Summary

A year goes by. Gogol still lives uptown, in New York City, and works for a large architecture firm. He studies for his licensure exam and rides the train most weekends to see his mother and sister near Boston. He has ended things with Maxine, having grown mentally apart from her in the months following Ashoke’s death. Maxine wanted, for example, to travel with the family to place Ashoke’s ashes near the Ganges, and Gogol asked her not to, angering her. Gogol begins an affair with a married architect, who lives in Brooklyn, and although he desires her physically, he feels no emotional connection to her, and eventually grows despondent at enabling her to cheat on her husband. Ashima starts bothering Gogol more and more about a girlfriend, and after Gogol evades the question (and ends the furtive relationship with the married woman), he agrees to go on a date with a family friend—one set up by his mother. The friend is Moushumi, the girl with the English accent who used to read at Ganguli family parties, years ago. Nikhil has not seen her since.

They have a drink at a bar downtown. Moushumi seems to remember a great deal about Gogol, whom she initially calls Gogol, and about the Ganguli family, although the two were hardly close, and only saw each other at occasional Bengali gatherings. They begin to talk: Moushumi is a PhD student in French literature at NYU, and when she lived in Paris, several years ago, she was engaged to an American banker named Graham. The couple split acrimoniously, and Moushumi fears that Nikhil has probably heard this story of “nuptial disaster” from his mother.. The two settle up at the bar, splitting the tab, and walk out for dinner. They go to a French bistro nearby, and Gogol worries that Moushumi might find the decor tacky or touristy. She calls it “authentic,” however, and they eat. Gogol treats, and they part with Moushumi telling Gogol to call her again some time.

They go out for lunch a week later, at an Italian restaurant near Gogol’s work. They have an enjoyable time reminiscing, and Gogol recalls more and more of their shared experiences as kids in the Boston metro area. After lunch, it begins to rain and becomes cold, and Gogol notices that Moushumi has prepared herself with an umbrella. He has nothing to guard himself against the weather, and so they go to a clothes shop nearby, where Moushumi picks out a hat for Gogol and says she will buy it for him. Gogol is grateful, and as she checks out, he notices her noticing another hat on a rack, an expensive one. They leave the store, and Gogol returns after work and buys the expensive hat for Moushumi, vowing to himself to give it to her on her birthday—which he does not know yet.

He comes over to Moushumi’s place for a third date; she begins cooking dinner and they make love, botching the dinner in the process. Their romance follows quickly; after several months, they are spending a great deal of time together. They marvel that, despite knowing each other as children and promising themselves not to get involved with Bengalis, they have found each other in New York. And, to boot, they were set up by their parents, on a blind date—in a manner not dissimilar to “arranged” relationships in Bengali culture.

The chapter ends with the narrator describing, from Moushumi’s point of view, her life before Gogol. She went to Brown, and though her parents wanted her to find a lucrative career, like medicine, she fell in love with literature. She traveled to France and began her romance with the American banker. He proposed to her, and she accepted. But they began fighting after moving from Paris back to New York, and Moushumi realized that the banker was not at all comfortable with some of the customs of her Bengali relatives. They fought more, and eventually split, prompting a period of despair for Moushumi. On meeting Gogol, Moushumi has clawed her way out of the depression, and she speaks of her life with the banker as something deep in her past.

Analysis

Gogol’s life can be tracked in different ways: one method might be to plot his relationships with women. Gogol’s time with Ruth, in college, coincided with his intellectual growth—his dawning love of the study of architecture. In New York, his relationship with Maxine was an introduction to a “bohemian,” intellectual life—and to another way of relating to one’s parents. Although Nikhil does not get to know Ruth’s family, he does become quite intimate with the Ratliffs, and it is only upon the death of his father that Gogol leaves their orbit and returns, emotionally, to the Ganguli family. Gogol’s “emotional” return to them is echoed by Sonia’s physical move, from California back to the east coast, to be with her mother full-time.

Moushumi is from Gogol’s “world,” and he is from hers. They have known each other, vaguely, since they were children. They have a shared set of cultural experiences, and they know the kinds of pressures, customs, and anxieties that children of Bengali parents feel in the United States. Moushumi’s relationship with the wealthy American banker, in Paris, mirrors Gogol’s with Maxine, as each shows their desire to move beyond their own cultural horizons, to get to know new people and new places. It should be said, however, that Moushumi has traveled more than Gogol; he has spent much of his life on the Amtrak Northeast Corridor, whereas Moushumi, in Paris, struck out for a land that was not her “native” India and not the United States, the home to which she moved as a girl.

Lahiri’s narrator frame’s Moushumi and Gogol’s courtship as a “return” for both of them. This is not without irony, for each has spent a good deal of life attempting to move beyond the closed circle of their Bengali families. But Moushumi and Gogol realize that they might be able to negotiate those familial pressures, and the pressure of living in New York City, together, with someone else who understands the Bengali-American experience.

Moushumi and Gogol’s meal at the French bistro, on their first date, is a telling one. Nikhil worries about the “authenticity” of the restaurant, and Moushumi assures him that it does a good job of approximating French cuisine. This takes up one of the central concerns of the novel: what it means to be “authentically” from a place, and to experience a culture directly. Moushumi believes that she understands French culture from having lived there, for a time, as an expatriate. Certainly, Gogol and Moushumi understand something of Bengali-American life, from growing up in that community in New England. But, as Gogol noticed when he was in Calcutta, neither Gogol nor Moushumi is entirely “Bengali,” and sometimes each has felt not entirely “American” either, despite growing up in the US.

For Lahiri, then, the cultural displacement that Gogol and Moushumi feel, from India to the US to France and back, is a permanent one. It is not even clear that this displacement applies only to American-born children of Bengalis. Perhaps Gogol and Moushumi have experienced more cultural displacement than some—but one is always moving between cultures, between worlds, when one forms a new relationship. Gogol’s life with Moushumi will be fundamentally different from his life with Ruth, or with Maxine. Each relationship presents, for Gogol, an opportunity to remake who he is, and what he desires. Gogol appears to grow as a person, and to learn about himself, by opposing his own values to those of the people around him—his friends and romantic partners.

Lahiri also seems to be making a statement about fate, and the influence of those around us in shaping our decisions. There was nothing Gogol and Moushumi wanted to avoid more than being “set up” by their parents, on a blind date. Yet each finds himself or herself in that position. Each went on the date—and they fell in love. Gogol and Moushumi are so sure that they wanted “out” of their Bengali-American lives, they see themselves re-written into those lives, dating people who share their cultural outlook. It is not clear whether Lahiri believes that this union is an inevitable one, or merely a matter of happenstance. But the narrator does make plain that, by hoping to avoid being with another Bengali, both Moushumi and Gogol managed, in New York, to do exactly that.


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