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Uzair Inamdar
K. Braasch
EWRT – 2
November 28, 2016

Into foreign soil.
Imagine a sapling born into a place where its kind thrives; an assured guardianship of
similar trunks and leaves all around it; the warmth and comfort of the earth where it started its
journey, and the several before it; and the familiarity of the winds and the rain that periodically
help it nurture and reproduce. What would happen to such a sapling, let alone a tree, if it were to
be uprooted from its origin — its home — and planted back into a foreign soil where there were
other trees, but everything else was different?
“Mrs. Sen’s,” by Jhumpa Lahiri is one such story about a wife from India, who had
seemingly come to America with her husband in search of a better life, but battles through each
day in search of happiness and belonging. No matter how hard she tries, she always ends up
wishing herself back to India. Lahiri illustrates this time and time again in her story. Mrs. Sen is
seen to be comparing the car, the society, and the neighborhood of America to that of India often
citing the latter to be better in every context. Mrs. Sen even asks Elliot how long it would take
for her to drive back to Calcutta (119). In one instance when Elliot’s mother asks Mrs. Sen if rest
of her things were in India, and she replies by saying: “Yes, everything is there” (113). Now,
even though through context we would evaluate that Mrs. Sen was referring to her things when
she says “everything is there” (113), but on closer inspection, it isn’t impossible for someone to
conclude that Mrs. Sen was actually referring to her life and happiness; that even though she was
physically present in front of Elliot and his mother, her heart remained back home in India.


Shaila Abdullah depicts something very similar with the character of Ma in “Forever
Dusk,” in which she talks about a heart breaking story about Mansi, a daughter trying to bring
her old mother to the States only to subsequently come across the death of her brother. On
speaking of her desire to Ma, she is met with ignorance and denial. Ma is fearful and
melancholic of leaving her abode in which she once held a complete family, and in which she has
resided for as long as she can remember; a place where even the ants share a connection with her
(77). A major portion of the story includes the mother and daughter reminiscing the old stories
and incidents that happened in their old home in Pakistan. Even though Mansi came to Pakistan
to convince her mother to come with her to America, the feeling of home overwhelms her too.
Her feelings, described by Abdullah perfectly illustrate this. About Mansi she says, “In the pitch
black all perspective diminished and turned her heart into an impenetrable mass of sorrow.
Somewhere in her journey of independence, she had lost something precious, her roots,
memories of a beautiful childhood, a heavenly gift” (79). This is what home truly means to
someone; it is the place where you come from, and where your memories belong. And no matter
how much better and comfortable a place is, it can never replace the feeling of true home.
As we can see that both stories, by Lahiri and Abdullah, are very similar in talking about
the hardships that their respective characters go through by the thought of staying away from
their homeland. Foreign land made them both feel alienated and helpless; it was too much for
either of them to let go of the memories, and to come to a place where the rules and customs
were totally different from their own. Be it the applying the crushed vermilion powder on the
forehead or missing the voice of women laughing and gossiping, Mrs. Sen didn’t want anything
to change from her time in Calcutta, India (Lahiri 115,117). Even for Ma letting go of memories
from within the house or from the streets was an agonizing task; every sight in her home and


neighborhood struck a chord in her heart (Abdullah 80). Was there any reason to bear all this
suffering? Was it all for the best? Had Ma’s son, Ayaz, not died, would she still remain sad?
The two stories and characters are very similar and yet very different in a lot of ways.
Mrs. Sen came to America while she was still young as compared to Ma. She didn’t have to stay
alone all by herself in an empty house for several years like Ma did. Mrs. Sen also had her
husband to herself who could take care of her and to whom she could talk to. Things like these
could play a major role in what a person could feel when leaving her home or stepping in the a
new one. Although the actual reason as to why Mrs. and Mr. Sen came to America is unknown, it
can be surmised from the few sentences that Mrs. Sen speaks during an emotional breakdown in
front of Elliot. The part where she says “They think I live the life of a queen, Elliot,” tells us that
when they came to America, they came with a dream and out of their own free will. They came
in search for a better life (Lahiri 125). Also it can be understood that Mrs. Sen was an educated
woman who could speak English and comprehend the rules of her new surroundings. Mrs. Sen
had the potential and possibility to fit in, to make the new place her home. But she refused to do
so, she refused to let go.
Ma on the other hand was illiterate, did not speak English, and was too old to amend any
of her traits or habits. She had no one in her life except for her two children. After living all these
years, getting used to living alone, Ma had forgotten the happiness of living with her loved ones.
The love of her home and surroundings had become stronger compared to the absent and distant
love of her children. She only needed to remember what it felt to live with a family to value it
again. We can see this when, after coming to America she seems to have forgotten the pain of
leaving her home in Pakistan. Her grandson, Ayan had become her reason for happiness.
Abdullah beautifully describes the time when Ma and Ayan were together; it was “as if the world


around them had faded into white vapor and there were just the two of them left in a relationship
of blood and undying love” (82). It would have been no surprise that if Ma ended up staying with
Ayaz — who was committed to taking care of his mother — her time in America wouldn’t have
been significantly a hard one. Why would it be? There was no one and nothing back in Pakistan
except for the memories of her children, with whom she was going to live. In-fact her time of
departure after Ayaz’s death also makes Mansi think that she did not want to leave, but because
she was helpless, she had to let her go (Abdullah 87). So it is safe to say that had fate not been so
cruel to Ma, she would have ended up happy in America staying with her son and daughter, and
her grandson, making some more new memories.
The circumstances of Mrs. Sen and Ma, though somewhat similar, fail to highlight the
reality. The cliché statement that “home is where you heart belongs” still holds true; and the heart
is fickle. Ma finds the resting place for her heart with her children, whereas what was required of
Mrs. Sen, was a little effort to fit in. She needed to learn to drive, she needed to understand the
societal rules of women in American. Had she done those things she could have led the same life
she did once in India; she could gossip, have a friend circle and be independent in going where
ever she wants. As for Ma, to be fair, it was in her best interest to stay with her children than to
stay thousands of miles away from them.
So coming back to the original question — what would happen to a sapling placed in a
foreign soil? Well, it all depends on the conditions of its new environment. If the new
environment is even more nurturing than the previous one, the sapling would inevitably grow in
a big tree. Even though like people, it may have a hard time adjusting to the new place initially,
sometimes it is best for it to be moved. For its old place could be soon facing a drought, or its
land and fellow companions could be cleared off by wood and paper industry. Sometimes we


can’t know what’s best for us, and the bigger picture is not always clearly visible. The best we
can do is keep pushing through and try to find the best in every situation. Clinging over the past
and whining over why things aren’t the way they were is pointless. The past is there to learn
from — to live in the present — in hope of the future.

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