Capturing impermanence, finding the self: The trope of photography and diasporic identity formation in Jhumpa Lahiri’s story hema and Kaushik

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract

In the long story “Hema and Kaushik” that comprises Part II of Jhumpa Lahiri’s most recent collection Unaccustomed Earth, we find the recurrent trope of photographs and photography. Kaushik, the child of immigrants, leaves for Bombay at the age of nine with his parents and returns to Cambridge after seven years. Even as an adolescent, we see him photographing everything. Later when his mother dies of cancer, his father puts all her photos in a shoebox, seals it and hides it behind a closet. Out of sheer curiosity, his step sisters open the box and look at the pictures. Kaushik is appalled and leaves the house that same night with the photos. He can’t throw them away, but buries them in a beautiful spot above the ocean. As an adult, Kaushik becomes a photojournalist who visits war torn areas documenting the destruction with his camera. In my paper I wish to analyze this trope of photography in the story and posit a relation between the desire to photograph and the diasporic condition. As a war correspondent based in Rome and sent on assignment to South America, Africa and the Middle East, Kaushik becomes the quintessential translocated citizen of the world, occupying a number of fractured spaces. He practically severs all relations with his originary home (India) as well as his diasporic home (the US). He does not return to either place for years and feels no need to do so. “As a photographer his origins were irrelevant,” Kaushik thinks. He thus becomes a romantic who has no home outside of memory. I wish to argue that Lahiri’s use of the trope of photography belies Kaushik’s pride in his lack of rootedness. Photographs capture a fleeting moment and the transitoriness of the moment that is memorialized in a photograph, creates a sense of the sacred. I argue that Kaushik’s vocation as a photographer counters the unrootedness of his diasporic condition. Although he lives a life of temporariness, his bags always packed and his passport in his pocket, his photographs symbolically signify a search for origins and roots, a yearning for stability, further heightened by his identity as a hyphenated second generation immigrant.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2009

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Identity Formation
Tropes
Photography
Impermanence
Wishes
Immigrants
Seal
Yearning
Pride
Africa
Curiosity
War Correspondent
Rome
Photojournalist
Sister
Night
Ocean
Bag
Vocation
Closet

Citation

Banerjee, B. (2009, September). Capturing impermanence, finding the self: The trope of photography and diasporic identity formation in Jhumpa Lahiri’s story hema and Kaushik. Paper presented at the Glocal Imaginaries Conference, Lancaster University, and the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, UK.

Keywords

  • Memory and mourning: Photography and the vision of loss in Jhumpa Lahiri’s unaccustomed earth