Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Mrs. Sen’s”

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Jhumpa Lahiri, through the stories in her book “Interpreter of Maladies”, sheds light on the experience of immigrants from the subcontinent who face difficulties in adjusting and integrating and as a result feel homesick and isolated in a new world so different from their homeland. The short story “Mrs. Sen’s” is about a thirty-year old Indian woman who migrated to the United States with her husband. Her husband is a professor of mathematics at the university and is gone all day leaving Mrs. Sen behind by herself. She feels lonely and isolated when her husband is away and she therefore baby sits an eleven year old boy named Elliot. She thinks of the times she had back home “sitting in an enormous circle on the roof of her building, laughing and gossiping and slicing fifty kilos of vegetables through the night” (115). She attempts to find the life she had in India but finds it hard to do so in this society which is new to her. Her only connection to the society is the little boy, Elliot. The short story “Third and final continent” is also about a young woman just like Mrs. Sen, who migrates to the United states after getting married but unlike Mrs. Sen, she adjusts well to the life in the United States. At the start of the story, Lahiri describes Mrs. Sen’s apartment as being decorated in a typical Indian style. Her apartment is what one can say a living example of an archetypal Indian house with “plush pear-colored carpet” (112), unwrapped lamp shades (Lahiri 112) and the “TV and telephone covered by pieces of yellow fabric with scalloped edges” (112) are only a few examples of how her house was decorated. Mrs. Sen is described as wearing a “shimmering white sari patterned with orange paisleys” (112) and she wore “saris of a different pattern each day” (119). Her hair was centered perfectly and “was shaded with crushed vermilion” (117) which married Indian women wear on their scalp just above their foreheads. She listened to traditional Indian music and at times “played a tape of something she called a raga” (128). Although Mrs. Sen was trying to adjust in the western society but her attempts were futile, she was actually trying to bring Indian culture in the United States which was not working. Analogous to Mrs. Sen is Mala in Lahiri’s “Third and final continent”, who after getting married first arrived to the US in her traditional sari “her thin brown arm were stacked were gold bracelets, a small red circle was painted on her forehead, and edges of her feet were tinted with a decorative red die” (Lahiri 191). What they both have in common is their traditional Indian style which is in their roots and they cannot let go of it. As noted by S. L. Sharma “Indians are always nostalgic about Indian food and their women tend to stick to their lovely saris” (Sharma 48). Mrs. Sen should have adopted a more western lifestyle and dressing in public so she could easily adapt to the new society. Even though she wanted to adjust in the western society but her denial to give up her Indian way of life was holding her back. Mrs. Sen was like most Indian immigrants who are “more Indian in their cultural orientations and practices than resident Indians in India” (Sharma 48). The fact of being more Indian than resident Indians be explained from a sociological point of view that she “found the culture as a defense mechanism against a sense of insecurity in alien setting or it may well be so because the immigrants get stuck to their conception of the Indian culture of the time when they had left India” (Sharma 49). Mrs. Sen was, as a result of staunch following of her Indian ways, still isolated in what she calls a strange new world. Mrs. Sen also attempts to strike a relationship with Eliot’s mother when “each evening she insisted that his mother sit on the sofa, where she was served something to eat” (118). Eliot’s mother really did not like Mrs. Sen’s cooking and...
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