He remembers the page crumpled tightly in his fingers, the sudden shock of the lantern’s glare in his eyes. But for the first time he thinks of that moment not with terror, but with gratitude.
In Chapter 2, when Ashoke names Gogol, the narrator describes his memory of the train accident that almost killed him. That moment resonates throughout the novel, and Lahiri’s narrator makes plain that the painful memory is present to him in the precise moment of naming his son. But the memory in this moment changes. It is still powerful, almost overwhelming. But it is a memory that becomes infused with his parental love for the young Gogol. Gogol becomes a link not only to the past, but to the Gangulis’ new life in America, in Cambridge, where they are making a home together. Gogol the boy does not know this yet, and it will take him years to grow into the knowledge of what this name means to his father.
It should be noted that, during the train-wreck, Ashoke was responsible for his own salvation. If he had not had the presence of mind to drop the page, he might never have been seen. He would then have perished like Ghosh, but without the change to travel beyond India, to see the world. Thus, Gogol’s works are not just an opportunity for intellectual “journeying.” They are, for Ashoke, a very real life-line, a way of communicating with the outside world. Without Gogol, Ashoke would not be alive. Thus the transmission of this name to Ashoke’s first son is an indicator of how Gogol the boy, too, represents a “new life” for his father. Ashoke’s willingness to change the horrible memory of the wreck into the positive memory of his son’s birth is laudable. Indeed, Ashoke does not dwell in the past, nor does he rue leaving Calcutta and his family behind. He is instead thrilled at the opportunities a life in America presents, despite the difficulties of making a new life so far away from home.