with Ashima Ganguli's labour pain, the chronological events
that occur throughout the course of the novel Namesake
by Jhumpa Lahiri, depict an Indian- Bengali family. This is
a brilliant tale told by an author who has a candid grasp
on expat life in the United States. In her previous book Interpreter
of Maladies, she writes about many intricate relationships
in a backdrop of the American lifestyle. But nowhere before
did she portray the life of a woman so truly entangled as
well as alienated from her Bengali way of life.
of her readers would argue that a shelf-full of books have
already been written with the same theme. However, no novel
has ever talked about certain aspects as this one--one of
which is our very own culture of keeping a "dak nam"
and a "bhalo nam". The title of the book
is derived from this idea also.
and Ashoke were waiting for their son's name to be given by
Ashima's grandmother and the letter got lost somewhere between
Calcutta (now called Kolkata) and Boston and they were compelled
by the legal system of the foreign land they inhabited, to
give him a name before leaving the hospital. Ashoke was also
compelled to give his son a name, which saved him from an
accident that happened when he was 22 and nearly killed him.
Lahiri like other Diaspora writers shows the struggle of the
Bengali people to keep their identity with a considerable
dexterity. As Ashima feels homesick and urges her husband:
"I am saying hurry up and finish your degree. I am saying
I don't want to raise Gogol alone in this country. It's not
right. I want to go back."
is displayed. But eventually the same Ashima learns to believe
that this foreign land has become her home away from home.
The children, however, feel the three-bedroom apartment and
the surrounding environment as their true home. And when Gogol's
mother persuades him to go to a gathering of Bengali young
people (who took pride in calling themselves ABCD (American
Born Confused Deshi) he feels astonished by their eagerness
to celebrate the functions which his parents forced him to
book captures one's attention and is hard to put down once
begun. Gogol is an embodiment of young American Bangali boy
who thinks of his own country as the Americans do "India".
These boys are more comfortable in the company of American
girls rather than a deshi girl. He changes his name
to Nikhil once he is old enough to do so. He feels that the
love of his parents which is private and uncelebrating is
very depressing. He rather enjoys all the things the Americans
do when in love.
the days he sits with Maxine's (Gogol's girlfriend) family
on a thin strip of beach, looking out onto the gathering jade
lake, surrounded by other homes, overturned canoes. Long docks
jut into the water. tadpoles dart close to the shore. He does
as they do, sitting on a folding chair and reading, a cotton
cap on his head, applying sun block at intervals to his arms,
falling asleep after barely a page."
compares his own holidays with his parents, he feels no nostalgia
for the vacations he has spent with his family, and he realises
now that they were never really true vacations at all. Instead
they were overwhelming, disorienting expeditions either going
to Calcutta, or sight seeing in places they did not belong
to and intended never to see again.
Gogol finds (or so he thinks) his true soulmate who is also
a Bangali by birth but American by upbringing. In fact, she
is an independent, hard-working, headstrong woman who doesn't
let anyone else rule her. They were attending a party one
night: "Gogol can't shake the feeling that half the people
in the room have slept with one another". Gogol finally
learns to appreciate nomenclature of his parent's in his thirties.
another novelist, Monica Ali, who's a Bangladeshi-born British,
had used the same theme in her novel Brick Lane where a young
Bangali young woman is married to a man much older than herself
living in the UK. She describes the homesickness and later
brings herself to like her home she struggles to make. And
finally when her husband wants to leave for Bangladesh, she
decides not to go with him.
Anita Desai Bharati Mukherjee all have used the same theme
in different books. Using this theme is not new phenomenon
in the literature of South Asian Diaspora. But the inner conflict
of identity within the characters of all these novels doesn't
seem to wither away even over time. Searching for an identity
in a foreign land is becoming the subject of more and more
writers who are being recognised by the literary world. This
trend is likely to stay some more decades.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004