29 July, 2021

Gogol Versus Ganguli

Displaced metaphors play out their genteel turmoil yet again, Jhumpa style

Swapan Nayak
Gogol Versus Ganguli
The protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut novel is Gogol Ganguli, the young son of a Bengali couple who migrated to Massachusetts in the Sixties.

One evening we find Gogol in a hotel room in New Jersey getting dressed for his wedding. He is ready within minutes—it helps that his dhoti is "prepleated...with a drawstring waist". But he has to wait for his bride who is getting her hair styled professionally. Gogol "regrets not having brought his running shoes along; he could have done a few miles on the treadmill before preparing himself for the event".

The Namesake is full of such moments, which, when American readers find them in books by Indian writers living abroad, they take as evidence of two different worlds coming together. The East meeting the West.

The truth, however, is that people everywhere inhabit mixed orders of reality. Consider a turbaned, sherwani-clad bridegroom in a village in Bihar, with a sword on his side, arriving for his wedding on a Massey Ferguson tractor.

This mixed condition could be taken as a given. But it isn’t—not...

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