The Lowland

The Lowland

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Lowland: Part 7, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gauri sits on her patio in California, eating toast and fruit and clicking around the internet on her laptop, as she often does. Every once in a while, on the internet or in the paper, Gauri notices a piece mentioning Naxalite activity in India and Nepal; Maoist insurgents are holding demonstrations and committing acts of violence and terror, “plotting to overthrow the government all over again.” Gauri only sometimes looks through these articles—she does not want to know too much. She is surprised, though, by how the failure of the original Naxalite movement has succeeded in igniting yet another generation. She wonders what the movement is like now—who is involved, whether it is as “harrowing” as it was when she was adjacent to it, and whether Calcutta will ever experience the terror of her own youth again.
Even years removed from the pain of her past, Gauri cannot escape the cyclical nature of time. This passage recalls Bela’s circular idea of “yesterday” as a child, reminding Gauri that the past is a living, breathing thing, and that ideas can never die. Her involvement with the Naxalites brings her shame and pain, and though she has tried to emotionally and mentally remove herself from those negative emotions, she cannot escape the fact that the movement still has supporters.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Sometimes Gauri performs an internet search for Subhash—she has read PDF files of articles he’s coauthored and learned that he’s still working at the same lab in Rhode Island. She has googled Udayan and Bela, too, but neither of them have left a footprint on the internet. Gauri expected not to find Udayan, but is surprised that Bela is unsearchable, and wonders if her daughter has made herself invisible to avoid Gauri’s being able to find her.
The internet has provided Gauri with a way to—however unfairly—check in on some of the people she has left behind. Seeing as this part of the novel is set in the 2010s, it is highly likely that Bela’s lack of an internet footprint is deliberate and intentional, designed to keep Gauri away. 
Themes
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Gauri has heard from Manash via email, and the two of them have established a correspondence. She has updated him about her separation from Subhash but invented a lie about Bela in order to avoid telling her brother that her daughter does not speak to her anymore. She has told Manash that Bela is grown and married.
Gauri’s shame over her treatment of Bela has resulted in her lying to her family. This small fact allows readers to see how Gauri’s whole existence is now calibrated by the life she left behind, despite how hard she has tried to distance herself from it.
Themes
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
One day, Gauri receives an email from a Bengali student of hers from many years ago; his name is Dipankar Biswas. He is the same age as Bela, and Gauri had, as a result, always felt “generous” toward him. Now, as Gauri reads his email, she learns that Dipankar wants to meet with Gauri to interview her for a book he is putting together. Gauri accepts his invitation. On the day of their meeting, Gauri finds Dipankar waiting for her at a quiet restaurant. They order food and catch up, and when Gauri asks Dipankar to tell her about his book, he reveals that he is writing a history of students at Presidency when the Naxalite movement was at its height. Dipankar wants to interview Gauri about her experience. Gauri’s eye begins twitching, and she defensively tells Dipankar that she was not involved with the Naxalites.
The motif within the early pages of the novels’ seventh part is clearly the inescapability of the past. Gauri has tried to outrun her mistakes, but in this meeting with Dipankar, she realizes once and for all how futile all her efforts to disguise the first half of her life have been. Gauri clearly carries her trauma from witnessing Udayan’s violent death, and nurses a fear that the same thing will happen to her if the truth of her involvement is ever revealed.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
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Dipankar assures Gauri that her involvement doesn’t matter—he just wants to know what the atmosphere was like. Gauri tells Dipankar that she does not want to be interviewed. Her eyelid twitches furiously, and she worries that Dipankar knows something about her—that perhaps her name is on a list. When she looks at him closely, though, she sees disappointment in his eyes, and realizes that he sees her merely as a “convenient source.” Gauri reluctantly agrees to tell Dipankar what she knows of the time but says that she does not want to be a part of the book.
Gauri’s fears are assuaged as she realizes that no one is onto her or after her, highlighting how deeply frightened she is of being revealed as a conspirator in Naxalite violence.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Dipankar tells Gauri that he is planning to visit Calcutta to do some on-the-ground research, and laments that he cannot interview Sanyal. When Gauri asks him why he can’t, Dipankar replies that Sanyal is dead—he killed himself nearly a year ago. At home, Gauri goes to her computer and searches for articles about Sanyal’s death on the internet. She finds many, some of which celebrate his life, and some of which condemn him as a terrorist. She watches a video interview from a local news segment with Sanyal’s cook, who was the one to discover his body. In the back of the room, behind the nervous cook, Sanyal’s hanging corpse is plainly visible.
Gauri repeats her pattern of using the internet to indirectly engage with the more painful aspects of her past. Finding out about Sanyal’s death disturbs her, and the footage she uncovers upsets her even more. The internet is a tool for playing with presence and absence—one of the novel’s major thematic concerns, and now a recurrent pattern of behavior in Gauri’s life.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Gauri cannot stop thinking of the image for several days and finds that it stirs up a terrible empty feeling within her. A few days later, walking down a staircase outside a building on campus, a distracted Gauri falls—she catches herself with her hands, and hurts her wrist. She is taken to the hospital for X-rays, and then has her right hand is bound up, just as Udayan’s hand had been after his accident.
Gauri’s injury, a strange and upsetting doubling of Udayan’s, seems to have a similar symbolic connotation. Udayan’s hand represented the failure and futility of the violent political movement he was a part of; Gauri’s sprained wrist represents the failure and futility of her attempts to evade the memories and mistakes of her past.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Gauri has a colleague help her go to the pharmacy and pick up her prescriptions, and then returns to her empty house. It is a Friday, and, not wanting to be alone in her home, she heads off to a hotel in a desert town for the weekend. At the hotel pool, she observes an elderly Indian couple taking care of a small boy. She converses with them, and they express their love for their grandchild. When they ask whether Gauri has any children, she admits to having a daughter, though when she is asked this question she usually says she does not have any children.
This scene reveals how deeply in denial Gauri has been about the truth of many aspects of her life. The past is so painful to confront, and what she did to Bela brings her so much shame, that she would rather lie and pretend she has no children than admit to her own failures as a mother.
Themes
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Gauri returns from her vacation and begins physical therapy sessions for her wrist; over the course of the next several weeks, she regains her strength, and winds down her classes as she prepares for a semester’s leave in the coming fall. One afternoon, she receives a letter in from Subhash, composed in Bengali. The letter is written formally and informs Gauri of Subhash’s plans to sell his parents’ house in Tollygunge, to which she still has a claim, and to take her name off the deed to the Rhode Island house so that it can be left to Bela. Subhash writes that both of them are getting older, and they need to prepare for “a phase of life when anything might happen.”
Gauri’s injury, combined with this letter from Subhash which speaks of preparing for the later stages of life, makes Gauri reflect on just how much time has passed, and how near both she and Subhash are to old age after all. Additionally, the letter brings Subhash’s presence back into Gauri’s life, after she had adjusted to so many years in his absence.
Themes
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Gauri pauses, considering her painful and warped wrist. She resumes reading the letter. Subhash writes that he wants to resolve all of the legal matters between them by the end of the year—he does not think the two of them have anything to say to one another but concedes that if they were nearer to one another he’d do things face-to-face. He writes that he bears Gauri no ill will. Gauri reads through the letter twice before she realizes that “after all this time” Subhash is asking her for a divorce.
Gauri’s attention moves to her wrist—a symbol of her failure to leave her past behind her—as she continues reading Subhash’s letter. She realizes that he is asking for a divorce, and the emotional surge of understanding that at last it is Subhash who wants to remove himself from her overtakes her.
Themes
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon