The Lowland

The Lowland

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Lowland: Part 3, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrative flashes back to the night of Udayan’s death. It is the week before Durga Pujo in Calcutta, and Bijoli and Gauri have hired a rickshaw to take them home from the tram depot after a day of shopping for the holiday. The rickshaw driver drops the women where the main road turns into the small enclave leading to their house, refusing to take them any further. Turning down their street, Gauri and her mother-in-law are surprised to see no families walking about despite the festival atmosphere in the town—and then to see a police van parked outside their house, and soldiers gathered around it.
The quiet on the street despite the approach of Durga Pujo lets Gauri and her mother-in-law—and Lahiri’s readers—know that something is wrong. Durga, the goddess of peace and prosperity, is absent from the street where they live despite the fact that it is her festival week, symbolizing that discord has come to Tollygunge and to the Mitra home more specifically.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Approaching the house, Gauri and Bijoli find it full of policemen. One of them points a gun at Gauri’s father-in-law, and the women are not allowed to go into the house. Policemen bring Gauri, Bijoli, and Udayan’s father out of the courtyard and towards the flooded lowland at gunpoint. At the lowland, an officer uses a megaphone to announce to the neighborhood that he and his men are searching for Udayan Mitra. The police ask Gauri where he is—they know he somewhere in the enclave, and they have cordoned it off. Gauri says she does not know, but the officers accuse her of lying and hold a gun to her throat. Gauri knows that Udayan is hiding in the lowland—he has rehearsed his escape from the house many times before.
As Gauri returns to the house and realizes that Udayan has been cornered by the police, she seems on edge but not entirely surprised. Through her reflections on past rehearsals of an escape route, it becomes clear that whatever Udayan has been up to, he has been in the police’s crosshairs for some time now and has involved his family—or at least Gauri—in the knowledge that he must be prepared to make his escape from the house at any time. 
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
The soldier with the megaphone announces that he will begin shooting members of the Mitra family if Udayan does not reveal himself. Moments later, Gauri can hear something emerging from the flooded lowland—it is Udayan. He lifts his hands above his head, following the officers’ orders, and is marched over to his family. The soldiers instruct him to bend down and touch his parents’ feet, asking for their forgiveness. Udayan’s right hand is bandaged from a previous injury, and so he does this all with his left hand. Udayan’s father asks the policemen what he is supposed to be forgiving. The policemen tell him that Udayan has “betrayed his country.”
It is clear, from the police’s disregard for the rest of the Mitras’ lives, that Udayan is an important person for them to capture, and they will stop at nothing to apprehend him. Udayan’s surrender is tinged with shame and failure, as he is forced to beg his family for forgiveness for crimes which the reader—and even his family—are not privy to.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
After Udayan begs his parents’ forgiveness, he meets Gauri’s eyes for just a second, and then is pulled away into the van. Gauri, Bijoli, and Udayan’s father are escorted back into the house, and as they go, they hear the van starting up, and then see it driving over the grass at the edge of the lowland toward the empty field on the other side. Gauri and her in-laws climb to the third-floor terrace and watch as the soldiers release Udayan from the van. They see him walking away from the paramilitary officers and back toward the house. Gauri thinks for a moment that they are letting him go, but then there is the sound of gunshots—Udayan has been executed. The officers drag his body back towards the van, lift him into the back, start the engine, and drive away.
Udayan’s family is forced to watch his cruel execution, which the police seem to have designed to inflict maximum emotional pain both on Udayan himself and the rest of the Mitras. The fact that Udayan’s body is taken by the police is a further injustice—the Mitras are denied the chance to properly mourn their son, and the absence of his body becomes the presence of injustice itself.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
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The police, Gauri learns, had discovered a diary under her and Udayan’s mattress when they entered the house to search for him. It contained instructions for how to create homemade bombs and Molotov cocktails, and featured a map Udayan had sketched of the Tolly Club’s layout. Over a month earlier, when Udayan was questioned by the police—a routine occurrence, lately, for the young men of Calcutta—he denied having any ties to the CPI(ML). Then, about a month before he was killed, Udayan did not come home one night. When he returned the next morning, his right hand was bandaged—he and his group had been assembling a pipe bomb, and Udayan, due to his tremor, accidentally set it off in his own hands, blowing off his fingers. Udayan told his parents that it had happened during an experiment at school, revealing the truth only to Gauri. 
As the truth of Udayan’s involvement in violence on behalf of the Communist Party is revealed, a portrait of an idealistic sense of duty gone wrong emerges. Udayan was so wrapped up in the party that he physically harmed himself, and yet did not let even this major setback slow him down. The loss of his fingers symbolizes the larger losses awaiting Udayan. His diary showed clear plans of a desire to infiltrate and attack the Tolly Club and its members—a fact that Gauri must now, in the wake of having witnessed her husband’s violent execution, come to terms with.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Udayan’s body is not returned to the Mitras, and they are not told where it has been burned. As Gauri endures the ritual mourning period, she feels isolated and numb, unable to cry or grieve Udayan. Outside, the city is celebrating; inside the Mitra house, the family is mournful and secluded. As the festival ends, the people of Calcutta bid farewell to the goddess Durga, chanting prayers for her return the next year.
The fact that such a miserable period in the Mitras’ life coincides with the festival celebrating Durga, the warrior goddess charged with protecting peace and prosperity, is a cruel irony.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
About a month after Udayan’s death, Gauri begins feeling faint and ill. Bijoli, realizing what is going on, informs Gauri that she is going to be a mother. Gauri reflects on how Udayan had wanted to wait until after the revolution had successfully played out to have children and considers how burdensome and difficult her future as a single mother will be. As time slowly passes, Gauri feels as if she is holding her breath, like Udayan did in the lowland
Gauri feels trapped—in a family that does not want her, with a pregnancy she herself may not even want, and within her own feelings of guilt, sadness, and anger that prevent her from fully on mourning her husband’s death. The lowland has moved from a symbol of connection to one of oppression—it is the place where Udayan died, and the metaphysical space where Gauri now feels herself struggling for air.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon