Lahiri: When I ask my father why did you leave India? And really he says I wanted to know what was out there. It’s not a pressing, it’s not that we were going to be sent away to a concentration camp. It’s not that same kind of situation. It was a choice, in other words. It was more of a choice. It was less of a need.
HOST: Deborah Treisman is Fiction Editor of The New Yorker.
Deborah Treisman: It’s a voluntary emigration. And at the same time it is difficult. It is emotionally difficulty and probably more difficult psychologically than they bargained on.
HOST: Ashima feels increasingly alienated in this foreign country with its cold climate, strange food, language, people and sensibilities. When she discovers that she's pregnant, the disconnection from all that she knows and all whom she loves threatens to overwhelm her.
Treisman: Ashima is afraid to have a child in this country because for her, childbirth and the creation of family is very much tied into the larger family, the extended family in India and cousins and aunts and uncles. And here she is in a country where she has her husband and that’s it.
HOST: Writer, Lillian Faderman.
Faderman: This is a young woman who married at the age of 19, an arranged marriage. She’s disoriented at the idea of having to go to a hospital to have a child.
HOST: Manil Suri.
Suri: It’s a very different situation if you give birth in India because you just have this enormous support system from your family, which unfortunately Ashima doesn’t have.
Penn: It’s not so much the pain which she knows somehow she will survive, but she is terrified to raise a child in a country where she is related to no one, where she knows so little, where life seems so tentative and spare.
HOST: Deborah Treisman
Treisman: Her life is spare in that it has very few attachments. It’s quite plain. She has a paired down existence in this home while her husband is out. And it’s tentative because she makes very tentative steps into this new culture and into this new life.
Suri: When people from a very distinct culture like India come to the U.S., there’s a lot of nostalgia for the ways of the old country; lots of attempts to actually recreate India or wherever you’ve come from in this land, in this new land of immigrants. And that’s why you can find in most urban areas a Little India or a Little Saigon where immigrants have found a community, have founded a community. They’ve managed to really recreate restaurants and shops and so on that remind them of their home country. So that’s kind of the physical part of assimilation. And then there’s also the cultural and the emotional part, which is much harder. How do you actually live in a place that might be completely alien to you?