Jumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth


« At the restaurant his father pulled out the admissions packet for Langford, showing photographs of the campus, smiling students gathered around classroom tables, teachers standing in front of blackboards, caught midsentence by the camera's lens. Academically it was far superior to the school he'd been attending, his father told him, mentioning the percentage of Langford graduates who went on to Ivy League colleges. Amit realized, as his father spoke, that the position in Delhi had been accepted, their house in Winchester already put up for sale. There was no question of his going to school in Delhi; it wasn't worth the trouble to adjust to education in a different country, his father said, given that eventually Amit would be attending an American college. From Langford, during Christmas and after each academic year came to an end, Amit went to Delhi to be with his parents, staying in their flat full of servants in Chittaranjan Park, in a barren(1) room set aside for his stays. He never enjoyed his visits to Delhi, his broken Bengali(2) of no use in that city. It made him miss Calcutta, where all his relatives lived, where he was used to going. His parents had moved to Delhi the year of Indira Gandhi's assassination, and the riots that subsequently raged there, the curfews and the constant vigilance with which his parents had to live, meant that Amit remained cooped up inside, without friends, without anything to do. In that sense it was a relief to him to return to this peaceful town. Four years later his parents were back in America, moving to Houston. In Delhi his father had perfected a laser technique to correct astigmatism that earned him invitations to work and teach in hospitals all over the world. After five years in Houston they'd moved yet again, to Lausanne, Switzerland. They lived in Saudi Arabia now. At Langford, Amit was the only Indian student, and people always assumed that he'd been born and raised in that country and not in Massachusetts. They complimented him on his accent, always telling him how good his English was. He'd arrived when he was fifteen, for sophomore year, which at Langford was called the fourth form, and by that time friendships and alliances among the boys of his class were already in place. At his high school in Winchester he'd been a star student, but suddenly he'd had to work doggedly to maintain his grades. He had to wear a jacket every morning to his classes and call his teachers "masters" and attend chapel on Sundays. Quickly he learned that his parents' wealth was laughable compared to the majority of Langford boys. There was no escape at the end of the day, and though he admitted it to no one, especially not his parents when they called from Delhi every week-end, he was crippled with homesickness, missing his parents to the point where tears often filled his eyes, in those first months, without warning. He sought traces of his parents' faces and voices among the people who surrounded and cared for him, but there was absolutely nothing, no one, at Langford to remind him of them. After that first semester he had slipped as best as he could into this world, swimming competitively, calling boys by their last names, always wearing khakis because jeans were not allowed. He learned to live without his mother and father, as everyone else did, shedding his daily dependence on them even though he was still a boy, and even to enjoy it. Still, he refused to forgive them. »
Jumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth, 2008

Compréhension de l'écrit
1. Who is the main character and where does he live?
2. In which country was he born? Justify by quoting from the text.
Explain how the main character is connected to the following places:
a) Langford
b) Winchester
c) Calcutta
d) Delhi
e) Massachusetts
4. What do we learn about his parents (origin, occupation, social status)?
a) What consequences did the father's job have on the life of his family?
b) Where does his father give him information about his new school and has Amit got any choice? (justify by quoting the text)
6. In your own words, explain to what extent Langford was a new experience to the main character. Justify by quoting at least five details from the text. (40-50 words)
7. "[…] he had slipped as best as he could into this world, […]" . Explain the sentence in your own words.
8. Why had his parents chosen Langford for him? (30-40 words)
9. "Still, he refused to forgive them." . Comment on the sentence and explain the character's feelings. (30-40 words)
Expression écrite
At the end of his first semester at Langford, Amit writes a letter to his parents, pretending he is happy. (300 words)
(1)Barren: empty.
(2)Bengali: language spoken in the South of India.


Compréhension de l'écrit
1. The main character is Amit and he lives in Langford (USA).
2. He was born in the USA.
"[…] people always assumed that he'd been born and raised in that country and not in Massachusetts." .
a) Langford is where his boarding school is situated and where his parents sent him when he was 15 when they moved to Delhi.
b) Winchester is the town where he used to go to high school and live before going to Langford.
c) Calcutta is the city where most of his relatives live.
d) Delhi is where his parents moved to after leaving Winchester.
e) Massachusetts is the state where he was born.
4. His parents are from India. His father is a well-known scientist, he is an eye-specialist. The family is rich. They have a high social status and must belong to the upper-middle-class.
a) The family had to travel and move frequently to different countries because of the father's job, as a result Amit was sent as a boarder to Langford.
b) The scene takes place at a restaurant and Amit is not supposed to give his opinion, I quote: "There was no question of his going to school in Delhi".
6. – Amit had to work harder to keep being a good student as Langford academic level is high.
"At his high school in Winchester he'd been a star student, but suddenly he'd had to work doggedly to maintain his grades." .
– The rules at Langford are different from the ones he knew when he was at Winchester High school.
"He had to […] call his teachers `masters'" , "He had slipped as best as he could into this world […] calling boys by their last names" , "He had to […] attend chapel on Sundays" .
– He had to dress differently as well.
"He had to wear a jacket every morning to his classes" , "[…] jeans were not allowed" .
– The social background of his schoolmates was not the same.
"[…] he learned that his parents' wealth was laughable compared to the majority of Langford boys." .
– He had a different lifestyle.
"There was no escape at the end of the day […]" , "[…] he was crippled with homesickness, missing his parents […]" , "He sought traces of his parents faces and voices among the people who surrounded and cared for him […]" .
7. As Langford was totally new to him and he had to change life, he did his best to fit in and to adapt to that new lifestyle.
8. His parents didn't want to uproot him from an environment he knew even though Langford partly changed his life, that's why they sent him there not to force him to adapt to India. Morevover, they wanted the best schools and university for him, so that he could succeed and have a wide range of opportunities in his future life.
9. Although Amit had to change life and to adapt to a new one at Langford, he seems to enjoy his new life and independence but he is still resentful and blames his parents for sending him there and leaving him in America, that's why he is homesick.
Expression écrite
Amit, Langford, USA
Dear father and Mother, I'm writing to you as it's been quite a long time now since you left to settle in India, so I wanted to tell you about my life here at the end of that first semester at Langford. I must admit I was a bit lost and I had mixed-feelings at first as life here is totally different from the one I had when we lived in Winchester, but everything is alright. The school is of course different but life at school is also radically different as well. When I attended school in Winchester we didn't use to call our teachers "masters", here it is what we have to call them, but needless to say I got used to it immediately. Something which is also new to me is that our masters call us by our last name.
Although I'm not a Christian, here I have to attend church every Sunday, but I feel happy doing that as it is a means for me to discover what it is being a Christian, however it seems strange to me. You remember, I used to wear jeans when I went to high school in Winchester, here it is not allowed so I had to change that too and wear a jacket. You can see that I have had to adapt to a very different lifestyle here, but it is fine and my schoolmates are very friendly with me. It is different from the life we used to have when we lived altogether in Winchester but somehow it teaches me to adapt to new situations, to fit in a different group of people and to become autonomous and gain independence which is something that a young man must learn so as to stand on his own two feet at one moment or another. I really appreciate that and think it has made me become more mature and I'm very happy with that.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you soon and anyway I'll see you when I visit you for Christmas.
Love from Amit