“And then the young woman tells her that the patient, Ashoke Ganguli, her husband, has expired. Expired. A word used for library cards, for magazine subscriptions.”
In Chapter 7, after Ashoke’s death in Ohio, Ashima thinks these thoughts, while alone in the house on Pemberton Road. For Ashima, Ashoke is everything: husband, father to her two children. He is the person who organized things around the home, performed the chores, earned the majority of the family’s income. Ashoke is the reason that Ashima has come to the United States in the first place, for she followed her husband out of a sense of a wife’s duty, even though she was terrified of leaving Calcutta. The notion that Ashoke could be simply “gone” is too terrible to contemplate.
This is not to say that Ashima’s entire life depends on Ashoke. She loves her husband, and has grown in his absence, learning to do some of the things that, for years, he took care of on his own. But it would be no exaggeration to say that Ashoke is the person closest to Ashima on earth. The two of them have shared years together. They have been inseparable since moving to Cambridge together, immediately after their wedding in India.
The idea, then, that Ashoke could be simply “expired” is too clinical, too horrible for Ashima to bear. The hospital administrator’s tone, while intended to be professional, seems to Ashima utterly devoid of humanity. This is in keeping with Ashima’s feelings about death and dying in the US more broadly. Ashima feels that, in America, death is an informal affair, something that is not respected and revered as it is in Calcutta. When, for example, Gogol goes on a school trip to a graveyard, and makes an etching of a gravestone, Ashima cannot believe that such “art-making” would occur among the dead. Here, then, is another example of what Ashima considers the foreignness, the strangeness of American attitudes toward dying.