My tribute to the protagonists Ashoke Ganguly and his wife Asheema Ganguly of Jhumpa Lahiri’s brilliant novel ‘The Namesake’, which was adapted into a film by Meera Nair in 2007, starring Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Kal Penn.
Written during the first day of PANDORATHON: an online writing festival happening in The Significant League, a literary group in Facebook in the month of May. This is in response to a prompt initiated by Dr. Santosh Bakaya, author, poet, academician.
They walked along the green trail of the majestic Victoria Memorial. The light brown patches of dry mud and weeds shrieked under their feet, crunching, letting them know of their existence alongside the opulent greenery. Was it the same park which she visited spuriously, tempted by the easy banter of her friends in college in the late 1960’s? The Kolkata which was burning, seething with the rage of unemployment, fascism and the need to free speech and dissent, with the baggage of uncertainty looming large over their shoulders. Her hometown Kolkata, from which she fled, spurred on by sheer curiosity to explore life across the oceans with an unknown Bengali researcher in fiber optics, Ashoke Ganguly, settled in the cold, snowy city of Boston.
For years, they had walked the baby steps of domesticity in that faraway land of whom she never heard before her betrothal. They had borne two children, hopscotching within the topography of their familial ties. But in the old park beset with the memories of their early youth, they seemed to forget they were parents to high school kids now, the son Gogol being on the verge of graduating school.
“This time the trip to India is so special, no? We came after years, and for the whole of summer!” He said, absorbing the sultry, humid air, sitting on an old bench of the park.
“I’ve been longing to ask this for years…What was it that made you decide you wanted to marry me?” He asked, in jest, lifting the veil of many years of their togetherness, shrouded in the mystery of their surrendering souls.
“Perhaps you were the best of the lot, undoubtedly better than the widower with four children, and the man with one arm, working as an upper-division clerk in the railways.” She answered with a coy smile, like years before.
“And yes, also because I liked your shoes. I even wore them secretly when you came to see me that day, remember, with your parents and relatives!” She confessed, giggling like a child.
And yes, he giggled with her too, as the birds around chirped.
“All these years you haven’t told me you loved…my shoes!”
“Do you want me to say ‘I love you’ with a peck on the cheek, like the Americans?”
Thy giggled again, childlike. The baggage of simple truths hung around them as they strolled along, curtly holding hands. Simple truths like their son Gogol being disgusted with two names, the nick name Gogol and the official name Nikhil, which he discarded eventually, only to adapt to it later (Did he adapt to it, really?) Truths like their daughter Sonali or Sonia choosing to put the dollar bill in her mouth on the day of her rice-eating ceremony, Sonia who remained a true American in her heart. Truths like deaths of family members they couldn’t process, from far away, truths fumbling all the way in their diaspora life, unwittingly embodied for years. How many years had it all been?
….But wait…Who was she talking to just now, as the bare green grass crunched under her feet in the old park, a familiar home now? Was the tall, lanky man with big glasses, her professor husband strolling along with her still? She looked around and there he was, figuring intermittently in a blurry haze with large, puffy eyes, waving at her, faintly smiling with the corner of his lips. He was real and surreal at the same time, just the way she had felt his presence when she flew to Kolkata with her children to scatter his ashes in the river Ganges. Just the way she felt him waving at her with wistful eyes in the airport for the last time, before leaving for Cleveland, Ohio for the summer teaching assignment, the city where he breathed his last in an unfamiliar hospital’s emergency room.
The heart-rending cries of that night that emitted from her mouth on that fateful day. The crackling sound of her attempts to break her ‘shakha-pola’, remnants of her identity as Mrs. Ganguly in that empty, large master bedroom ten thousand miles away in a barren friendless night. It all came back to her with the remembered wind drift.
She was 45 now, ripened enough, yet young enough to start afresh with new trajectories. She chose to fly again to the Kolkata of her youth, leaving behind a house of memories, leaving behind overgrown children with their search for their own skies in the land of opportunities.
Gogol was officially an architect now, with truth of a thwarted live-in relation with his first girlfriend, with the truth of his wife Mousumi’s betrayals, the truth of a broken home, but he had finally found himself, he had found his moorings in the ripped-off pages of his father’s old book dedicated to him. Sonia and her American husband had come to see her off at the airport, extracting promises from her to stay with them once every year.
The birds chirped and crooned once more, as memories wafted around as old lullabies. There was an inexplicable feeling of joy and sorrow lingering in the old park of Victoria that filled her conscience right then. The sorrow of the distance between Ashoke and herself which she couldn’t swim across, the joy of his surreal, yet palpable presence which she embraced tightly, being his widow, his ‘new, coy bride’.
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