Not A Book Review: The Namesake

It’s the story of my life.

Twenty years since its release and I managed to read it only now. It all started with a wish to watch the screen-adaptation of the book under the same name “The Namesake”. For some strange reason, I wished to read the book first, so I did. The very next day an order was placed, received it. Oh the happiness a new book brings!

Unable to contain my excitement, I hopped on immediately to read. It begins with the story of Ashoke and Ashima, two strangers bound by wed-lock. Forced to leave their families and country behind for a better job prospect abroad. Their initial struggle to adapt to a new country, a new culture, a new life has been vividly depicted.

The author did a great job portraying the characters in all its subtleties. Ashoke a doting husband and father attending to his tasks dutifully, Ashima the ever obedient wife who despite her initial hardships, learns to adapt in this new life, away from her family all these years and starts a life of her own towards the end.

Our main protaganist is Gogol, my main reason to write this review. I immediately connect to this character for one particular reason: His hatred for his name. Gogol is me in more than one way.

Gogol hates the name for its meaninglessness, its awkwardness and the humiliation it brings him from time to time. The name was bestowed to him as a second thought, when his actual name decided by his grandmother, never made it to his parents via mail. They were forced to choose a name, which led to Gogol. The name of his father’s favourite author: Nikolai Gogol, the famous Russian novelist.

Initially, what was meant to be a pet name, transcribed into his birth certificate, which later on made into his school certificates and life. Gogol Ganguli, did not sit well with him for the longest time, so he decides to change it for good before he enters college. And so he did. Christened as Nikhil now, happy to have made that decision, he starts college. He is reminded of Gogol instantly when he visits home. The name is a constant reminder of his past and Nikhil his future.

Not so lucky as him, I disliked my name for the longest time but never got around changing it. Even hated my parents for naming me so different and weird. Gogol’s struggle is unsettlingly relatable cause I have been through the same. Standing up before the teacher reads your name to avoid any embarrassment. Watching your friends make fun of it. Avoiding any event where your name will be called out. To name a few. The struggle was real.

The story revolves around the lives of these characters and their growth. It brings in a sense of attachment and detachment at the same time. The process of adulthood, the parallels between Gogol and his parents life at similar age’s are narrated flawlessly. The experience is personal to the author(Jhumpa Lahiri) and it can be seen in the writing. A well observed piece of cultural distinctions between the American way and the Bengali way of life.

My bond with Gogol is not only because of his aversion towards his name. Also, because he reflects the first generation kid, born American with Indian roots, who is American at heart but forced to adapt Indian traditions too.

I am no American myself, purely Indian by roots and upbringing, the comparison in my life is the South versus North. A South Indian living in the North is not unheard of, probably a thousand memes and content already out there in its name. But the experience is very unique to each one.

Growing up, I was a Hindi speaking, roti eating, Bollywood watching, Malayalee kid. Unaware of my roots except the language, I could speak the language with a lisp. Malayalam is tough people.

The transition from that to a fluent Malayalam speaking, rice eating and loving, South Indian films enthusiast was gradual and long.

Just like Gogol and Sonia hated visiting Calcutta, I hated visiting my hometown. It was an yearly trip to God’s own country, parents in preparation for weeks before the actual trip. Buying gifts and whatnot for the family and friends. Packing in everything tightly to fit in no more than 3 suitcases. It’s hard to travel with so much luggage and 3 kids, they had to keep count.

We survived the ordeal of eating rice, sleeping at 8, using bathrooms outside the house for a month or so. My pain blinded me from seeing the happiness in my parent’s eyes. The long awaited meet up with their families, the childlike enthusiasm whilst enjoying home-made delicacies and visiting places they grew up in. The glee with which they would introduce each relative, as if each relative carried within a piece of their childhood.

As an adult now, I relate with it. Staying away from parents and the wait to meet them is difficult. Gogol felt that when he lost his father, the pain of not being with them, when priority was fulfilling his needs, selfish but understandable, instead of his parents.

You learn how life goes on even after tragedies and how everything falls back to the new normal. It’s like a puzzle already solved, there are no putting back of pieces here, because the pieces are already in place. You just need to stay where you are, let life’s flow take you with it.

To any kid growing up between two worlds, this book will be utterly relatable. Whether you are an American born desi or a Gulf born desi or Desi born away from home like me, this book will form a connection which hits home. You do not have to be in their shoes to understand the transient nature of life, its complications and its duality. You just need to be YOU.

Finally, now that I have read and soaked in the good works, looking forward to the brilliant performances of Irfan Khan and Tabu in the movie. THE NAMESAKE.

P.S – If you managed to read till the end, you must have found it relatable. Does this hit a chord with you too? Let me know in the comments below.

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