The NameSake, story of ABCDs
Posted by Alok on March 26, 2007
A Bengali academician moves to US to study and work on advice by a fellow passenger on an ill-fated train, comes back to marry a Bengali girl and then grows up two children in US who struggle for their identities as ABCDs. This is THE NAMESAKE, a book and a movie. I watched the movie after reading the book, deliberately though. Once again the belief that a movie cannot do justice to a piece of literature reinforced itself as I continued through the adaptation by Mira Nair who tries her best to capture the essence of a 300 page book in a 2 hr movie. She is successful to an extent that the film is able to showcase the emotions flowing though the main characters. But she fails to get the strength and power of the characters totally out on the screen. Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters are stronger, her story more gripping and more beautifully written.
The story is about Ashoke Ganguli and his family. He names his son as Gogol, the namesake being a Russian author Nikolai Gogol. Gogol grows up hating his name and the Indian culture forced onto him by his family. The story has a twist here. After Gogol’s father dies, Gogol is reminded of his responsibilities towards his mother and sister. He shaves off his head in respect of his dead father, becomes emotional and sentimental and to an extent less confused and less frustrated. Suddenly he becomes a darling son in the eyes of the audience. This transition is very subtly yet very beautifully crafted by the author. He even marries a Bengali girl, well not because his mother fixed his first date but because he fells in love with her. It’s a different thing that he is divorced in two years because of adultery on his wife’s part.
The book very well captures the struggle for identity in an alien land, fought everyday by expatriates seeking solace in the company of fellow countrymen. These are people who feel nostalgic about their homeland every now and then, who are concerned about the culture their children are growing up in, who want their children to marry an Indian, who read a letter from their near and dear ones hundreds of times crying every time nonetheless, who have learnt to celebrate Christmas with the same fanfare as they once celebrated Diwali. The problem arises when their children, born in the land of opportunities face this dilemma between the land they belong to and the land their parents belong to. They are not able to understand why their parents invite Indians every weekend, serve samosas and want to go back to India at the first possible opportunity. They want to be Americans; hanging out at MacD’s, kissing in the open, and not wanting to be an Engineer or a doctor. Well, one cannot blame them for they have always seen this only. It is unfair to even expect that they can behave like an Indian. This struggle leads to frustration and confusion in these kids. They become detached to their families and try to be an American, sometimes overdoing things.
For people who are still wondering why actually Gogol was named Gogol, I would advice watching the movie if not reading the book. The movie is passé but maybe because I saw the movie after reading the book with high expectations. I can guarantee that this story will be liked more by someone who has lived outside India at some point in his life. Don’t watch the movie if you are expecting a typical masala movie, watch it for Tabu and Irfan Khan. But as always there is nothing better than reading the book and feeling the emotions through the words.