Monday, December 14, 2009

Namesake, Kolkota and hot roshogollas

I had been fascinated with Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Namesake’ for a while now and the fact that it was set in kolkota fascinated me even more. In what can only be termed as a strike of poetic justice, I was stuck in kolkota without any outbound tickets for 3 days with just one sathsang on my TODO roster. And that too, I was ‘stuck’ in a room which was pilled from the roof to the floor by the books belonging to the host collected over a period of 15+ years. I hadn’t got a chance to read a book for the last 6 months which is a very long time for me. I had also somehow managed to restrain myself from buying a paperback on those endless sojourns to the railway stations. As it turned out, I allowed myself to get lost for one more time into the papery world of words and phrases.
I thought ‘Namesake’ was extremely genuine, heartbreaking and thoroughly haunting. The novel starts with a young Bengali couple: Ashima and Ashoke moving to New England from Kolkota and starting a new life. The main focus however quickly turns out to be the psychological travails of their son Gogol. Those who have lived the fascinating life of inhabiting two worlds at the same time will relate to this movie. As I did.
Gogol Ganguli emerges as the centerpiece of the novel and its protagonist. Though in characterizing him, Jhumpa threads a potentially hackneyed theme, she paints a character so true and so genuine that I could vouch for the fact that I had known many Gogol’s myself. Ashima reckons that when she listens to her children with her eyes closed, sometimes she feels that she has given birth to strangers. Gogol grows to be an all-american youngster but is dragged east-bound by his parents who inhabit a different world altogether. His struggle is a stunning remainder that one’s cultural and other identities though a huge part of the experience that is life is nevertheless unfailing picked up from the outside. And that no matter how big an emotion these confusions and these yearning provokes, these identities are like chalk drawings on a blackboard which will be eventually wiped off the board leaving only a slight discoloration on the blackboard.
Perhaps what touches me the most is the heartbreaking predicament of Ashima as she pines for the brazen and perhaps what could be considered in the west as an almost uncouth closeness with her family. Being brought up in a world where there is no dearth of human contact, she ends up in the frozen North eastern corner of the US with a husband busy with his academics and with her children trying to organically confound the conundrum that is their life. Her loneliness and her parental yearning haunts every page of the book. I also suspect that there is a part of me which aches for my own mother as much as my heart aches for Ashima as I was reading the book.
These days, as I am endlessly traversing the lengths and breadths of the country, has been quite a revelation. One thing that amazes me is even after all the things that have transpired between me and my parents and even though my days are filled with tireless exhaustion unapologetically doing what I do, there is a corner within me which aches as I see my family writhe and wither in unnecessary pain, anguish, anger, heartache and humiliation. I am amazed that still I am hopeful, after all that they had done, that one day they will see Isha yoga for what it is independent of what it has done to their son. Is this my conscious responsibility or a manifestation of my own need for intimacy, I don’t know.
One of the more poignant moments of the novel is when Ashima decides to go back to Kolkota after the death of her husband. As they are packing and cleaning out their suburban house, she feels strangely lost. After decades of living in the US, she has the sadness of leaving something that is a part of one’s life. Also amazingly, she feels a little alien to her hometown Kolkota where she did all her growing up.
Overall Namesake succeeds as an authentic portrayal of a tiny Bengali-expatriate microcosm in the US. Their nostalgia, their thrills, their fascination and their heartbreak fills endearingly the pages of the book.
P.S: Just for the record, I had clocked 8500 kms in the last 2 months and this post was blogged from Chennai Central just before i catch my next train.


Four Dinners said...

Any pal of Beej is a pal of mine mate...

I read anything and everything I can get my hands on. Never read owt like this before so I'll take yer recommendation and give it a go.



As I like it said...

Watched this movie. Loved it, though I feel the movie doesn't say everything that is on the book(duh!). Am on my way to reserve a copy right away. Neat post.
Wow! 8500km...that's a lot of traveling dude!
cheer away!

Prabhu said...

You didn't say anything about roshogollas ;)

Srividhya said...

I could relate to your post because the book evoked very similar emotions within me. Nice post!