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Negotiating Homelessness through Culinary Imagination: the Metaphor of Food in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies

Kalyan Chatterjee

Government General Degree College, Manbazar-II, Purulia, West Bengal

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


Abstract

This paper seeks to look at the culinary associations of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies to explore the metaphor of food as it is employed by Lahiri to delineate different shades and nuances of the lives of mostly the expatriate people, concentrating especially on how food negotiates the unease in living in an adopted land. The first section of this paper introduces the critical issues related to food and eating, and the second section moves on to the analysis of her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, relating the stories to the issues discussed in the first section of the paper.

 Keywords: Food, Diaspora, Indian American Diaspora, Jhuma Lahiri

 Introduction:

This paper seeks to look at the culinary associations of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies to explore the metaphor of food as it is employed by Lahiri to delineate different shades and nuances of the lives of mostly the expatriate people, concentrating especially on how food negotiates the unease in living in an adopted land. Although her fiction also represents people who are not exactly dislocated, the questions of home, homelessness, displacement often lurk around them. The first section of this paper introduces the critical issues related to the topic of the paper and the second section moves on to the analysis of her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, relating it to the issues discussed in the first section of the paper.

 I

Food, Memory, Nostalgia

Food, as Jon D. Holtzman (2006) rightly observes in his essay “Food and Memory”, is “an intrinsically multilayered and multidimensional subject – with social, psychological, physiological, symbolic dimensions…” (p. 362). The subject of food becomes especially significant in the context of the diaspora, because food is, above everything else, “a vehicle for memory” (Holtzman, 2006, p. 365). No wonder then the writings of diasporas are often full of references to food, feasting and eating – nostalgic as they are – making food a veritable centre of attention for both the readers and the critics alike. But ‘food’ as an issue in these writings has not only drawn a scrutinizing gaze to them, but has also invited hostile criticism to diaspora fiction. Frank Chin, for instance, dubbed much of contemporary Asian American women’s writing to be “food pornography” for their deliberate over-use of a culinary idiom (as cited in Mannur, 2010, p. 15). However, notwithstanding Chin’s opposition to this idiom, critics do not find such writings unjustifiably soaked in nostalgia, as“…[T]he combination of the physical and the mental”, writes Supriya Chaudhury (2011) in her introduction to Writer’s Feast, “in the longing for a lost cuisine, or the attempt to recover it in a foreign kitchen, suffuses diasporic writing about food with a nostalgia that exceeds its object: it is as though the absent homeland, like the absent real, lies behind the imagined but unobtainable item of food” (p. x-xi). Anita Mannur (2010) in her book Culinary Fictions has expressed similar opinion in this regard: “…among the most common of the complex emotions food engenders for diasporic subjects is a sense of nostalgia…” (p. 20). And this nostalgia is especially relevant in the context of the globalization and its corollary movements, dislocations and disorientation, because: “Food, and especially nostalgia about home cooking, plays a crucial role in anchoring us in a world that refuses to stay still” (Ray, 2004, Intro.). However, the memory stirred in by food and its accompanying nostalgia can neither be simple nor be linearly related to home, because “[m]emory is, Dipesh Chakrabarty stresses, “a complex phenomenon that reaches far beyond what normally constitutes a historian’s archives, for memory is much more than what the mind can remember or what objects can help us document about the past” (Chakraborty, 2002, p. 115). Food, therefore, “offers a potential window into forms of memory that are more heteroglossic, ambivalent, layered, and textured” (Holtzman, 2006, p. 373). Lahiri’s fiction, we will see, encompasses this complexity engendered by food, often to mark within the materially prosperous life something amiss…Full Text PDF

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