In the novel The Namesake Jhumpa Lahiri describes several cultural practices of Indian people. One of them is the so-called mourner’s diet or fasting which is aimed at showing the grief of the entire family at the loss of the father.
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Yet, at the same time, this ritual is supposed to signify that the Gangulis remain loyal to their cultural heritage. Certainly, this Indian tradition of mourning has its American counterpart, but they are different in many ways. This paper will discuss the similarities and distinctions between them and explain their meaning.
As the author points out, Indian people have to refrain from eating fish and meat during the first ten days after the death of a relative (Lahiri 2004, p. 180). Their diet must include only vegetables, rice, and dal (Lahiri 2004, p. 180). Moreover, one should take into account that Gogol and Sonya are not allowed to talk during these meals or even turn on television.
Furthermore, the family members must shave or cut their hair during this period (Lahiri 2004, p. 180). Overall, this practice must demonstrate that the person is able to reject bodily and worldly desires and focus on the spiritual aspects of existence. Such cultural practice is of great importance to Indian immigrants who do not want to forget their customs and traditions.
Certainly, mourning rituals are also practiced in the Western world, including the United States. In America they may vary depending upon the religious and ethnic backgrounds of a person. Very often, people wear black clothes which symbolize bereavement. It is possible to draw parallels between the two traditions. For example, both Indian and American people usually wear special type of clothes on such occasions. Moreover, both Western and Indian cultures do not accept various forms of entertainment during the time of mourning.
Yet, there are several important distinctions between them. Indian tradition places emphasis on ritual and emotional aspects of mourning, whereas American or Western tradition focuses mostly on the emotional side of the bereavement. In other words, it is compulsory of American people to fast or completely avoid conversations. So in American culture, bereavement is a more private experience. This is probably the main difference between these traditions.
Overall, this practice of mourning plays an important role for the Gangulis. On the one hand, it demonstrates that the members of this family suffer the loss of their farther. Yet, this ritual is significant for retaining the identity of this family. It means that they have not completely forgotten their cultural roots. This is one of the reasons why Gogol’s mother scolded him eating a hamburger during the mourning over their grandparents (Lahiri 2004, p. 180).
For her such violation of fasting rules is not acceptable since it can eventually result in complete rejection of ones cultural heritage. It is possible to argue that this tradition represents the Indian past of this family. In his turn, Gogol, the main protagonist finds himself between these two cultures and he struggles to reconcile them.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel can tell us much the attempts of immigrant families to preserve their cultural heritage. This literary work also represents the conflict between the parents who resist complete assimilation and children, who feel comfortable with the new culture. The ritual described in this novel play a significant role in the lives of the major characters who try to establish their identity.
Lahiri, J. (2004). The Namesake. NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.