AN ANALYSIS OF CULTURALCONFLICT AND IMMIGRANT EXPERIANCES IN MANJU KAPUR’S THE IMMIGRANT Mrs.V. Krishnaveni M.A., M.Phil.
, Full-TimeResearch Scholar, ResearchDepartment of English, SadakathullahAppa College, RahmathNagar, Tirunelveli. ManjuKapur is the most prominent contemporary novelist of Indian English Literature.She teaches English literature at Miranda House, Delhi University. She has fivenovels and an anthology to her credit till date. Her first novel DifficultDaughters was published in 1998 and awarded the prestigious commonwealth Awardfor best first novel, Eurasia region.
Her second novel, A Married Woman waspublished in 2002 and shortlisted for the Encore Award, her third novel, Homein 2006 was shortlisted for Hutch-Crossword Prize and the fourth novel, TheImmigrant 2008 was shortlisted for the India Plaza Golden Quill Award and theDSC Prize of South Asian Literature in 2010. Her fifth novel Custody publishedin 2011. Manju Kapur deals with various themes such as Feminism, Diaspora,Social and Economic Forces, Gender relationships, and lesbianism.
Theterm “Diaspora” suggests one’s own room of language, culture, tradition in thehost country. The adjective “Diasporic” from Diaspora stands for every immigrantwho has migrated to different countries across the globe seeking betterfortunes. While commenting on Diasporic situation Julian Wolfreys makes it moreexplicit by saying: Setting of variouspeoples away from his homeland often apporgated with the nation of the JewishDiaspora in modern Israel, but extended in Cultural studies, Post-colonialstudies and Race theory to consider the displacement of people by means offorce such as slavery – (Wolfreys 2005). Theimmigrants always face a close cultural conflict which has always been followedby their attempts to adjust or engross, either to be known by a separateidentity as a racial group or be assimilated. So they shift their focus betweentheir social and cultural identities which are in a way unstable and fluid.Despite living in a foreign land for a considerable amount of time, theiridentities are connected directly or indirectly with their old homelands. G.S.
Sharat Chandra expresses this sense of alienation in his writings as:I leaped from one lifeto another, and in between lay nothing but vacuum… we remain at large distantand clothed by our separate worlds. We know that the bonds we shared whilegrowing up do not unite us anymore… In these new worlds, immigrants readjustand reinvent themselves, struggling to find their place in an alien landscape,netting some gains but also incurring deep emotional losses… (7) Manju Kapur’s fourth novel The Immigrant (2008) is a story of twoimmigrants, Nina and Ananda. Manju Kapur chose Canada as the background for hernovel The Immigrant and discusses theIndian diaspora in Canada. The novel explores the issues of cultural conflict,alienation, dislocation of Indian culture, diaspora and quest for identity. Itreflects the loneliness and the search of self being experienced by theimmigrants. The beginning of the novel poses the identity issues of theimmigrants by the narrator such as, ‘Shouldthe immigrant attempt to integrate and be more like the people in his or heradopted country or keep at preserving his/her cultures and traditions in athreat of the surroundings that smothers it?'(1) It is related to thequestions of the alienated immigrants and their quest for the identity.
In thebeginning of the novel, Nina’s mother wants her daughter to settle in abroad bysaying, “If you are married an NRI orsomeone in the foreign services, you could live abroad nicely.”(11) This isthe common dream of all Indians to be. But that is not that much easy. Peoplego abroad with the thought of settlement but reality is very harsh to accept.
TheIndian immigrants in alien land come across with the identity problems andalienation by different languages, customs, cultures, traditions, values andattitudes. The amalgamation of East and West values make the people alienatedwhen they suffer from the inner conflicts like Ananda and Nina faced in Canada.The clash between Indian culture and Western influence results in thepsychological dilemma for the people. As a result, the acute psychologicalstudy of the quest for identity and alienation becomes significant in thecontext of the issues of the immigrants. Though the novel takes up theseventies as its background, the feelings of isolation and dislocation thatManju Kapur portrays would surely strike a chord with the present-day Indianimmigrants. The novel also presents how the immigrants try to adjust to life inthe West on the one hand and life of the West on the other hand. The coupleplays out a simultaneous existence in two cultures and face varied problems atdifferent stages on the road to their assimilation of a new culture. Thispaper tries to analyze the cultural conflict faced by the immigrants in thenovel The Immigrant.
In this novel,Ananda experiences cross cultural problems as an immigrant in Canada. He is a dentist in Dehradun and he neverthought that he will leave India. Although his uncle was practicing in Canadabut he had no clue about his future. Because “From the moment of his birth Ananda had beensurrounded by the ritual of his caste. Before he left home, his parents didtheir best to reinforce the practices of a lifetime.
He was a Brahmin; his bodymust never be polluted by dead flesh. Low caste boys in the college hostelmight try and tempt him towards non–veg, cigarettes and alcohol. Should hedeviate from the pure habits they had instilled in him, his mother’s heartwould break” (14) UnexpectedlyAnanda’s parents died in road accident and after that his mother’s brotherforced him to come to Canada because he has settled in Halifax for past twentyyears.
Ananda landed in Halifax on the15th of August. His uncle received himand asked from him, “Why do you thinkthat there is such a brain drain in India? he demanded. India does not valueits minds – unlike here. Otherwise you think we are not patriots? But there eventhe simple task of daily life can bleed you dry.”(18) As Ananda walkedin Canada, he find empty spaces and he started thinking and comparing this withIndia. Ananda was used to the hustle bustle and crowd of India but there he wasfinding no crowd in Canada so he was feeling strange.
During the breakfast hisuncle and his wife Nancy taught him the manners prevalent there. Ananda againstarted feeling the home sickness. He was served Indian food but he pretendedto like the western.
In the house of his uncle he has to make the bed. Heexplained to his cousin Lenny, ‘In Indiawe had a maid who did all this, I mainly studied’. (21) Every time hisuncle Dr. Sharma encouraged him to relish there in Canada but this immigrantpsyche couldn’t be left behind. Anandafaces awful loneliness of a recent immigrant when he arrived in Halifax for thefirst time. In his uncle’s home he missed the intimacies of Indian life, thecommunal meals, rich spices and vegetarian diet he was used to. But soon hisfeeling of rejection faded away and he assimilated the western culture. InCanada as an immigrant Ananda couldn’t feel the fervor and frenzy duringfestivals like Holi and Diwali.
‘Anandawould have preferred not to know when Diwali and Holi fell. With his parents hehad eaten special foods on fast days, prayed with them before the gods onJanamashtami, Dussehra, Diwali, Ram Navami, Holi and hundred other smalleroccasions. There was no way he could replicate any ceremony on his own, hepreferred complete rejection”. (27) On seeing his Uncle participating inDiwali celebration with his children, Ananda was questioning whether it ispossible for such celebration in an immigrant country. For that Dr. Sharmaexplained to him all about this, “Twentyyears ago there was no India club. Iam one of the founding members.
I realizedthat if I forgot everything of mine, then who was I? When the children came, itbecame even more important to keep in touch.” (28) Gradually Ananda startedto incorporate into the life style of Canada. He slowly enters in the new worldafter getting his dental degree in Halifax. He becomes Andy and starts takingnon-vegetarian meal fairly soon after moving to Canada. He has new jobs, newappointments and new duties. Though he becomes a reputed dentist and tries hardto establish the fact that he is more a Canadian than an Indian by nature, hissense of alienation remains.
Kapurexplores the special challenges that the young immigrant wives face in theirlife in her novel through her character Nina. They are already so pressured inprofessional and reproductive terms, and life to them becomes an even moreimpossible balancing act inside a foreign culture. The immigrant who comes as awife has a more difficult time. Afterher marriage with Ananda, Nina goes alone to Halifax and her first experienceat the Toronto airport has been very unpleasant. Various questions by theimmigration women which she thought were all irrelevant. To Nina, her firstexperience to this new world was unpleasant. She being a teacher was used torespect but here a different yardstick is used to judge her. She feelshumiliated in the airport.
Kapur vividly describes her mental state as “Rag fills her, why were people tosilent about the humiliations the faced in the west? She was a teacher at auniversity yet this woman, probably school pass, can imprison her in a celllike room, scare her and condemn her. Though she was addressed as ma?am, norespect is conveyed.”(106) Nina’s initial failure to strike a balancebetween her American and Indian identity brings in an identity crisis in herlife.
This results in cultural isolation that leads to personal isolation as well.Life in Canada is complete contrast to Indian ways to Nina. It began with asense of freedom, freedom from the probing eyes of the family members, neighbors”No servant, landlord, landlady, neighboror mother was there to see (113).
In the beginning, the privacy is pleasingbut soon it turns to loneliness with no one to talk to, no one to share withthe common everyday pleasures. It is difficult for an Indian wife more to adoptthose situations. Homesickness sets in, and she feels lost without any one toshare her feelings. A Mechanical life with western food could not attract her.She had no other activity other than reading books or watching television andlater she realized that it is not her aide “booksare powerless to distract, when house and its conveniences can no longercompletely charm or compensate. Then she realizes she is an immigrant for life”(122).
She was not used to non-vegetarian. Ananda doesn’t say it to hisfriends or uncle when they invited her to dinner. They say she needs to adjustto the new culture. But naturally it takes some time for her to taste a new foodwhich she was not at all used to for many years.
Ananda could become a Canadiansoon as it was easy for him to adjust to the western ways. But for Nina it isvery hard to accept and adjust. Homebird Nina faces multiple problems in the new environment. Her old Indian sareesand dresses made her look different from others in the new country. To getacquainted with people and to become familiar in her surroundings Nina startsto wear jeans and t-shirt. Even though, she is not comfortable in her westernoutfit, she does not give up the new trend and arrival.
Just to make friendsand for her survival she mislay her identity and most valued culture. Oneweekend Ananda is delighted when she accepts both fish and beef in her diet.While he is happy that life will be much easier now, Nina lets out the hiddentruth – her taking of fish and beef was the result of fragmentation anddistress, not a desire for convenience.
For an immigrant, it is very difficultto balance between two cultures and he or she keeps swinging like a pendulumfrom one culture to another from home country to immigrant country throughouttheir life. Manju Kapur completes this novel with this Nina’s statement that,”Perhaps that was the ultimate immigrantexperience .Not that any one thing was steady enough to attach yourself to therest of your life, but that you found different ways to belong, ways notnecessarily lasting, but ones that made your journey less lonely for a while.When something failed it was a signal to move on.
For an immigrant there was nogoing back. ..
. When one was reinventing oneself, anywhere could be home.”(334)Thus,it is evident from the afore-mentioned discussion that Manju kapur has broughtforth the issues of cultural conflict in her novel The Immigrant .
She has also interwoven the theme of Diasporathroughout the novel. Life of immigrants and their problems in adopting isclearly pictured in this work. Itis true that individual gets in trouble after immigration but gradually theyadopt to mingle with the new culture. It also opens up new routes and new waysof thinking which assist in development and advancement of their life.
Ultimatelyit depends upon the attitude of the person how to tackle with the obstaclesthat come in between from migration to settlement. REFERENCES1.Chandra, Sharat.G.S. “Immigrants of Loss”Hippopotamus Press, 1991.2.
Kapur, Manju. The Immigrant. NewDelhi: Random House India, 2008.
“Perspectives on Indians Abroad.”The Indian Diaspora. Ed. N.
Jayaram. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2004. Print.
4.Saharan, Asha. “Female Body: Site ofCulture- A Study of Manju Kapur’s The Immigrant”. Labyrinth: Volume-3, No.4October-2012, ISSN 0976-0814. Print.5.
Wolfreys, Julian. “The J. Hillis MillerReader by Julian Wolfreys” (2005-02-03) Paperback – stanford University Press, 1856.