotypes in her novels. In The Mistress of Spices she writes:

Geeta, how much make –up she is using all the time. Uff, in my days only the Englishwomen and prostitutes are doing that. Good Indian girls are not ashamed of the face God is giving them. You cannot think what all she is taking with her even to work. (TMS 86)

In Before We Visit the Goddess, she writes, “Good daughters are fortunate lamps, brightening the family’s name. Wicked daughters are firebrands, blackening the family’s fame” (BWVTG 205).In their point of view, changing from their native culture and adopting a new culture is a sin. “The western clothes suit Mrs. Mehta surprisingly well. Along with the frumpy cotton sari, she seems to have shed several years. She takes small, self – conscious steps. I realize that she has never worn pants before. She sees me watching and flashes me a terribly guilty look” (BWVTG 61).

People in old age become more sensitive than they have been in their youth. They expect respect and care from their family. Nowadays in our materialistic society, some children consider their parents one of the liabilities. In rich and affluent families their children think that the money they are lending alone will keep them happier. But the old age parents especially immigrants expect their children to spend their time with them. This is expressed by Mrs. Mehta in Before We Visit the Goddess. When Tara advises her not to spend money lavishly, she replies, “What should I be saving for?” It shows do not want money, instead they prefer their children to spend time with them. But”,when the children are unable to spend their time with their parents they want to spend money by which they can reduce their sense of guiltiness. Rich immigrants seek to assuage feelings of guilt for uprooting them from familiar surroundings by being generous with their money. Mrs. Mehta says: “ I have plenty of money from my son. He tries to be a good boy to make me happy” (BWVTG 66). But, it is possible only for the wealthy families. In poor families both the elder parents and their children were subjected to more emotional pain. Sriram Balasubramanian in his article on Elderly People’s Plight in India in NEWS18 BlOG writes: “The older generation is the source of all the comfort that the younger generation has, it is their hard work and values that have propelled the citizens to what they are today” (Balasubramanian).

The old age people who feel lost their reverence and care from their family want to do something to have attention on them. It is reflected in their actions. They show extreme emotional reactions. It leads to depression. The consequences they are facing due to immigration compel them to think of returning to their home land. They are experiencing great mental dilemma in choosing whether to attach or detach to the new postmodern foreign culture. Even though Mrs. Mehta tries to adjust and accept American culture she can find her mental peace only in India. As Nissim Ezekiel writes:“The trip had darkened every face”,/Our deeds were neither great nor rare./Home is where we have to gather grace.” ( )

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Settling down in overseas in the old age prompt them to experience the loss of social connect which they enjoyed in their homeland. They are facing difficulty in playing their part in their family. It leads to conflict in the Inter-generational relationship between elders and their offspring. Hong-Jae Park and Chang Gi Kim writes:

Immigration in later life can be a double-edged sword for older migrants who move to another nation to live with their off spring…older migrants are likely to face challenge in both resettlement and ageing process due to their lack of knowledge and skills in regard to the host language and culture. (Jae 2)

Immigration not only affects the aged people but it also affects children as well. When children undergo the rejection, alienation and racial discrimination it affects their psychology and social relationship. It also declines their self-respect, self-confidence and develops an inferiority complex of being an ‘other’. They remain isolated as they could not mingle with the natives. The trouble of settling in an alien country affects all the people without any categorization. But the effects of immigration vary among the people with respect to their age limit. Gurudev Meher presents this difference and writes: “The older diasporas seek to sustain a remote relationship with homeland even with the knowledge that such a return is near impossible”(Meher Gurudev, 67). She also quotes Paranjape’s words:

To this older diapora – the motherland remained frozen in the diasporic imagination as a sacred site or symbol, almost alike an idol of memory and imagination. The new diasporas, on the other hand, has the least access to the homeland and developed a displaced anxiety of belongingness…(Meher Gurudev, 67).

Step-in into a new country by the immigrants who are especially older cannot have no tolerance to face new life, new adaptations and new system of life and they want to return from the stunning world to the nest nations. They are people who are moulded clays, and they led a particular pattern of life on their own culturally economical survival conditions. Here, the new step-in grandmother, Mrs. Mehta comes to the States as a single spouse to live with their son’s family at her eleventh hour of life. Even though, she was cared by her family she acquaint with her grand daughter and her night work and passions. The thought of the new civic life of a new country arises a question among immigrants . This criticality sabotage their normal mind and routine life. The above said novels have clearly depicted the new immigrant’s psyche and their stunning mindset. It would happen since they belong to the old school of their civic and cultured life. They have no comprehensive attitude or not having ideas of multi-oriented culture or cosmopolitan life. Those who are going for work or education can have the idea about the new country, its social attitude and ways of life from their elders and seniors. Moreover they are fresheners and they like the new pattern of life since they reject the monotonous civic life of their nations. They see vertical huge buildings, grant hotels, long lounges and big malls as their new part of life. So, they are able to adopt the new civic life as their new life. They feel better and hygienic in the new nation. It makes them feel good and transforms them to think the new civic life suits them. Hence, the younger immigrants are desirous to live in the host country. The polarisation of mindset of the younger and the older immigrants have played the vital opposite role in-between them. It creates the different attitude and antagonistic feelings which become the emotional plots of the above said novels. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni have pictured clearly the postmodern human condition. The first generation immigrants not at all want to give up their sentimental values and their traditional social life. They like to reject the sophisticated life in America. The culture and tradition of India and its social and ethical values afford peace and harmony to the older people. They never think of distancing themselves from the cultural and the traditional practices. And even they are ready to leave anything even the family members who reside abroad. In Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni selected novels for analysis, has shown the fragmented, shattered souls and the new age people who adopt, adapt and assimilate very easily the even new realities and the host culture.

Literature reflects our life. It serves as an important tool to express the feelings and the emotions of an author. There are numerous Indian writers India and abroad who weave their stories in different way in the wake of increased travel, mass migration and immigration. The lives of immigrants are widely dealt within the Postcolonial Indian Literature.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in her novels The Mistress of Spices, Queen of Dreams, and Before We Visit The Goddess attempts to portray the cries of immigrants in the Third World. The emotions and the feelings of the immigrant people have been given greater prominence in her novels. She uses magical realism to bridge the gap between present and past state of affairs and its prolific entreaty for Indian immigrants who suffer from shocks and tensions. She creates various characters to present the varied experiences faced by immigrants in the alien land. The crisis of identity, and the concept of home, nation and nationality have been explored at various such levels as the cross-cultural, racial, national, international, individual, interpersonal, industrial and business. She depicts the immigrant characters in a realistic manner. The immigrants suffer due to the sense of non- belongingness, nostalgia, alienation, loss etc.. They are left between their lands of origin and the adopted homes. In the Book of Deutoronomy in Bible Jesus Christ banished (i.e.. migrated) Adam and Eve from the Eden inorder to punish them. It is evident that even God himself felt migration as a hardest thing to experience. After the British colonialism and in now days globalized society immigration become an undenial one. The experience of immigration differs from one person to another person.

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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in her works records each and every aspects of the immigrant communities. It probes into the various facets of the immigrant communities. An attempt has been made in the present study to analyse the difference in diasporic experience encountered by the different generations of immigrants. The projecthas been divided into four chapters. The first chapter is Introduction which briefly talks about the origin and the development of Indian English writing and the thematic preoccupations of Indian authors. It also deals with the sociological, cultural and philosophical values of literature. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni uses her literature to explain her experience of being an diaspora. Her writings panoramically deals with the various sort of diasporic experience scrutinizes various aspects of immigrantship. In an effort to study the difficulties undergone by the varied set of immigrants the precedding chapter focuses on the the plights of the first generation immigrants, second generation immigrants and senior immigrants in an extensive manner.

Chapter two, ‘The First Generation Immigrants vs The Second Generation Immigrants’ explain the hurdles of the first generation and the second generation immigrants. It deals with the distinct issues faced by the first generation and second generation immigrants. It observes immigrants’ enterprise in living in the new land. The chapter studies various entities of migration which creates an apparent difference among experiencing immigrantship among both generation immigrants. The researcher has addressed the problems like parenting, eating habits, language, matrimonial and cultural preferences, and assimilating to the new culture etc.. which arises conflict between the first generation and the second generation immigrants. It also talks about the variations in the level of adjustment and assimilation exist among those generation immigrant. Difference in retaining the traditional culture and identity is major conflict witnessed among two generation immigrants. In all these cases the first generation immigrants most probably wants to retain their native spirit. As they had the living experience in their native their attachment towards their nation sufficiently reflected in their actions and attitudes. They always want to retain their native traditional practices in the host land. Even though the immigrantship did not fails to make them to adjust to the new life style they still show some resistance due to their rootedness towards threir mother culture. But in the case of the second generation immigrants they were completely uprooted from their native. The host culture and practices easily fills the vaccum which was created by their negligence towards their native land. The process of acceptance , adjutment and assisimilation in the host land creates an apparent difference between the two generation immigrants.

Chapter three, titled “The Stunning Attitude of Old Age Immigrants” is centered on the livelihood old age immigrants in the foreign land. It acutely studies the old immigrant characters and their experience portrayed in the select novels of the author. Old age immigrants lack the flexibility in adjusting to the new practices, behaviors, and culture. It becomes the major defect in their immigrant life. In the three select novels Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has highlighted the social and cultural problem faced by the elderly immigrants in the foreign land. This late- in-life immigration can be a source of a dual threat that adversely affects their resettlement, as well as their aging process in a new environment. It affects their prolonged life style”,day-to-day activities, relationships etc. Desertion and disregard they are facing in the new land affects them emotionally.

It is an attempt by the researcher to present the difference in facing the conflicts experienced by the immigrant in the host land by scrutinizing the select novels of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It helps us to aggregate the problems in different categories and to find solution separately. It not only analyses on the hurdles faced during the immigrant ship but also considers different sorts of the psychological, sociological and the cultural trauma seen among the first generation, second generation and the elderly immigrants.

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