Bharati Mukharji’s Jasmine (1989): Diaspora and Identity

 

 

Jasmine (1989), a novel by Bharati Mukharji is a story of a woman who crosses the border of her country to ending her life as a “sati”, but discovers an interesting fluidity in her identity. She realizes that she can adapt in order to survive and to adjust herself in different surroundings. Instead of being a victim she becomes a warrior. Jasmine shifts to different places and takes a new identity every time. She is Jyoti by birth, Jasmine by her husband Prakash, Jazzy by Lillian Gordon, Jase by Taylor Hayes, Jane by Bud Ripplemeyer.

Jasmine’s changes of identity are very much depended on her diasporic changes. Diaspora, etymologically derived from the Greek term “diasperien” where “dia” means “across” and “sperien” means “to sow or scatter seeds”, diaspora suggests a displacement from the homeland, circumstances or environmental location of origin and transfer in one or more nation states, territories or foreign countries Diaspora refers to displaced communities which have been dislocated from their homeland through migration or immigration or exile. A Diaspora is the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from their root.

 

Jasmine goes through the flow of her multiple identities. We get to see different faces and phases of Jasmine, Mukharji’s concept of identity have more to do with cultural identity as Jasmine keeps on tuning into a new identity, Just like the music genre Jazz , Jazzy is restless. Here the two very important ideas is how jasmine goes trough different identity as if she is going through a flow, The novel focuses on jasmine’s changes of cultural identity and her Diasporas experience as an immigrant.

Her Diasporas experiences start when she is married of and moves to a city with her husband. Her husband inspires her to become a modern woman who calls her husband by first name, and dreams about living in America with their own shop. This is where she first face the conflict between her two identity, one is the identity of an “Indian woman” another one is what husband wanted her to be. Then after she enters America she enters a flux of changes, she gets raped by half faced and she takes revenge like Kali the goddess. It is also noticeable that she cuts her tongue before killing half face. After this event she meets Lillian Gordon who makes herself conscious about her dress and sandals, Lillian Gordon also teaches her how to look like a true American, she is thrilled when Gordon calls her Jazzy. The culture of the United States begins to influence her.

Then Jasmine becomes settled in with Taylor and Wylie, she receives a new name, Jase, which is given to her by Taylor. Now more than ever Jasmine is beginning to see herself as an American, she is amazed and fascinated by the ideologies of the family and how they perceive reality. Jase enjoys her new found financial independence and starts to learn more about American culture.

Then she moves to Iowa and finds her “American lover” Bud who gives her the name Jane. Iowa shows her a different picture of United States, a traditional hub for immigrants, and brings her deeper into the United States. Here the only person to whom she connects the most is Du, her adopted son, who is also an immigrant from Vietnam.

Even though she becomes very powerful in the household of Bud and Bud wants to marry her, she chooses Taylor over Bud. She rejects the life of Jane Eyre; her resistance towards the stereotypes is remarkable because she is not afraid to face the unknown. There is always a conflict in Jasmine before she makes any choice, here we see that she breaks the shell of traditional Indian woman and choose to walk away because she wants to.  “I am not choosing between men. I am caught between the promise of America and old-world dutifulness” (240). At the beginning she expresses how she is in love with the personality of Taylor, and as finally she goes with Taylor there is a suggestion that she wants to be a true American, not a temporary immigrant.

 

Bharati mukharjee through the experiences of jasmine shows an interesting panorama of human strength to adopt when she moves through the uncertainty of living in a foreign land like America. Stuart Hall says that “identity” should not be thought of as an accomplished fact, but should be seen as a production which is never complete. Cultural identity is a matter of becoming as well as of “being”. Cultural identities have history and it goes through constant transformations.

The concept of ‘self’ is fluid throughout an individual’s lifetime, where a person’s experiences shape who they are.  Throughout the novel we see the effects immigration and culture have on the ‘self’ of Jasmine. Jasmine deals with the idea of cultural identity, her mode of identity changes every time she is going to a new place, not only she assimilates but her whole being takes a different shift. Jasmine’s identity has multiple folds and layers; she also defies the roles of a daughter, wife, widow, friend, goddess, and mother. “I have had a husband for each of the women I have been, Prakash for Jasmine, Taylor for Jaze, Bud for Jane , Half-Face for Kali (197).”

 

Her idea of “self” is decorated with different pattern and multicolored facade, but in the core of her being Jasmine never allow changes, we see her looking at a dead dog flowing in the river and its body is broken the moment she touches it, “A stench leaked out of the broken body, and then both pieces quickly sank” . That’s the moment she realize “I know what I don’t want to become.” (5).Her identity is also depended on the myths about her native history even though that’s what she is trying to get rid of. She still talks with Indian accent and her “priceless face” makes interesting photographs because she is exotic and foreign. Throughout the novel Jasmine never chooses any of her name, but when she is called by Jazzy, Jane or Jase assimilates to be that person. Jasmine is after all an immigrant, no matter how she tries to get out of the boundaries she is always manipulated by patriarchy, family and social values. But Jasmin’s exploration of self helps her to create a space for her own. She learns quickly and adopts new shape of being, even though outside she is always becoming internally she stays the same. But as a survival strategy she lets her outer “self” mold by new experiences. Bharati Mukharji shows that Jasmine’s relation with the state and other institution is not dimensional rather dialectical. Jasmine, the assimilated migrant in her own way also changes America as she floats through different identity.

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