The Lowland

The Lowland

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Lowland: Part 7, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gauri arrives back in Calcutta—which is called Kolkata now, to reflect the Bengali pronunciation of the city’s name. Gauri’s taxi winds through the busy streets, which are more populous and more developed than when she left. Additionally, it is Durga Pujo—the city’s most anticipated festival—and so people and vendors line the streets. Temporary structures built to honor the goddess Durga have cropped up everywhere, and Gauri sees Durga as “a daughter visiting her family,” coming down to the city to transform it for a time.
Gauri’s arrival back in her hometown coincides with the symbolic Durga Pujo festival. This was the festival occurring at the time of Udayan’s death, and visiting the city in the middle of it now must surely stir up painful memories for Gauri. Nevertheless, she chooses to rejoice in the presence of the benevolent goddess Durga, and the hopes of peace and prosperity she brings.
Themes
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
When Gauri had arrived in London earlier, she didn’t leave the airport. She went to the booking office and scheduled a flight to India without emailing the organizers of her conference to explain why she’d be absent. Nothing matters to her now, after the things Bela said to her in Providence. Now, Gauri arrives at the guesthouse where she’ll be staying after many days of travel and asks the caretaker to arrange a driver for her at eight the next morning. 
Gauri has been so shaken by her encounter with Bela that she feels numb to everything else in her life. She has failed Bela and has finally been called out on it: nothing else in the world matters to Gauri, and at last her true pain and shame is laid bare.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Gauri wakes early the next morning, before the sun is up. She showers, dresses, and makes tea, and at seven a maid named Abha arrives. Abha and Gauri chat. At eight, Gauri’s driver arrives, and she gets in his taxi. She instructs him to take her to her old neighborhood—she is looking for Manash. At Manash’s old flat, she finds his family, but not him—he is visiting one of his other sons. Manash’s family calls him using a cell phone, and Gauri speaks to her brother for the first time in years. Manash asks Gauri to wait for him to return to Kolkata and asks about Bela—Gauri assures Manash that he will meet her someday, though she knows this is a lie.
Gauri’s competing desires to directly confront the people from her past and to preserve the lies and secrets she has constructed to obscure her own failings are on display in this passage. Gauri wants to reunite with her brother but is too afraid to show him the truth of who she really is, and what shape her life has taken in the years since they have seen one another. She would prefer to draw him into yet another web of secrets rather than confess.
Themes
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Gauri gets back in her hired car and asks the driver to take her to Tollygunge. Once in the neighborhood, Gauri gives her driver money for tea and exits the car, telling him it will only be a short visit. She walks past the mosque and down the lane until she comes to the house in which she once believed she’d grow old with Udayan. The house has been renovated, and the courtyard with Udayan’s footprints in it no longer exists. Gauri walks past the house, toward the two ponds and the lowland, only to find that both ponds are gone—new homes have been built over the lowland. She wonders if anyone else on the street remembers the lowland, and considers stopping someone to ask them, but does not. She looks out on the new block of houses, remembering Udayan’s death.
Gauri’s exploration of Tollygunge reveals that the neighborhood has undergone significant change. Two of the novel’s most important physical symbols—Udayan’s footprints and the titular lowland—have been eradicated from the landscape completely. This loss of symbolic reference demonstrates Gauri’s lost, wandering sensibility in this section of the novel—she is alone in the world, without any hallmarks of her past, just as she always wanted to be, but she is not happy or fulfilled; she is more uncertain than ever.
Themes
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
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Gauri shamefully recalls her involvement in Nirmal Dey’s death—the death which marked Udayan as a target. No one knows what Gauri has done—she is “the sole guardian of her guilt.” Gauri remembers what Bela said to her about her being “nothing.” Now, as she looks out on what used to be the lowland, she feels a new solidarity with Udayan—“the bond of not existing.”
Gauri’s years of shame over her involvement in the policeman’s death have imbued her with the impulse to hide and shrink herself. Now, at last, she feels she has reached the low point of this journey in self-erasure—she, like Udayan, no longer exists.  
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Back at the guesthouse, Gauri has a dream of Udayan—she remembers, in sleep, the night before the police came for him. Udayan had told Gauri that he could never become a father—not after what he had done—but would not tell Gauri what his crime was. He regretted aloud not having met Gauri sooner, and then held her hand as dawn rose around them. 
Perhaps because Udayan didn’t feel he could be a father after what he’d done, and voiced that concern to Gauri, she always felt like she should not be a mother based on her involvement in the policeman’s death.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
The next morning, Gauri wakes up and steps out onto the balcony off her bedroom. She watches the dawn, and the empty roads. Gauri approaches the edge of the balcony, feeling “a clarity [and] an urge” rising up inside of her. She feels the purpose of her visit to India has been to die here and imagines what it would be like to throw herself off the balcony. Gauri thinks of the woman who found Kanu Sanyal when he hung himself, and wonders who would find her. She begins taking stock of the images that have haunted her over the years: her betrayal of Bela, her part in the conspiracy against Nirmal Dey, her first meeting with Udayan. Gauri shuts her eyes, recalling the thrill of loving Udayan, the pain of losing him, and the fury of realizing how he had implicated her in his misdeeds. Gauri opens her eyes, expecting to see Udayan, but he is not there.
This pivotal moment in Gauri’s life represents the building—and release—of all the tension she has felt as a result of the trauma of witnessing Udayan’s death, and the larger trauma of realizing her own role in it. Gauri hates herself for having been drawn into political violence by Udayan, and for not being able to save him from his own destruction. In this moment, she visualizes at last punishing herself for all the harm she has caused as a result of her own pain—but realizes that all she has wanted all along is the chance to reunite with her lost love.
Themes
Political and Personal Violence Theme Icon
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Heritage and Homeland Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Gauri continues to watch the street fill with people as morning begins. Abha approaches the inn, shouting up from the street to ask if there is anything Gauri needs. Gauri replies that she needs nothing. She knows at the end of the week, she will leave Kolkata and return to her life.
Gauri’s death-drive has come to a head, and she has ultimately decided to remain alive. Though it means she will be alone and will have to continue to bear the weight of what she has done, she is resigned to such an existence after so many years of surviving it already. Gauri will be present in her life, but, it is implied, emotionally absent.
Themes
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Presence in Absence Theme Icon
Several months later, Gauri is back in California. She receives a letter from Rhode Island. It is written in English and accompanied by a drawing Meghna made. As Gauri begins reading the letter, she sees that it is from Bela. The letter states that Meghna often asks about Gauri—Bela has not told her daughter the truth, but tells Gauri that one day, she will explain their family’s whole story. If, once Meghna learns the truth, she wants to have a relationship with Gauri, Bela will be “willing to facilitate” one. Maybe, Bela writes at the letter’s end, when she and Meghna are both ready, Bela and Gauri can try to meet once again.
Despite the bleak ending of Gauri’s trip to India, there is one bright spot or promise of redemption as her narrative comes to a close. The note from Bela seems to say that in spite of all the pain, anger, and disappointment between the two women, Gauri’s crimes are not unforgivable. Gauri seeing herself through Meghna’s eyes—as someone interesting and desired—offers her a new point of view after so many years of seeing herself through a lens of shame, and understanding herself only as an obligation to others.
Themes
Duty and Desire Theme Icon
Secrets and Conspiracies Theme Icon