Insecurity and loneliness in marriage – Assessing Manju Kapur’s The Immigrant : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb
It is assumed that in most cases, after marriage the bond between the couples get strengthened in course of time, as they spend time in each other’s company. There is greater and closer understanding of each one’s feelings and needs. From love expressed in physical intimacy, they begin to grow in more and more of unconditional love. As a result there emerges deeper commitment, greater understanding, adapting to each other’s sensibilities, and need for children.
In the case of the protagonists in The Immigrant, their love at first sight begins to dwindle after marriage. The only reason being, their physical expression of love does not culminate in an ecstatic consummation, due to Ananda’s sexual dysfunction. The security of marriage is never realized in their lives. For Nina, the security of her marriage never fructified into an ideal spousal relationship ending her loneliness. On the other hand, Ananda makes use of the security of his marriage to enter into greater sexual explorations with white women for having felt humiliated in his manliness.
An in depth analysis of the novel reveals how the writer has dwelt on insecurity and loneliness experienced by the protagonists.
The novel opens introducing Nina and Ananda living their lonely lives before their marriage. At thirty, Nina, an English lecturer at Miranda House, lives a wasted spinster’s life. Her friends and mother have been pestering her with marriage plans. As a student of MA in English, she had her first sexual relationship with her teacher Rahul. The love relationship was kept a secret from her mother who presumed her to be a virgin all the time. She was stung by Rahul betraying her when he refused to marry her. She felt “Like all cakes…was chewed, mashed into pulp and swallowed” (TI 6). She sunk into her loneliness like her own mother. “Both of them were fated to lead lives devoid of men. The mother had fallen through the bad karma of marrying a prince who would die young. The only thing she had to look forward to was her daughter’s marriage, after which she would suffer more loneliness. At least the mother had hope. She had nothing.” (TI 7-8).
The story takes a new turn when marriage proposal from Ananda, an immigrant dentist in Canada. Astrologically it was an ideal situation for Nina.
Manju Kapur recounts very vividly Nina’s sense of isolation and dislocation, living an immigrant life coping with her husband’s sexual dysfunction. In her lonely isolated life, she searched for ways and means to get assimilated. In the process, she found new avenues in a women’s group, Library Science School, and in an extra marital relationship.
Ananda’s story is equally pathetic after the accidental death of both his parents. A dentist by profession, he migrates to Halifax, Canada with the assistance of his maternal uncle there. Life there was challenging as he needed to build his career in a dental clinic with his friend Gary. It was Gary who introduced him to Sue. But his sexual exploits ended in disaster with his sexual dysfunction. His sexual inadequacy and manliness under scanner among his friends, he is determined to marry an Indian girl who would understand and cope up with his predicament. It is at this critical juncture he got a picture of Nina with a marriage proposal from his sister.
He began a correspondence with Nina that developed into marriage proposal. However, Nina still lived in anxiety: “In the weeks before Ananda came anxiety reduced Nina to a wreck. She knew they would try their best to like each other, they would not have reached this point if they were not serious. What was it like to experience love within the security of marriage” (62-3).
When Ananda came to meet her, he brought her presents perfume and chocolates, reminding her of the time her father used to bring her gifts of similar nature. The nostalgia of her past made her draw closer to Ananda to put an end to her solitary existence. They had ample time to discuss future plans of a life together abroad. That night Nina couldn’t sleep as he had come determined to marry. However, the novelist makes a pointed statement:
“But she hadn’t felt the spark of instant attraction. Was that so necessary in marriage? He was decent, considerate, thoughtful, everything his letters had suggested. Perhaps, given time, he would grow on her. Together they would walk the path of slowly growing respect, mutual dependence, create the habits that tied people together like a tree and a vine” (71).
On the eve of his departure, Ananda spent some intimate moments with Nina, leading to their sexual union. After he left, Nina began to feel her life empty, faced with the problem of making her final decision: “She grew sick of her indecision. If she didn’t say yes, she might regret it all her life… The immigrant man needed a bride who would surround him with familiar traditions, habits and attitudes, whose reward was the prosperity of the west and a freedom often not available to her at home” (79). When she assented to marry, Ananda felt a great sense of achievement to ward off the curse of his sexual incompetence.
Her first night was one of disappointment as he revealed his dysfunction shattering her idea of a prolonged experience of consummation. Though hurt with unfulfilled sex she tried to suppress it with a positive thought of togetherness in the true spirit of marriage. Night after night the experience continued to be the same with no fulfilment, leading to added frustration and loneliness.
Her loneliness grew further as she waited for her visa to go to Canada. She longed to be with him, making Ananda feel more involved in love. When the parting came, she felt sad to leave her mother back in India. But the uncertainty of the future made her throw a cautious glance backward in time: “She could see that child returning unwillingly back to India, homeless, fatherless and dislocated, her destiny changed for ever and much doubt and anguish, but as she travelled westward, she felt her life shifting on to the track it had been forced to leave” (104).
Her harrowing experience en route to Canada made her feel embittered. She held Ananda responsible for her humiliation at the immigration office, for having introduced her to a hostile new world. Home with her husband, all her fears vanished and she was prepared for his quick sexual encounter.
As a prelude to her life in Canada, the novelist makes a statement on the problems of immigration:
“Certain Indians become immigrants slowly. They are not among those who have fled persecution, destitution, famine, slavery and death threats… These immigrants are always in two minds. Outwardly they adjust well. Educated and English speaking, they allow misleading assumptions about a heart that is divided. In the new country they work lengthy hours to gain entrance into the system, into society, into establishing a healthy bank account. Years pass like this, ungrudged years because they can see their all sustaining dream of a better life coming true. As far as citizenship is concerned, a divided heart means that the immigrant clings to his status, feeling that to give up his passport is the final break in the weakened chain that binds him to his motherland. That day does come however” (123).
It is this immigrant spirit that drives Ananda to live his life for his new home. The wife who comes as an immigrant finds it extremely difficult to cope up with the problem. If she has expectation of a work, it gives her some relief. But until then, she lives a solitary life of confinement at home and may finally end up with the realisation that she is an immigrant for life. Such is the fate of the protagonist: “Nina cries, feels homesick, sometimes adventurous, and often forlorn. The minute she gets up she is at a loose end. Languidly she approaches her housework; dishwashing, bed making, cleaning, stretching every task out, slow, slow” (124). She waits daily for Ananda’s return to break her loneliness. He reciprocates by returning early to be together with her. But their intimacy never climaxed in mutual satisfaction as “her body had decided to object to his emission again… she wondered how long it would take her to conceive” (126). The only diversion she looked forward to her visits to the Halifax Regional Library. She took shelter in her books and watching TV.
Another immigrant experience that Nina had to face was the shedding of her Indian way of dressing and adopting western clothes. It was hard for her and she took months to accept the reality to “focus on integration, convenience, and conformity” (152).When the Atlantic Winter Fair was held, she felt very nostalgic as it was associated with Diwali. Feeling part of the crowd and the city, Nina dreamed of coming to attend the fair one day with her children. When Sue woke her from her dream world, she thought that Nina would imbibe the new culture and would get over the immigrant predicament. She continued to live a lonely life from the time she came to Canada, which she never experienced in her life before. As days passed by, her only communication was with Ananda. To add to her frustration, her childlessness got reinforced daily, with the marital relationship not leading to pregnancy.
She began to think of a job to fill her days, but that required a proper qualification of a PhD. She was introduced to the La Leche League, a women’s group. The women presumed her problem of not conceiving due to stress of being in a strange land. Her fear of infertility made her question her femininity: “She could end up hating her body. Its feminine functions, the period, the blood, the cramps, the inconvenience, the dry breasts useless and without purpose, were all reminders of the child that was not to be” (165). She decided to look up the yellow pages to make an appointment with a gynaecologist. She didn’t care to tell Ananda that she would be meeting a male gynaecologist. The discussions converged on tests to be conducted on her husband as one third of all infertility came from the male side. Returning home after the tests, she told Ananda that she had been to the gynaecologist to find out why she wasn’t getting pregnant. He wasn’t pleased with her idea and a chasm was created between the two. When she woke up late next morning, she ached for Ananda as he was the only one in her life, in her isolated and fragmented life. The writer describes very vividly her thoughts: “Nina’s heart ached for her husband. After her father died, she and her mother spent long bitter years reconciling themselves to the full scale emptiness in their lives. In addition to the man they adored, they had lost status, housing, security and their future. In a moment, Ananda too had plunged from everything to nothing. She reached for his hand” (176). Her gesture in reaching out to his physical presence is a climax to the sense of isolation she experienced in life without her family. Similarly he too was plunged into a similar predicament after having lost his parents in a road accident. They both had to cope up with their problem of isolation to build mutual intimacy.
There is yearning for home whenever she thought of life in India. During the time of Kumbha Mela she ached with nostalgia for home. She mused: “..Kumbha Mela was proof that living in a different country you became a different person. Here she drew comfort from caressing her breasts, imagining them in a wet sari in the waters of the Sangam. From there her mind wandered to all the soaked heroines she had seen in Hindi cinema, and how very buxom they had looked” (177). Her unfulfilled sexual life is central to her sexual fancies. She had tried to fill her days with other activities such as going to the library and devouring whatever book that came her way, but that couldn’t replace her physical and emotional fulfilment in marriage. Two years before when prospects of marriage was discussed with the astrologer it was predicted that her life would be transformed. But the turn of events proved otherwise. Her life was full of stress “assaulted by changes, changes so thorough that she felt rootless, branchless, just a body floating upon the cold surface of this particular piece of earth” (178).
Ananda resisted the idea of consulting gynaecologist as she began to taunt him for his inadequacy. When she suggested to have sex frequently to conceive, Ananda took it as her way of accusing him of his sexual dysfunction. The writer probes into her frustration: “For years and years Nina had masturbated, hoping the day would come when a loving partner would circumvent the furtive, dissatisfied feeling this left her with… Guilt ridden, she would promise herself, this is the last time, but her restlessness made this impossible” (181). Though the description is unbecoming, Kapur makes a soul searching comment on a woman in mental agony, searching for her own ways of sexual fulfilment. Her feeling of guilt is derived from social dos and don’ts and her escape to masturbation is perhaps her unarticulated admission of unfulfilled sexual life. Her failed pre-marital relationship must also be taken into consideration. Her eventual resistance to marriage proposals is indicative of the past bitter experience in relationship with men. However, when wedding bells rang with the NRI Ananda, it was one of high expectation to escape into a new world of romance, fulfilment with a man and to mother a child.
When she attempted to be close to him he brushed her aside expressing his tiredness. This prompted her to close herself in the toilet to engage in her own self satisfaction. The writer describes very vividly how Nina seeks here own psychological satisfaction leading to more and more frustration. “In the beginning she had construed their problems to lie to their unfamiliarity to each other, even her body told her this in an itching which subsequently disappeared. His needs were obviously different and she didn’t want to impose, hesitant about putting him off. If only she were in India, with more difficulties in her daily life…with more obligations” (181-2). She tried her best to educate herself to improve her sexual relationship with Ananda and to save their marriage. She read with fascination “quizzes about performance, seduction, techniques, adventure, libido, fantasy, daring, communication skills, verbal and physical etc” (182). All her readings led to need for mutuality as desires, fantasies and feelings to be shared. She openly shared her thoughts on improving their sexual relationship as he is unable to sustain himself due to premature ejaculation. She is frustrated as she points to the problem as the cause of her not conceiving.
When she suggested consulting a gynaecologist he is indifferent and shows his displeasure. When she expressed her intimacy stroking and caressing him, he comforted her saying, “you have me…And may be it was a bad idea not looking for work immediately” (183). Instead of finding remedial measures to save their marriage, he kept distracting her with trivial excuses. She kept pleading: “I want to be happy…That is what I want to work at. We should tell each other all our feelings. I don’t want any shadows in our marital life” (184). He tried hard at better sex that night. But when everything was over as usual, he pondered: “The arranged marriage had not, after all, been the perfect solution. The canker of failure had entered the house and forced his back to the wall…Above all, it was a behavioural problem rather than a psychological one, and there were simple technical solutions to it…he was exploring the possibility of sexual therapy now, when marriage restricted his choices. For a brief moment he looked at Nina’s sleeping form with hatred” (184-5).
He decided to go his own way as his problem made him hate Nina. His negative reaction to her suggestion to consult a therapist, disrupted their mutual trust and communication. After a few weeks he sounded very positive when he spoke of a dental conference at San Diego. She was excited to go with him, but was put off when he decided to go alone. When he was gone Nina spent her days in more solitude. It was a secret trip he made to solve his sexual problem. “All his adult life he had been alone with this problem; it was the background to everything. For years he had felt abnormal, with a hidden disfigurement” (190).
He was determined to undergo two weeks of therapy at Dr. Hanes’s clinic to get his problem settled. But he kept the plan a secret. In the course of the sessions, he was given a surrogate named Marty in the absence of Nina to assist him with the experiments. She taught him to take pleasure in his body and focus on his sensations. The treatment consisted of daily two hourly sessions with Marty, mostly in bed with her to get him sustain his excitement, followed by counselling sessions. It was odd for him to play that sort of sex with a surrogate, but he had no other choice to make improvement in his premature ejaculation. Marty, being a professional sex therapist was keen on performing her tasks with precision, to get the best results for Ananda. She kept reminding him to focus on what goes on in his head in the course of the session. She taught him breathing exercises to reduce tension. He was surprised that one week into the therapy had not led him to having sex with Marty and he was learning things he could use in his relationship with Nina. Only his fear was how to tell Nina where he learnt all the new techniques. Marty reassured him if his wife really loved him, she would be glad he learnt the techniques from her.
When Nina was offered a part time job at the library she found it an escape from her frustration. The novelist reveals Nina’s thoughts very vividly: “I come almost every day, this is my home away from home. I used to teach literature in India, now I am getting to know Canadian authors…and I would love to unite my knowledge of books with more practical experience” (205). She was excited, but was not sure how Ananda would take the news.
When he returned from his trip Ananda was determined to impress her with his physical improvement. He took her straight to the bedroom and began to teach her what he learnt at the therapy. Expressing his embarrassment about his trip to the clinic, he proved his manliness being with her more than three minutes in sexual intimacy. While explaining all the techniques, instead of impressing her, she was apparently repelled. That weekend was memorable for both and she was glad he had staying power that he demonstrated several times. It was very satiating for her: “her body felt sated, its agitation calmed,…she had even forgotten to tell Ananda about her job” (207).
While unpacking his suitcase, she found several books on sex. She began to ponder on his secret way of going for sex therapy with the excuse of the conference. She wondered what kind of a therapy he had with a surrogate. She was no fool and concluded that he had sex daily with someone else in the garb of a surrogate. Her thoughts flickered on why he resisted couple therapy at St. Louis instead preferred it with a surrogate in California. She should have known about it and the decision should have been hers. She could be glad that he has better staying power and the matter could end there without further questions. When he returned home that day he was beaming with joy as though he had missed her the whole day. Throwing off his coat he embraced her. How could Nina keep her grievances against him in such circumstances? “He was so much more open and genial. It was amazing. Seeing the change in him made her realise how heavy his burden must have been. They cooked together, they laughed. She told him about her job, he was delighted” (209). Making love that night was perfect as she felt very close to him marvelling at the change in his performance. But the thought of the surrogate kept haunting her: “What had she done? May be if she knew, she would be able to do the same for him, so that he would not have to lie so much on his way to California. It was her wifely duty, and now was the time to bring up this issue, before time had dulled its lustre, and forgetfulness set in” (209).
She was eager to know about his sessions with the sex therapist. He was quick to retort and say that it was only a professional relationship. But she equated sex therapy to prostitution and made him feel very frustrated. The heated argument left them apart that night. The following day Nina tried to employ the technique he had taught her and told him, “Above all I want us to have a solid relationship, with us sharing everything. You are all I have in this country, you are the reason I am here” (211).
When she was introduced to La Leche League, a women’s group that discussed matters concerning empowerment of women, she expected some solution to her problem. Nina shared with them her sense of loss and frustration in her marriage to a man with sexual dysfunction. She spoke about her “loneliness, Ananda’s therapy, her sense of betrayal, her mother and Zenobia, the thoughts of her whole life ahead of her- how, how could she bear it”” (229).
Ananda sought sexual fulfilment with his office clerk Mandy. He drove to her apartment at Clayton Park on a Saturday, where no one knew him. Finding the adulterous relationship growing stronger day by day, he decided never to give it up. The immediate impact was shown in his indifference to Nina. Though his visits to Mandy were exciting she billed him for every minute he spent with her. His experiences with Mandy and Nina were totally different. “Mandy encouraged him to be wild, free, uninhibited, playful. With Nina he was his mother’s son, his sister’s brother, the good husband, playing out a role he had been trained for since childhood. Nine years in Canada had not dimmed the need to be this person” (242). He was a split personality in his seeking fulfilment in his sexual explorations.
Nina busied herself with her admission to the Library School. She was no more the solitary housewife of earlier times, depending for everything on her husband. “She was following the path her husband had trodden when he came here all those years ago, getting a degree that would affect the makeover of her Canadian identity. Two years was a small price to pay for such a metamorphosis, said Ananda” (247).
At the Library School she met Anton, a young Russian, married to a girl from West Indies. Finding Nina very warm and intelligent he began to be close to her. Since both of them being married, he spoke in terms of platonic relationships between them like others in Canada. When a field trip was arranged for Nina to go to Ottawa, Ananda was very glad so that he could continue his clandestine affair with Mandy. When Mandy suspected that his wife would perhaps find a partner during the field trip, he was sure his wife would never do that. That was almost the breaking point in the relationship between Mandy and Ananda as she presumed herself to be the foremost in his life. He even told Mandy that he would die without her as she was considered his saviour. Though apparently all his desires were fulfilled after marriage, everything seemed to drift away. The only place where he felt fully himself was at his work, peering into people’s mouth, which gave him recognition and “he thought of the empty spaces marriage had filled, the comfort of routine, the daily companionship…It was marriage too, that had given him Mandy; in his mind his wife and his mistress were inextricably linked” (254).
While in a restaurant on the last day of the trip, Nina sat very close to Anton. Being impressed by his intelligent comments and jokes, she ignored his occasional touches and strokes. During the course of the conversation he shared his perception of love and intimacy. “I’m married too. But it’s stupid to confine yourself to one person for your whole life. What about adventure, what about experiencing differences? Nobody owns anybody, you know” (261). They held each other as they moved towards their hotel. She went with him to his room. In her loneliness, he overpowered her, and she found herself offering him everything. She begged him to stop, but finally collapsed into each other. She had her own justifications: “That she liked. She had lived. Who can feel guilty about living? Judging from the evidence and the sexual therapy centres, every citizen in North America regarded good sex as their inalienable right. It was her right too” (263). She had a new perception of herself – a sense of her own self, autonomous and independent from others. She did not feel guilty about her sexual adventures: “Her first lover had taken her virginity and her hopes, her second lover had been her husband, her third had made her international” (264).
Their relationship being like an illusion, Anton kept away from Nina for a few days. But that made her suffer as they mutually desired each other. That was the beginning of her doing away with all taboos and traditions. She felt her beliefs were false. Her Hindu faith meant nothing to her as she never practiced it. Her vegetarian life was meaningless too. That weekend she began cooking meat and fish. Ananda beamed with joy at her changed attitude and chewed meat and gulped it down piece by piece. Ananda justified it with the adage, “In Rome, do as Romans do,” but for her “meat eating was the result of fragmentation and distress.” (271).
When Nina went to the library on Monday, fish and beef had become part of her being. She felt less Indian and thought that it was an advantage in Canada. She knew of the immense possibilities open to her as “her body was her own – and that included her digestive system and her vagina” (271). She felt liberated in her sex life and considered it a force of life. Her relationship with Anton was purely a meeting of bodies and not one of having a relationship. She considered it a mere healthy give and take. Anton, on his part, didn’t want it to develop into a serious relationship. Hence, he kept aloof and decided to control himself. But after two months of self control, he thought of the affair with Nina not harmful in any way. She too thought the same and rationalized it as not taking anything away from her husband. “All around her she heard of open marriages, of no bonds but the voluntary, of no living according to the rules of others. Her life was her own; she didn’t owe anybody any explanations” (273). But her marriage was breaking up as there was lack of love between Nina and Ananda.
Their sexual intimacy continued every Wednesday afternoons during off time. She loved his room and setting which “was in perpetual shadow, blurring the distance between night and day, between sex and fulfilment” (279).
Ananda’s sexual exploits with Mandy made him very tolerant and affectionate at home. It is interesting to note the transformation in both Ananda and Nina as they keep betraying each other and finding fulfilment in betrayal.
During summer vacation, Anton would be going to New York, and she would miss him as she would be going to Delhi. When she returned after two months, Ananda was full of conversation. She felt pity for him and mused: “…he must have missed talking when I wasn’t here, poor man… Everybody needs someone, and fate has joined us together” (296). She felt guilty when he showed great pleasure in having her return home. She decided to devote herself to him, but felt it impossible to cross the barrier between them. Lightly she asked if he had any affairs in her absence. The probing question put him off guard.
They try to enjoy each other’s company. But Nina was determined with her obsession to have a child. “In her mid thirties she felt insecure about a future with no children. In Canada she needed a broader base to rest on. She needed something more than Ananda in the home front after her profession was taken care of. Unlike in India, in Canada “it was all man – woman – relationship – love – fulfilment” (299).The passionate expression of love from him left her dissatisfied as he refused to address the issue of having children. Her sense of isolation kept growing as she found her man never understood her need. He was fully preoccupied with practical things such as cooking, housework, car rides and forgot the person of the wife and her vital needs even after three years of marriage. All her hopes of a happy life with Ananda and an immigrant life became mere illusion: “Her pain warned her never to try an affair again. To bargain away her peace of mind for an ephemeral satisfaction made no sense. And when the man was married, it meant he always had an excuse for not committing. Her own marriage did not protect her, while his protected him, one way street from start to finish. Initially it had seemed an adventurous thing to enter into, but once the exhilaration wore off, all the tawdriness lay revealed, along with the heartbreak” (301-2).
She found joy in her library programme and was glad to undertake a field trip to New York. She took it an opportunity to continue with her relationship with Anton. Both Ananda and Nina were glad as they could both go their own ways. In New York, Anton kept cheating his wife Lakshmi when she had night duty in the hospital to be with Nina. In course of a dinner out in a restaurant Anton told her that their relationship had to remain purely on friendship basis.
While returning together to her room in the International Student House, he asked her for a romantic evening with her. When she understood his sinister design she resisted his advances. Though she tried to disentangle herself from his grip, he pinned her down on the bed to have sex forcibly. She was too feeble to resist and it was an agonising experience. He had raped her with whom he had slept for six months. She was determined to report the case. But that would expose her and question her integrity. When the programme ended, she decided to return home vowing to be happy and not to be a victim to circumstances.
Back in Library School, Anton made efforts to apologise, but she ignored him. She couldn’t go on like that for long and thought of bringing the matter to the women’s group. But that would invite police investigation and case. Hence, she came to her own female conclusions: “Been foolish enough to be unaware of the links between former desires and present danger?” (316). When sex with her husband became difficult, one day she thought of giving a cooked up account of her trip. She said she was attacked by a man while on the street at night to snatch her chain. When Ananda questioned her why she had not reported it to him and the authorities, she began to weep.
The writer contrasts Nina’s inner state of mind with the setting of winter with its snow and icy wind as she wished to “escape into the purity of the landscape and be separated from her thoughts forever” (318). As the weather became warmer and green shoots propped up, she had green and fresh hopeful thoughts of a job of her own. As she entertained her prospective hope of happiness, news arrived of her mother’s sudden death. Ananda arranged her to reach New Delhi the following day, enabling her to take her mother’s ashes to be immersed in the Ganges at Rishikesh. With her mother gone, there was no one to call her own. She had no one’s expectations to be met any more as her marriage bond meant nothing. “Her life was now completely her own responsibility, she could blame no one, turn to no one. She felt adult and bereft at the same time” (326).
When she returned to Halifax, Ananda expressed his usual feelings of missing her all the while. The following morning, while making bed she noticed a wavy blond hair next to her pillow. Many things became clear to her as she sat with it on her bed: “The hair explained much – the distance, the silence, the ticket for two months in India, his strange indifference interspersed with tenderness, the shifty look that skittered about her. She didn’t blame him. His body spoke, when his tongue could not” (327-8). She took the hair and taped it to the accounts notebook. She understood that marriage was based on more than one person’s lies. Any exposure would only cause ruin and grief.
After mother’s death, Ananda was her only anchor in the world in her loneliness. But all her hopes got shattered with the golden hair as it proved Ananda’s adventures with white women. As an escape, she had no other option but to go to the Library School. Anton made it a point to express his great regret for what happened. When she expressed her disgust for him, he pleaded forgiveness and absolution from her. She decided never to forgive him so that the crime would continue to wound him. It was a small victory for her. She wanted to encounter Ananda with evidences of his infidelity. But that would mean her own infidelity. They had to examine the core issue why they had betrayed each other. Ananda continued to sympathise with her mother’s loss and comforted that things would change with a job. But she continued to be moody and stubborn behaving like a deprived immigrant. He tried his best to change her ways, but Nina continued to be his opposite even when he philosophised saying, “Life was what you make of it. You could look at a glass and call it half full or half empty. You could look out of the window and see the sky or stare at the mud.” (330). Nina understood his comparisons and the argument continued to taunt them. She accused him of being a drifter having no purpose in life, and seeing nothing beyond the material. He countered her saying Canada offered him everything in life, unlike her living in an unreal world. Her mind was made up: “She could not be happy living on the surface where he floated. For her that was not living at all” (331). But she was helpless in a foreign land without the security of her husband.
Ananda was a man under stress, considering himself unlike other immigrant Indians he knew. They all had a notion of home and family which they recreated in Canada. For him marriage was the only opportunity left for him to rebuild himself. But after marriage everything changed “his mind, his heart, his penis…It was not her fault. It was the situation” (332).
The novelist compares Nina’s hope of regeneration to nature around where buds blossomed and leaves sprouted to new life. Nina had to enjoy every breath of air despite her stress as “her own regeneration was not inevitable as the revolving earth and the tilt of its axis” (332). Eventually she applied for jobs everywhere, except in Halifax as she needed a change to think over her life. They were brought together by fate. Though had no one except each other, yet in their immigrant life Canada freed them from emotional needs from matrimony and social sanction. Unlike in India, she was in a better position for separation in Canada with financial self-sufficiency and social acceptability. She made it clear to Ananda that she wanted to be away from him to be independent.
“She was travelling away from Halifax, deliberately pulling at the bonds that held her. She too was heading towards fresh territories, a different set of circumstances, a floating resident of the western world. When one was reinventing oneself, anywhere could be home. Pull up your shallow roots and move. Find a new place, new friends, a new family. It had been possible once, it would be possible again” (333-4).
Assessing The Immigrant it is evident that the couples are caught up in the insecurity and loneliness in their marriage. They failed to take stock of the situation in the right spirit at the right time to save their marriage.
An analysis of the relationship of the couples in the novel reveals how they failed:
- i) Though Nina and Ananda were people who led lonely lives, Nina was not fully separated from her mother emotionally after marriage. Hence, often thought of home and had planned to bring her mother to Canada when she would have a child. Ananda, evidently had no strong emotional bond with any one after the death of his parents. Hence, both of them were emotionally sufficiently separated from their families to build an ideal marital relationship according to Dr. Judith.
- ii) In their building togetherness based on mutual identification, the couples being on the same pedestal were in an ideal situation. They were ideally set to enter into intimate relationship as their spontaneous attraction to each other culminated in their marriage. Being in diaspora, they were in a better position to live for each other as they had no one else except themselves in their new home.
iii) Their central problem is their inability to establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship due to his sexual dysfunction from the very beginning. He tries to cover it up even by using anaesthetic spray to contain his premature ejaculation. The problem has been ever since his sexual encounters with other white women friends before his marriage. In fact everyone talked about it, bringing shame to him. His only consolation was his Indian wife would be able to cope up with his problem. Nina tried from her side to persuade him to consult the sex therapist. Declining her offer, he preferred to do it on his own with a surrogate woman. This ultimately is the breaking point in Nina’s distrust in her husband. He also made his work a substitution for his sex dysfunction and diverted attention to extramarital affair with white women especially Mandy.
- iv) Nina’s longing to mother a child is never reciprocated by Ananda. His inability to impregnate her added to his resistance to beget a child. It is this frustration in both the partners that drove them to extramarital relationships.
- v) They never protected their privacy from other intruders, thereby breaking up their own intimacy.
- vi) Though Nina attempted to confront his sexual inability by suggesting therapy, he was not open to it. There is lack of trust on his part. They are unable to iron out their differences to save their marriage on the rocks. While Nina suffers in silence, he searches for sexual opportunities elsewhere.
vii) The couple live a boring life with no humour and laughter being shared to intensify their relationship; instead, they burn out their lives in loneliness.
viii) There is absolute lack of sustaining one another. No one ever utters a comforting word to the other. They become merely two persons brought together by wedlock and no emotional bonding ever cross their way.
- ix) Finally the couple never ever continue to cherish their romantic union as very well described by the writer before marriage.
They both led secret lives, wrecking their own marriage. They never acknowledge that they are unfaithful to each other. Instead both take it as a matter of fact that things just happened. In the case of Nina it is accidental infidelity in loneliness when she met Anton. Nina has reasons to justify her stand.
But the case with Ananda is romantic infidelity which is most crazy and destructive form due to temporary insanity of falling in love. It occurs when someone goes through a crisis in life leading to inappropriate affair. Such infidelity is so crazily stimulating that it’s like a drug that can lift one out of depression But between moments of ecstasy, one is more depressed, increasingly alone and alienated in life, and increasingly hooked on an affair partner (“Beyond Betrayal” http://www.psychologytoday.com). As they both had adulterous relationships, the natural outcome is divorce as per Hindu marriage act which states: “Any marriage solemnized…may on petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party has after the solemnization of the marriage has voluntary sexual intercourse with any person other than his or her spouse” (Qureshi 419).
It is frustration that drives both Nina and Ananda escape into betraying their marriage getting entangled in sexual relationships with other partners. Both of them take recourse to their own course of action in their insecurity and loneliness in marriage. Ironically it is the legal security of the marriage and hatred for Nina suffering from his sexual dysfunction that drives Ananda to continue his clandestine affair with Mandy. Frustrated by her life of insecurity and loneliness in wedlock without any hope of a child and satisfactory sexual ecstasy, she seeks fulfillment in extra-marital relationships. Applying the breakdown theory of marriage Ananda’s and Nina’s divorce will easily be granted as the law recognizes an unhappy situation and says to the petitioner: “If you can satisfy the court that your marriage has broken down irretrievably, and that you desire to terminate a situation that has become intolerable to you, then your marriage shall be dissolved whatever may be the cause” (qtd Diwan 22). However, In the novel no formal divorce takes place as Nina only walks out of his life to begin her life anew with the hope of a fresh immigrant experience.
Diwan, Paras. “Key-Note Address.” Law Towards Stable Marriages. Ed. Paras Diwan & Virendra Kumar. Delhi: Seema Publications, 1984, 17-39.
Kapur, Manju. The Immigrant. New Delhi: Random House, 2008. Abbreviated: TI.
Qureshi, Mohammed A. Marriage and Matrimonial Remedies. Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 1978.