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Student Sample Essay


The Scale of Time in The Lowland


In Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, characters develop over a span of years of time from two different points of view. Sometimes the novel reads in the present moment, while at others it reflects back on Udayan’s involvement, and eventual death, with the Naxalite movement. By this narrative form, the reader comes to know characters through long-term conditions and the different roles they play, such as a child, sibling, spouse, parent, lover, and so forth. This span of years also allows readers to observe characters’ interactions with time itself and their own perceptions through aging, regrets, decisions, actions, and so forth.

Some momentary characters give ideas of time passing and its fleeting nature versus a more permanent nature. For example, characters like Holly and Lorna are temporary lovers that fill some yearning or void for characters in the novel, while a character like Elise is a more permanent presence and represents a more stable period. Due to the long-term nature of the narrative, the reader is exposed to people and phases both temporary and more enduring.

In the case of Mr. and Mrs. Mitra, time begins to act as a cruel companion after the death of their son, Udayan. Mr. Mitra avoids the topic and attempts to move on as though it had not happened. He shares minor events of the night of Udayan’s death without divulging information that Subhash actually wants to know, “’I thought he’d quit the party,’ Subhash pressed. ‘That he’d drifted away from it. Had he?’ ‘I was at home,’ his father said, not acknowledging the question. ‘When were you home?’ ‘That day. I opened the gate for them. I let them in.’ ‘Who?’ ‘The police’” (Lahiri 115). He is not presented showing much emotion beyond amiability and finishes out his existence in the ultimate disappointment of the mockery his life is to him.

Mrs. Mitra, Bijoli, on the other hand, begins a slow and painful spiral into dementia when she loses her favorite son. Despite her daily pilgrimage to her son’s grave-marker, Bijoli becomes stuck in the past events. She considers the water when she had first come to Tollygunge—clean, inviting, and even pretty. Now the remaining water is a ‘dull green’ that reminds her of ‘military vehicles’ (Lahiri 216). The remainder of the lowland is mud and garbage, though the water hyacinth still grows. Seasons, as they have worn away at the once beautiful pond, have worn away at her. Indeed, time is something she cannot take on any more. She begins to clean out the lowland of the refuse that the scavengers do not want, and this tedious task becomes her sustaining activity, “Each day she removes a small portion of the unwanted things in people’s lives, though all of it, she thinks, was previously wanted, once useful…The task satisfies her. It passes the time” (Lahiri 228). However, even this task cannot keep dementia at bay for the afflicted mother. Later in the novel, she suffers a stroke and succumbs completely to the past that calls for her and begins to live, mentally, in a time that is easier to bear than the present, “It was unclear to Subhash, the degree to which his mother recognized him. She spoke to him in fragments, sometimes as if he were Udayan, or as if they were boys…He saw that his mother was dwelling in an alternate time, a more bearable reality” (Lahiri 267). Bijoli reacts to time by molding it to fit her needs and fill her empty space, a perpetual present that is easier to bear. The adaptation to this method likely contributed to her slow transition into dementia.

Bela’s development through years of time is set apart from Bijoli and other characters in the story because, from childhood into the beginnings of her own parenthood, she develops without the influencing knowledge of her real father’s death. Through the course of her journey, she experiences a distant mother who will eventually abandon her, a confusing truth about the nature of her father, and the obtained conviction that she will never marry and subject herself to the misery she saw in her parents’ marriage. Her first conceptions of time begin as a young girl when she can only perceive time as ‘yesterdays.’ “At four Bela was developing a memory. The word yesterday entered her vocabulary, though its meaning was elastic, synonymous with whatever was no longer the case. The past collapsed, in no particular order, contained by a single word” (Lahiri 178). This note about Bela has significance in the fact that eventually all she has known does come to collapse, so it is interesting that she develops her interactions with the past at such an early age. She emerges as a different person on the other side of that destruction. Her life is laid out by birth, phases, and rebirths, as noted by Subhash “At times Bela’s second birth felt more miraculous than the first. It was a miracle to him that she had discovered meaning her life. That she could be resilient, in the face of what Gauri had done. That in time she had renewed, if not fully restored, her affection for him” (Lahiri 274). Her life is a series of phases and moments; her childhood with a distant mother and adoptive father, her early adolescence without a mother at all and the conjecture that she was not worth staying for, her early adulthood with engagement in a cause, and her own journey into motherhood and the truth of her life. Her father, Subhash, thinks of her phase as a rebirth. Indeed, she comes out of her mother’s abandonment a stronger person in some terms, and she comes out of the truth of her parentage with a deeper respect and love for Subhash. In all the moments of her rebirths, Bela comes out reinforced so that by the time she does meet a man to potentially condemn her warped views of love, she is ready to take on the challenge.

As for the brothers, Udayan and Subhash, both are concerned with the present moment for different reasons. Udayan channels his present actions around the preservation of a better future for his beloved country. Before he even gets involved in the Naxalite movement, the reader can begin to infer that his life is lived on borrowed time. At the beginning of the novel, as the reader is getting to know the brothers better, the story of Udayan’s footprints in the concrete is recalled. The young Udayan runs out before the concrete has dried and leaves his footprints to solidify in the mixture and remain there permanently, “Halfway across the plank he lost his balance, the evidence of his path forming impressions of the soles of his feet, tapering like an hourglass at the center, the pads of the toes disconnected” (Lahiri 13). Pointing out the hourglass shape of his feet and the disconnect of his toes is a reference to the passing of time and the conflicting interests this character is trying to juggle, and the reader can deduct, later, when Udayan dies an early death, that these hourglass footprints point to Udayan running out of time—the grains of sand slowly falling, collecting together and gaining speed as he furthers his involvement in so dangerous a cause. Udayan himself comes to fully comprehend the constant and quickly falling sands in his hourglass when he helps take the life of the policeman:

He’d known from the beginning what he was doing. But only the policeman’s blood had prepared him. That blood had not belonged to only the police officer, it had become a part of Udayan also. So that he’d felt his own life begin to ebb, irrevocably, as the policeman lay dying in the alley. Since then he’d waited for his own blood to spill. (Lahiri 414)

At that point, Udayan had become aware of the moving timepiece of his life, though the reader is not exposed to this self-realization of his until the final pages of the novel. Had the reader been exposed to his realization at the same time as he, the reader’s own clock would be ticking for the certain time that Udayan’s life is taken and thus skewed their own timeframe with which they read the novel. Though there are hints that Udayan’s time will be cut short, this knowledge would have solidified it for the reader. It would go against the timeline with which Lahiri designed the novel to be read, with information unveiling as is timely to her purposes. Though Udayan suddenly realizes that he is living and acting on borrowed time, his efforts for the future are too important to him to let go. In his efforts to sacrifice for a better tomorrow, he loses many of his todays to the call of the cause, and all that is left behind of him are his footprints in the concrete, as permanent as the damage he commits to those closest to him.

Like his brother, Subhash is also concerned with the immediate moments. However, he is not concerned with the present to act for a better future but to simply make the most of it. He does as his parents say, he works a steady job to provide income, and he makes rash decisions for what he considers to be the right reasons. He considers the future, yes, but his nurturing nature enables him to make present decisions that he considers best for the people around him and the bigger picture. All his decisions are to ensure a basic life; to get an education, to start a family, and to get a steady job that enables him to take care of that family. However, as he gets older, he begins to question all the decisions he has made over a period of years. One day, later in his life, Subhash walks alone looking for a marker of a battle between a Narragansett tribe and a colonial militia. As he searches for this marker of some time and event long ago, he becomes aware of his own sense of loneliness and the perceived insignificance of his life, perhaps realizing that he would leave no marker of his own, “He’d been compelled, back then, to follow crude directions…But he had lost that confidence, that intrepid sense of direction. He felt only aware now that he was alone, that he was over sixty years old, and that he did not know where he stood” (Lahiri 296). The pattern of a human life rests greatly on the passing of time, and many partakers of life expect to reach landmarks of their existence; Subhash is no exception. It is the passing of years that makes him aware of his perceived failings. Subhash falls into this bleak outlook, perhaps, because he does not believe in the complete power of time. When Gauri leaves, he does not believe that time will heal Bela from the scars of being abandoned, “It was not simply a matter of time before it mended, nor was it possible for him to set it right” (Lahiri 263). Time did not make Udayan grow out of his rebellious phase; time did not make Gauri love Subhash; and time did not make Gauri a better mother. Subhash learned to stop trusting in time to fix the decisions that people make, himself included. It may because of this perspective that he considers his loneliness so bleak and complete at some points in the novel. His faith may be restored, however, when time does come to alter Bela to be able to handle her unusual life and when Subhash finally does find sincere romantic love.

The character that, understandably, takes the most interest in time is Gauri. She avoids pondering the present moment, in part, because she is trapped in the scarring experiences of her past. She comes to have an awareness of time passing that intrigues her and stimulates her study of time, claiming that it is her strongest image, both past, and future. She considers her past to flow from the right, where she thinks of events in a mental bullet list with dates and facts. For example, the year she met Udayan and all the years before that when she had lived without knowing him. Before that is the year she was born, “…prefaced by all the years and centuries that had come before that” (Lahiri 132). To the left, she contemplates her future. In this phase, she acknowledges her death, unknown in the details but certain in the outcome. Additionally, as she is pregnant with Bela when laying out her map of time, she knows that she will have a baby in the near future, whose life was already forming. She recognizes the ceasing existence of Udayan in her life, which would come to be replaced by a strange brother who, in her mind, she may or may not come to love. “Only the present moment, lacking any perspective, eluded her grasp. It was like a blind spot, just over her shoulder. A hole in her vision. But the future was visible, unspooling incrementally” (Lahiri 132). At this point in the novel, Bela feels no certainty about her future and the new husband and coming child it holds. A pregnancy is not something she could easily stop once started, as seems true of most of the decisions that have led her to this point. She recognizes that time goes on without her consent, even if she feels like it is at a standstill, and she cannot grasp the present moment.

This fascination of time and space continues into both Gauri’s studies and her perceptions of her life. She begins to measure her life in units of time. When she meets Subhash at the airport, now his new wife, she reflects that this is her second husband in two years. This awareness of time only gets stronger. One day, walking on the beach with Subhash, Gauri reflects on the footsteps she makes with him, “She looked back at the set of footprints they had made in the damp sand. Unlike Udayan’s steps from childhood, which endured in the courtyard in Tollygunge, theirs were already vanishing, washed clean by the encroaching tide” (Lahiri 164). At this point, both Gauri and Subhash are hoping that she can come to form feelings for Subhash, but this scene on the beach suggests that their duration together will be fleeting and temporary, just as their footprints left on the sand. These impressions wash away quickly, unlike Udayan’s permanent footprints in the concrete in Tollygunge.

Gauri’s fascination with time then begins to turn into research. She explores the ideas of time as a sustenance, a product of the mind, or a physical substance. She examines how the past, present, and future coexist together. She questions how long the present is actually the present and acknowledges that, while the future acts as a motivator for most people, it haunts her. Her questions are probes to discover the workings of time in her own life, for the woman trapped in the past, at odds with her present, and distrusting of the future:

She saw time; now she sought to understand it. She filled notebooks with questions, observations. Did it exist independently, in the physical world, or in the mind’s apprehension? Was it perceived only by humans? What caused certain moments to swell up like hours, certain years to dwindle to a number of days? Did animals have a sense of it passing, when they lost a mate or killed their prey? (Lahiri 180)

Gauri goes on to reflect on the Hindu philosophy of the three tenses of time. The past, present, and the future were thought to coexist simultaneously in God. This perception holds a fascination for Gauri because of its certain truth in her own life. Her troubled past and intimidating future lead her current actions just as much, if not more so than her actual present moment, thus coexisting simultaneously in their battle to win over her attention. She also recognizes that, on earth, time is marked by the sun and moon with human developments of calendars and clocks to apply meaning to the rotations of the earth. Studying time and its meaning in terms of physical earth and structure was more understandable a task than understanding time in the workings of her own life, for she did not know what to measure it by or how to escape its taunts and confusion. She studies Newton, whose theories on time as an entity, and Einstein’s contribution of the intertwining of space and time were jotted in notes in Udayan’s hand. All of these reflections lead her to consider her own relation to time and its tenses, “The future haunted her but kept her alive; it remained her sustenance and also her predator” (Lahiri 181). The past remains something she does not want to acknowledge but has vivid memories of, so the elapsed events seem recent and pressing. At this point, Gauri’s perceptions are still all about futures and yesterdays, and the present remains a specter and spectrum that she cannot acquaint herself with (Lahiri 180-182).

Lahiri narrows Gauri’s study of time in bringing up specific philosophers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer and their concepts of circular time (Lahiri 198). When considering some of the theories of the two philosophers, it becomes clear why this hurting woman is drawn to them. Both examined the concept of time and came to considerable conclusions. Arthur Schopenhauer counsels on the very topic with which Gauri personally struggles, the present moment:

The greatest wisdom is to make the enjoyment of the present the supreme object of life: because that is the only reality, all else being merely the play of thought. On the other hand, such a course might just as well be called the greatest folly: for that which in the next moment exists no more, and vanishes utterly, like a dream, can never be worth a serious effort. (Greatest Wisdom)

As previously quoted, Gauri struggles continuously throughout the novel to see the present moment. When initially studying Schopenhauer’s theories, she misses the greatest wisdom by not making it her priority to enjoy the present moment. However, later in the novel, at least for a moment, Gauri comes to absorb the present instant, “She closed her eyes. Her mind was blank. It held only the present moment, nothing else. The moment that, until now, she’d never been able to see. She thought it would be like looking directly at the sun. But it did not deflect her” (Lahiri 396). In this moment of insight, contemplating suicide on a balcony in India, she finally comes face-to-face with the present moment and fulfills, by Schopenhauer’s standard, the greatest wisdom. Perhaps this confrontation is what bids her step back from the balcony and preserve her life. However, in the next breath of Schopenhauer’s theory on time, he questions the practice of living in the present moment due to its incredibly brief, if not non-existent, nature. The peace, however, that Gauri feels in taking that moment to release all of the pain from her life contradicts the latter part of Schopenhauer’s theory and suggests that there is value in living in the present moment, a realization that takes Gauri a painful lifetime to uncover.

Friedrich Nietzsche, to whom Gauri compared Schopenhauer’s theories, said, “Time, space, and causality are only metaphors of knowledge, with which we explain things to ourselves” (azquotes). Gauri reflects on many of the trials and events she has undergone in terms of time. As previously discussed, her map of time reads from the right, her past, to the left, her future. She deliberates all the events of her life on that scale of time, and it is the method by which she comes to understand what has happened to her, or at least to cope with it.

It is speculating to say that Lahiri considered her character, Gauri, coming across these exact quotes in her studies; however, it can be said with certainty that Lahiri intended for Gauri to be aware of the philosophies existing in these quotes. Her life, as a young woman, changed so often and so quickly, that she had to engage in extensive study of time simply to understand it. She fell in love quickly. She became an instrument to murder quickly. She lost her new husband quickly. Before she knew it, she was in America with another new husband and a baby girl. Only a few brief years after that, she was alone, as she was in the beginning when the reader is first exposed to her, “From wife to widow, from sister-in-law to wife, from mother to childless woman…Layering her life only to strip it bare, only to be alone in the end” (Lahiri 291). There was little time for her to process any of the layers of life that were happening to her, so she processed her own life through the study of time and its concepts through philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

While time is considered in the novel with many beginnings and endings, it does come full circle in the end. Pregnant Bela returns home to Subhash without the father of the unborn child there to offer up any help, “The coincidence coursed through him, numbing, bewildering. A pregnant woman, a fatherless child. Arriving in Rhode Island, needing him. It was a reenactment of Bela’s origins. A version of what had brought Gauri to him, years ago” (Lahiri 322). This circumstance finally prompts Subhash to tell Bela the truth about her origins. Confronting this albatross causes Subhash to ponder on the effects of a new generation, “The presence of another generation within her was forcing a new beginning, also demanding an end” (Lahiri 324). In the end, Subhash does not give Bela enough credit in worrying that she will never come back to him after learning the truth of her parentage, yet she returns to her adoptive father with even more love than she had for him before. In this sense, the novel comes full circle in returning to the intense love that she had always had for him.

While time is considered in the novel with many beginnings and endings, it does come full circle in the end. Pregnant Bela returns home to Subhash without the father of the unborn child there to offer up any help, “The coincidence coursed through him, numbing, bewildering. A pregnant woman, a fatherless child. Arriving in Rhode Island, needing him. It was a reenactment of Bela’s origins. A version of what had brought Gauri to him, years ago” (Lahiri 322). This circumstance finally prompts Subhash to tell Bela the truth about her origins. Confronting this albatross causes Subhash to ponder on the effects of a new generation, “The presence of another generation within her was forcing a new beginning, also demanding an end” (Lahiri 324). In the end, Subhash does not give Bela enough credit in worrying that she will never come back to him after learning the truth of her parentage, yet she returns to her adoptive father with even more love than she had for him before. In this sense, the novel comes full circle in returning to the intense love that she had always had for him.


Works Cited


Friedrich Nietzsche Quotes About Time | A-Z Quotes." A-Z Quotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

"GREATEST WISDOM Quotes." Like Success. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Lowland. New York: Vintage Contemporaries: A Division of Random House LLC, 2013. Print.


The Lowland – An Examination of Gauri Mitra


The storyline was disjointed. The characters were static. The missing punctuation made the dialogue difficult to follow. Some liked the book. Some disliked the book. However, nearly everyone in class seemed in agreement with the New York Times’ book review on Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, and the character of Gauri:

Gauri is an angry, selfish woman… ‘too withdrawn, too aloof to be a mother.’ Gauri will abandon her daughter…. Ms. Lahiri never manages to make this terrible act — handled by Gauri with cruelty and arbitrary highhandedness — plausible, understandable or viscerally felt. Why would Gauri regard motherhood and career as an either/or choice? Why make no effort to stay in touch with Bela or explain her decision to move to California? Why not discuss her need to leave her marriage and her child with her husband?1

In my first reading of The Lowland, I agreed completely. I was disgusted with the whole account of the actions of Gauri. However, with additional readings and careful reflection, I suggest that Ms. Lahiri allows the reader to find understandable (even if they are not entirely sympathetic) reasons for the path Gauri chose: due, in part, to the path that life chose for her.

Gauri’s life had many challenges and as a result, she may have struggled with at least three serious emotional challenges, which would help to account for her decision to abandon her daughter. These illnesses are attachment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

Gauri was born into a poor family and when she was small, she and her brother were taken from her parents and other siblings and had to move to the city to live with grandparents and cousins. As an adult, Gauri reflected that she did not blame her mother for sending her away. In fact, she said that she had preferred the arrangement (pg. 57). In psychology, the statement “I preferred this arrangement” could indicate that Gauri was likely struggling with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). “RAD is a mental health disorder in which a child is unable to form healthy social relationships…. RAD is frequently seen in children who have had inconsistent or abusive care in early childhood, including children adopted from orphanages or foster care.” Although we have no evidence that Gauri suffered any abuse as a child, she was taken from her parents, placed in a different household, and she learned to cope with her situation by not relying on the comfort of others. This is evidenced in the fact that she felt more comfortable sleeping on the balcony over a busy street with her face pressed up against a metal railing, rather than nestled close to another human. A young child’s lack of need for the security of being near other people is a proclivity of children with RAD. Gauri did appear to care for her grandparents, but even this attachment eventually caused her pain as “she’s saw them day after day, and watched them turn ill and frail (57),” which may have encouraged her to keep an emotional boundary between herself and others.

There were numerous indicators that Gauri had attachment issues besides her sleeping on the balcony. “She’d observed the world…all of life, from [the] balcony….It had always been her place (53-54)” On the balcony, she was separated from people, content to be a philosophical, distant-andoverhead-observer rather than a participator in the busy world around her. She relished the feeling of being on the balcony, seeing the world go by without having to take an active role in others’ lives.

Gauri’s ability to keep her distance from others had to change when Gauri got married. At that point, she was forced to move in with her in-laws, take orders from her mother-in-law, and begin to adopt the role of a housewife and cook for her husband. She loved the passion of Udayan, but chafed under the requirements of helping her mother-in-law with household duties, rather than sitting in a quiet place, reading books on philosophy. When Udayan was killed and she had the chance to move to the United States, perhaps she hoped, as Subhash had done, that when she moved to the United States, “the difference was so extreme that [she] could not accommodate the two places together in [her] mind. In this enormous new country, there seemed to be nowhere for the old to reside.” …“With Udayan gone, anything seemed possible. The ligaments that had held her life together were no longer there…She wanted to leave Tollygunge. To forget everything her life had been (127).” At this point, any emotional connections Gauri had with people in India were now severed. She was free to isolate herself within her studies of philosophy once again.

Once in the United States, Subhash tried to help Gauri cope with her new situation and the trauma of Udayan’s death by allowing her to have a lot of time alone, and not requiring much from her. Seemingly out of habit or kindness, Subhash fixed his own breakfast and lunch and left Gauri with cash and a key to the apartment so she could come and go as she wanted. This was different from the expectations of Udayan, who had required someone to cook and serve all his meals. This freedom in the Rhode Island helped encourage any innate sense of independence and emotional isolation from others that Gauri had naturally because Gauri could isolate herself among the books in the library.

Even though Subhash and Gauri were living together as husband and wife, Gauri still did not even try to form a friendship with Subhash. One day, as they walked along the beach, Gauri reflected that “she was unable to express her gratitude for what [Subhash] had undertaken. She was unable to convey the ways he was a better person that Udayan. She was unable to tell him that he was protecting her… She looked back at the set of footprints they had made in the damp sand…[they] were already vanishing, washed clean by the encroaching tide (137).” Gauri was unable to express her gratitude, even when she felt it. Perhaps the unconscious foreshadowing of Subash and Gauri’s long-term relationship was already seen through her eyes. Gauri just did not have the emotional ability to form a bond with this gentleman.

Although Gauri likely struggled with attachment disorder, Gauri initially had typical motherly instincts for her child. “At first a part of her resisted sharing Bela with [Subhash]…. Gauri was aware of how the slightest oversight on her part could cause Bela to be destroyed…Standing still on a sultry late summer’s day, without a trace of breeze, she was nevertheless afraid that a sudden wind would pry Bela from her grasp (144-145).” However, as time passed, her emotional challenges began to interfere with her being able to continue in a normal relationship. “[Gauri] had convinced herself that Subhash was her rival and that she was in competition with him for Bela. But of course it had not been a competition, it had been her own squandering. Her own withdrawal, covert, ineluctable.” (232).

By the time Bela was four years old, Gauri was obviously longer attached to her daughter in a typical mother-daughter way. Subhash had “something that troubled him…though [Gauri] cared for Bela capably, though she kept her clean…rarely did Suhash see her smiling when she looked into Bela’s face…. It was as if Bela were a relative’s child and not her own (159).” This is the beginning of the time when Gauri begins to take risks with Bela’s life and to leave her alone for short periods of time. Gauri becomes more resentful of the time she has to devote to the care of Bela. “[Gauri’s] worst nemesis resided within her. She was …frightened that the final task Udayan had left her with, the long task of raising Bela, was not bringing meaning to her life…. Instead, there was a growing numbness that inhibited her, that impaired her (165).” This inability to connect emotionally is consistent with a person with attachment disorder and helps us better understand Gauri’s bizarre behavior toward her daughter. This detachment made it possible for Gauri to tear apart her daughter’s life by abandoning her with the stroke of a pen in such an abrupt way.

Eventually, even Gauri’s limited feelings of gratitude toward Subhash had dwindled. Years after their separation, when Gauri received the divorce request, her response to seeing his letter in the mails was that “he had boiled down to the proof of his penmanship, the dried saliva on the back of a stamp (285).”

By this time, she was content to spend much of her time alone. “Isolation offered its own form of companionship…it was something upon which she’d come to depend, with which she’d entered by now into a relationship more satisfying and enduring than the relationships she’d experiences in either of her marriage relationships (emphasis added) (237).” It is difficult to understand the relationship choices that Gauri made but it seems clear that at least one aspect of her decisionmaking came from her lack of ability to form normal attachments.

Another mental disorder that interfered with Gauri’s ability to function normally as a mother and a wife was post-traumatic stress disorder. “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating anxiety disorder that occurs after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that involves either a real or perceived threat of injury or death. Symptoms of PTSD include emotional apathy, inability to express feelings, and avoidance of people or situations that are reminders of the event.2” The most blatant traumatic event in Gauri’s life was the stress of hiding from the police her injured, hunted husband, and then watching him being executed. It is obvious that Gauri was suffering from PTSD at that time. “No one bothered her. She was aware of holding her body very still, and she felt at times as if she were falling, the bed seeming to give way. She was unable to cry. There were only the tears disconnected to the feeling that gathered and sometimes fell from the corners of her eyes in the morning, after sleep (108).”

Additionally, other events before and after the killing of Udayan would fall into the category of traumatic events, enough to cause an emotional breakdown. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was sixteen. When she married Udayan, she had to move in with her in-laws, strangers who were angry that the marriage had taken place without their knowledge and consent, and she dealt with constant hostility, day-after-day. Then, Udayan coerced her to attend illegal and dangerous insurgent meetings. When she stopped attending meetings, Udayan continued to attend, continuing to allow her to suffer in fear for his life, and for the lives of those associated with him. Then, Udayan convinced her to unwittingly help him in a terrorist act that she later realized had killed a man. Finally, she marries a stranger and moves to a strange country.

All of these facts, when taken in individual portions could easily cause a person to withdraw from normal interaction with others, but in combination, they pushed Gauri to avoid reminders of the events that caused her such trauma, perhaps even to the point of wanting to avoid seeing any resemblance of Udayan in his daughter, Bela. This avoidance of remembering the trauma associated with Udayan, and the typical emotional apathy that comes with PTSD was definitely a factor in Gauri’s willingness to abandon her daughter without having the courage, or perhaps the ability to know how to express her reasons for leaving.

One more major emotional struggle that can explain Gauri’s behavior is depression. “Avoiding social contact is a common pattern you might notice when falling into depression. Some people skip activities they normally enjoy and isolate themselves from the world…. [Another] major component of depression is rumination, which involves dwelling and brooding about themes like loss and failure.4”

There is an indication that Gauri spent a lot of time ruminating about life even when she was young – certainly as young as in her college years. She was interested in philosophy and why people acted the way the did. “[Philosophy is] an insight into the hidden presuppositions underlying the way we look at ourselves and the rest of the world.5 ” Gauri loved to sit on the balcony, watch people, think, and read philosophy. She said that she could think better in a noisy environment. She felt “the constant din more soothing than silence would have been (54).” Even at a young age, her words reflected an outward struggle to drown out the inner struggle she had going on inside her head.

However, we know that her time on the balcony was not necessarily a time of relaxation. When she was asked if the balcony was her own personal “Bodhi tree,” she did not say that she felt enlightened, but she “only shrugged her shoulders (55).” Apparently, she did not gain solace from her time alone on the balcony, but she was busy brooding about the meaning of life.

Another time in her life that would have encouraged feelings of depression was when she gave up most of her studies to spend time with her hostile mother-in-law. Bijoli was openly critical to Gauri. Did Gauri overhear Bijoli discuss with Subhash, (or with others), “She’s too withdrawn, too aloof to be a mother” (114)? Later, when Gauri was a mother, perhaps she felt as many mothers do as if she was only acting out the role of being a mother to a tiny being that she didn’t recognize, a human that someone hands to you and says “this is yours… be a mother.” In those moments of uncertainty, did her self-doubts and guilt tell her that Bijoli was correct? Did she feel depressed and discouraged, that she was in fact, aloof, and it was part of her nature to act “unnaturally” in her role as a mother (34)?

We may have an insight into Gauri’s mental state when she moved to the United States. “She looked at the flat gray road, with two ongoing stripes painted down the middle. This was the place where she could put things behind her. Where her child would be born, ignorant and safe (125).” However, would her mental illness in fact make her life feel just like the road: flat, grey, with two stripes already telling her that she had no choice in her life, two lines already painted for her and her child, showing her that her life was already mapped out for her in monotonous predictability? Like many people with depression, she may have immediately felt the need to withdraw, perhaps to survive the emotions of being in a new culture with no friends, no job, and no immediate responsibilities. We know that she withdrew from the other women and mothers in the neighborhood. She chafed at the tediousness of the repetitions tasks required of stay-at-home mothers. She did not reach out to try to establish relationships with other adults to keep intellectually stimulated. She would have found help in outside support because being the primary stay-at-home caregiver requires a long-distance view of the future, and a willingness to put one’s own goals secondary to the building-up of other human beings. This is especially true if the caregiver returns back to the workforce or school after the children are grown because taking a step back into the scholastic or working world can bring many challenges. These were choices that Gauri was not willing to make, and because of her several emotional challenges, she was not even able to find a way to balance the world of school and work, while still supporting the needs of her child.

Gauri is accused of being cruel and arbitrarily highhanded. It is true that Gauri’s method of leaving of Bela left scars on her daughter’s psyche, we know that Gauri did have some understanding of the inappropriateness of her actions. “The shame that had flooded her veins was permanent. She would never be free from that (306).” “[Gauri] used to dial [Bela’s phone number] sometimes when the receiver was still on its hook when thinking of Bela. When she was appalled by her transgression, over-taken by regret.” Gauri knew that her actions in running away from Bela and Subash without explaining her feelings were inappropriate, and this added to her burden of guilt and depression. Perhaps this is why she could not seem to commit herself in any permanent relationship except perhaps the one with Lorna, which turned out to be merely a tryst on Lorna’s part. Lorna’s casualness about their relationship and Gauri’s subsequent sense of isolation and unworthiness would add to depression, and her inability to act in a normal fashion in her relationships, even when she thought she might want one with her own daughter, and with her granddaughter.

Last, but not least, the most damaging event in Gauri’s life seemed to be knowing she had aided in the killing of the police officer. In a sudden turn of events following Bela’s rejection of Gauri,

Gauri’s frantic response drove her to return to Tollygunge, to go by the house of the little boy whose father was killed, and then, to stand on the balcony and prepare to take her own life. Her depression, PTSD, and attachment disorder had done its damage. She felt that death was better than life. It is unclear why she chose to do otherwise. Perhaps, she had been surviving just by pure animalistic instinct. Perhaps, somewhere deep in her psyche, she decided to live one more day, like the creatures of the lowland. “Certain creatures laid eggs that were able to endure the dry season. Others survived by burying themselves in mud, simulating death, waiting for the return of rain (2).”



  1. Michiko Kakutani, A Brother, Long Gone, Is Painfully Present, Jhumpa Lahiri’s New Novel, ‘The Lowland,’ New York Times, September 19, 2013,
  2. Reactive Attachment Disorder, About Parenting, Last Modified 2014,
  3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ask Health, July 15, 2012,
  4. 6 Common Depression Traps to Avoid, WebMD, Last Modified 2014,
  5. Why Study Philosophy, Santa Clara University, Last Modified 2013,

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Michael Wutz, Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor
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