Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation

Beginning the Academic Essay

The protagonist Tara in this novel is nebulous about her revisit after living in the West for seven years. The innocence of her childhood is exploded when she experienced the lack of chance offered to women in her native land. About her aim of writing, in an interview, Mukherjee says:
…when we uproot ourselves from those countries and come here, either by choice or out of necessity, we suddenly must absorb 200 years of American history and learn to adapt to American society… I attempt to illustrate this in my novels and short stories. My aim is to expose Americans to the energetic voices of new settlers in this country. (Sunday Review page 1)

The novel begins with Tara’s revisit to India after seven years in America early as a student at Vassar and later as the Indian wife of her foreign husband, David Cartwright. When she landed at Bombay her relatives are all at the airport to welcome her. She is introduced as ‘the American auntie’ to the little nephews. Her stay in America has given her this sort of introduction. She is in a confused state whether to accept this with a smile or a shock. Her depression starts at this stage when she notices the variation found in the behavior of her own relatives. Tara compares and contrasts her ideas on India that she had seen during her childhood days and India she sees now. The Bombay relatives request her to tolerate the small and shabbiness in the area of marine drive, “You must promise not to look at the bad parts of India.” (TTD 18)
The relatives are reluctant to send her alone in train. But, she asserts that she had no fear and she can travel with two men who happen to be her co-passengers. The relatives find the Americanism in her that she has gained through seven years stay in America. This was the reason at times for her feeling of being ostracized. It is a nightmare for her aunt for a girl to travel with two men spending two nights on the train. However, America has given her the power and hope to have such a travel. The other two men in her compartment are an ugly, tiny, insolent Marwari and a fidgety older Nepali with coarse hair. By their argument over luggage space, Tara decides that they can effortlessly ruin her journey to Calcutta. She is frightened by the capacity for anger over trivial encounters. She stares out of the window to avoid them. “I have returned to dry holes by the sides of railway tracks, she thought, to brown fields like excavations for a thousand homes. I have returned to India.” (TTD 21)
Tara feels thrilled to travel in an Indian train. She thinks of her travels in airplanes and Greyhound buses. She is often vexed about her husband David. Such thought of Tar reveals her affection and love towards her husband, David wherever she is. She longs for his nearness. Tara wonders at the Nepali and Mr.P.K. Tuntunwala, the Marwari’s attempts to impress through their talks on various subjects. Tara is in a very lonely feeling and this shows the brimming of love for a husband though married to an American. According to her, David is the male in her life after her father, the Bengal Tiger. //
Tara’s self- analysis brings about an unhappy conclusion. For years, she has dreamt of return to India. She believes that her heart will be filled with content if she could just return home to Calcutta. But it has only reopened fresh wounds. The corrosive hours on Marine Drive, the deformed beggars in the railway station and the inexorable train travel have made her feel miserable in her own place of birth. Everything seems merely alien and hostile. This hostility kindles the barrenness in her consciousness. The co- passengers, Ratan and Mr.P.K. Tuntunwala boast about themselves. At school, Tara has learnt gentle humour to put them back in their places. But, her seven years stay in America has refined her. She forgets all her teenage humours. Later she manages them. These men have desecrated her shrine of nostalgia. Her fear of being lost in the dissatisfactions pushes her psyche towards dejection. The scenes at Howrah stations outrange her. It is overcrowded and confusion prevails everywhere. Her earlier thoughts of Calcutta slowly start to disintegrate. Coolies knock her down as they came to help her. An attendant sneezes on her raincoat and offers an old dusty rag to wipe the mess. A blind beggar who slips in and begins to sing, rattling his cup is physically thrown out of the train by Tuntunwala. Tara’s parents and relatives have come to receive her in two small delivery trucks from the tobacco firm. But, now that they were actually in front of Tara, they had nothing to say to her.

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Surrounded by this army of relatives who professed to love her and by vendors ringing bells, beggars pulling at sleeves, children coughing on tracks, Tara felt completely alone. (TTD 28)
Though she is amidst her own people, she feels a sense of loneliness. Dejection is a disease of seclusion. This sense of being alone among others puts her in an unpleasant emotional state. After the journey from Bombay, Tara takes rest for a full forty eight hours. Tara and her mother visit her aunt Jharna’s house in the Southern Avenue. Her husband Sachin died of Cancer and the child of her is clubfooted. Tara in order to spare herself the humiliation of the scene asks aunt Jharna whether she has tried plaster casts and special shoes. But the words of Aunt Jharna make her embarrassed. She considers her as an American and does not consider her consoling words. The care and concern shown by Tara after her return from America is not received well as she is not accepted as one among them. Tara’s friends look at her as an American and they call her an ‘Americanwali.’ They make indelicate and damaging remark about her appearance. They question about her identity.
Tara, Don’t you think Calcutta’s changed unbelievably? I mean can you recognize this place at all?” (TTD 42). The friends somehow give a horrible description about present Calcutta and its culture, “I’m telling you at the first hint of riot, Tara’s going to run away to America, no? How dare you suggest she’ll run away? At least Calcutta isn’t uncultured like Bombay!” (TTD43)
A fortnight after her return to India Tara receives a letter from her American husband, David Cartwright. From the letter she thinks that David has not understood her country through her that probably he has not understood her either. This creates a monstrous fear in her. At once other suspicions and questions quickly appear. Arati, Tara’s saintly mother no longer loves her due to her willful abundant of her caste by marrying a foreigner. Her mother is offended that she, no longer is a real Brahmin.
The seven years stay in America has made her compare her own situation with that of an unwelcomed Australian. Tara recalls the occasion when an Australian religious fanatic was invented to stay in their house for a fortnight. Arati tries to keep him out of the prayer room. Her own reason of justification is that she trusts them only when they were in proper place. She is disturbed by the authentic religious emotions of her mother and her forgetting of the prescribed rituals makes her an alien in her own house. As a child, Tara remembers that she has sung Bhajans and Raghupati Raghava Rajaram in this house but now some invisible spirit of darkness has covered her like skin. She is unable to satisfy the simple request to share piety with her family. “The witnessing of riots is the fear factor of Tara’s insecure feeling. The scenes of a riot make her heartbeat of the slogan ‘Blood bath'” (TTD 171). The incidents in the riot frighten her and make her long for the presence of her husband at times of terrible thoughts. In India, she feels that she is married to a foreigner and this foreignness brings a sort of burden. David is hostile to genealogies and often mistakes her affection for the family as overdependence. She later wishes that she would have come to India with her husband. The Indian feeling of Tara binds her memories with her husband in spite of his absence. The incidents that push her towards frustration and dejection occur without interval and so automatically, her consciousness becomes depressed. Riots, brutal rape, politics make her take this decision. She regrets for not being accompanied by David. She finds it a wrong decision to have come alone. The death of a three –year old kid during the protest makes her realize the seriousness of the riots. Tara tells Sanjay Basu, assistant editor of Calcutta Observer how much easier she thought it is to live in Calcutta and how much simpler to trust the city’s police inspect and play tennis with him on Saturdays. In an encounter with Mr.P.K. Tuntunwala in the carnival, Tara is surprised and shocked to hear his address, attacking communists in Calcutta, general strikes, looking of private homes and predicting murders of rival leaders.
Mr.P.K. Tuntunwala seems to be a dangerous man. He can create whatever situation, whatever catastrophe he needs. Tara tries to avoid him. Finally, she becomes a prey to his desire. Tara is unable to get out of the impending danger in spite of being aware of the quick arrival of it through this politician. The adverse state of politics and politician without any consideration towards the needy and the poor put Tara in a state of dilemma and repression. The condition of India creates a profound jealousy over America. Tara reveals her hatred towards present Calcutta. Tara realizes that her previous thoughts about Calcutta seem to shatter and the present Calcutta menaces her. She tells Reena that things begin to upset her and she has been outraged by Calcutta. She longs for the Bengal of Satysjit Ray and children running through cool green spaces. But, she begins to hate Calcutta as it has given her kids eating yoghurt off dirty sidewalks. Reena responds in a different way. “How is it you’ve changed too much Tara?” Reena asked “I mean this is no moral judgment or anything, but you’ve become too self- centered and European” (TTD 105).
The changes Tara has made to her own life only make her more vulnerable when she returns makes herself and her education appear ‘an almost unsolvable mistake’ (TTD 10). She can no longer share her mother’s piety or father’s strength. But neither can she share the idle abandonment of her friends. At an extreme, she is troubled by the strange, absurdly incongruous figure of Joyonto Roy Chowdhury, the rich old man who has given up, whose compound in Tollygunge has been taken over by squatters. Tara admits about this in her letter to David that if she has been in New York and the old man an American his invitation to visit his place would have been a mere sport. But, at the Catelli- Continental, she shares the outrange that inflames her companion. When Reena is angry over this horrible proposal, Tara confesses. “It’s not my fault. You’re insulting my husband. You’re insulting me” (TTD 113).
Tara feels more like an American rather an Indian when someone, even a very close person criticizes her thoughts and words. Tara, bewildered in Camac Street writes a letter to David. She admits poverty as an art which Americans will never master, by illustrating her Tollygunge trip. Tara confides the regrets to her husband in her letters to him. And, David too mails so many letters to her. Though these letters give a temporary relief, Tar feels more depressed as days pass by. A depressed mind can never be consoled without proper guidance and counseling.

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