The Lowland

The Lowland

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Lowland: Part 5, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bela and Subhash arrive in Calcutta at the beginning of monsoon season. Storms come to Tollygunge each afternoon, and Bela watches from the terrace as the sky darkens and then opens.
Rain is a recurrent motif in the novel that heralds change—as Bela arrives in Tollygunge, rain portends a new stage of her life unfolding.
Themes
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Bela has trouble feeling comfortable in the house—she cannot sleep in the heat under the mosquito netting; at meals, she struggles to eat with her hands, as is the custom, and must be given a spoon. She cannot drink the water everyone else drinks and must have hers boiled to avoid getting sick. “She’s not made to survive here,” her Bijoli concludes one morning.
Bela is a foreigner in this place—a place which holds such weight and significance for her father. This is her heritage, but she feels disconnected from it and unsure of how she fits in here.
Themes
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Related Quotes
After the first week in Calcutta, during which there is a mourning service for Subhash’s father, Subhash begins giving lectures at nearby universities and meeting with scientists. Bela spends her days waiting nervously for him to return. One day, Bela accompanies Deepa shopping, excited for the outing—but after many people on the street stop Deepa to ask about Bela, and then ask Bela questions about herself, she feels drained and scrutinized, and longs to return to the house.
Bela’s adjustment to India mirrors Gauri’s adjustment to Rhode Island. Like Gauri, who was torn between wanting to explore and wanting to remain isolated, Bela tentatively begins going on outings, unsure of her place in this new country.
Themes
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Presence in Absence Theme Icon
There is no dining table in the house, and Bela eats on the floor in the room where Bijoli sleeps. As she eats her meals, she looks at the pictures on the wall—the one of her dead grandfather, and the one of the teenaged boy whom her grandmother has told her is her father. Bela believes she is looking at a picture of Subhash as a young boy.
Though Bela is ignorant of the tension in the air, this passage demonstrates the constant threat Subhash must feel here—the threat of having the truth of Bela’s parentage revealed.
Themes
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Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
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One afternoon, Bela asks Bijoli about her ritual of going out to the lowland each night. When Bijoli tells Bela that she goes down there to talk to Bela’s father, Bela tells Bijoli that her father is inside the house. Bijoli, confused, becomes excited, until she realizes that Bela is talking about Subhash.
Bijoli’s confusion is palpable, and an enormous liability—Bijoli could at any moment reveal the truth of Bela’s parentage and bring the life Subhash has worked so hard for tumbling down.
Themes
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Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Bela and Subhash show Bijoli pictures of their lives in Rhode Island. When Bijoli asks why Gauri is not in any of the photos, Subhash answers that Gauri doesn’t like to pose for the camera; plus, he says, she has been busy teaching and finishing up her dissertation. Bela thinks of how her mother is often so busy, locked in her study, that the two of them go long stretches of the day without seeing or speaking to one another. Bela spends a lot of time in the apartment with Gauri, but it is mostly silent time, sometimes filled with errands related to Gauri’s schoolwork. Bela knows that her parents sleep in separate bedrooms and has wondered why.
Bela’s reflections on her life in Rhode Island reveal that she leads a quiet and largely solitary existence. She craves her mother’s company, but the time that passes between them is silent and uneasy. Bela knows something is off, but this is how things have always been—she does not know any other kind of maternal relationship. 
Themes
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Presence in Absence Theme Icon
One evening, Bela asks Subhash how old he was in the picture in Bijoli’s room. Subhash explains that the picture is not of him—it is of Udayan, who died years ago of an “illness.” When Bela tells Subhash that Bijoli often says the picture is of “her father,” Subhash tells Bela that Bijoli is simply old and confused.
This part of the novel is not relayed from Subhash’s perspective, but it can be surmised that he is wrestling inside with the constant reminders of Udayan—and Bela’s questions about the man who is her true father.
Themes
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Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Bela and Subhash spend Bela’s twelfth birthday at the Tolly Club—one of Subhash’s old college friends is a member and invites them as his guests. Bela swims in the pool, talks with children her age, takes a pony ride, and eats delicious food. Bela notices her father watching golfers all afternoon, and at one point, he brings her to another area of the club where there are fewer people, and packs of jackals resting in the shade. Subhash explains that he and his brother used to sneak into the club and play in this area—when Bela asks why they had to sneak in, Subhash explains that things were different back then.
After all these years, Subhash has at last been invited into the Tolly Club as a guest. His attempts to explain to Bela what his childhood was like are in vain—the neighborhood, and the country, have changed so much since his youth that Subhash’s memories no longer line up with the vision of India Bela is seeing on this visit.
Themes
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Soon after Bela and Subhash leave the club, Bela is overcome by longing for her mother. She begs to call her, but the phone line at the house is down. Bela asks if they can return to the Tolly Club another day, but Subhash says he wants to spend their last few days in India resting for the long journey back.
Bela’s longing for Gauri reveals an intense homesickness. Though this place is her father’s homeland, she longs to return to the familiar and the comforting. Subhash shares some of Bela’s sense of dislocation, too.
Themes
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