Summary

After a year of dating, Moushumi and Gogol marry. Their parents plan the ceremony, which takes place in the New Jersey suburbs, close to Moushumi’s family’s new home. Although they would have preferred an elegant ceremony in Manhattan, their parents insist on organizing a gathering that follows Bengali traditions. Gogol and Moushumi decide it is easier to go along with their parents’ wishes than to contradict them. The ceremony is long, and includes periods of sitting, standing, and eating that Gogol and Moushumi barely understand. They speak only a little during. Gogol is struck by Moushumi’s beauty, in her traditional sari, and when they do manage to talk to one another, after the wedding is over, they remark on how relieved they are to be alone together. In their hotel room that evening, they make love and tally how much money they’ve been given: over 7,000 dollars. Gogol jokingly calls Moushumi Mrs. Ganguli—since they both know she will keep her maiden name, Mazoomdar.

The two rent an apartment on Third Avenue in the Twenties, downtown. They furnish it with items from Ikea, and Gogol enjoys the patterns of their married life. Occasionally he fears he is a “back-up” to Graham, the banker, with whom Moushumi had planned an extravagant wedding. Gogol shudders inwardly, a little, when he sees Moushumi’s wedding dress for her cancelled first wedding still in their closet. Moushumi, however, says it’s nothing, and that she’ll have it dyed a different color someday. In spring of that year, the couple goes to Paris, where Moushumi gives a talk at the Sorbonne as part of her doctorate. Despite studying its architecture in school, Gogol has never visited France, and he enjoys being a tourist, taking in the sights and sounds of the city, as Moushumi goes about her academic work.

After delivering her paper, Moushumi meets Gogol at a cafe. She is visibly upset, and remarks that she misses Paris. Gogol tries to take her picture, but Moushumi, angry, says she doesn’t want to look like a “tourist” there. They leave the cafe and, soon after, return to America. Lahiri’s narrator changes the scene to a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn, that May, where Moushumi and Gogol are attending a dinner-party thrown by Donald and Astrid, friends of hers from Brown. Gogol is both drawn to and frustrated by the group attending the party. They are intellectuals, artists, Brooklynites. They are wealthy, mostly—and it doesn’t help that Donald and Astrid set Moushumi up, years ago, with Graham. Gogol becomes annoyed by Moushumi’s smoking, and the emptiness of the conversation surrounding him: baby names, organic food, art.

During a conversation about names, Moushumi reveals to the group that hers means “a damp southwesterly breeze.” Gogol is upset that Moushumi has never told him this before. Some minutes later, Gogol joins Donald in the kitchen, where he is preparing the meal. Donald points out the bedroom in that very house where Moushumi stayed, despondent, after her relationship with Graham ended. Nikhil is overcome with jealousy at Moushumi’s emotional proximity to Donald and Astrid. Later, during another conversation about names, over dinner, Moushumi reveals that his original name is Gogol, and that he changed it, officially, in high school. The group is stunned, and they seem to chuckle at the connection to Nikolai Gogol.

When asked why his parents named him for the Russian writer, Gogol says only that his father “was a fan.” Gogol also announces that there is “no such thing” as a perfect name, to which the other guests disagree. But Gogol insists—saying that, before eighteen, “only pronouns” will suffice to identify a child. Gogol realizes that his life with Moushumi, despite seeming so satisfying, has in fact left him angered and lonely.

Analysis

Moushumi and Gogol’s wedding is a happy occasion. It also foreshadows some of the problems that will come to haunt their relationship. The ceremony, though it is their idea, is planned and executed by their parents. Moushumi and Gogol have very little input into what is said and done, and throughout the proceedings, they see each other and talk to each other minimally. It is as though both the bride’s and groom’s families are in charge of their relationship, rather than Moushumi and Gogol individually. Later, after they have been married some months, Gogol will wonder whether Moushumi regrets marrying a fellow Bengali-American, someone she knew as a young girl. For Gogol worries that Graham, the banker, is Moushumi’s true love: a man who exists outside the closed circle of her family’s life.

The trip to Paris, during which Moushumi presents a paper, is also a difficult time. Gogol feels out of place in this part of his wife’s life. He does not know Europe, he has never been there before, and he can be only a tourist—just as he was long ago, as a teenager, with his family in Delhi. Moushumi, as Gogol fears, feels at home in Paris, and some part of her longs to be there still, in its beautiful streets, speaking French and spending time at cafes. An important indicator of Gogol’s slow rupture from Moushumi is her smoking. At first, he finds it appealing, mysterious, cosmopolitan. But as time goes on, he notices that her smoking continues—that she is unwilling to abandon it. Gogol comes to view the habit as one of Moushumi’s affectations.

Indeed, affectation becomes an important issue in this chapter. Gogol feels he must “pretend” around Moushumi’s friends. He is not interested in the same things as they are. Gogol, for one, doesn’t real care about baby names, and he doesn’t want to live in Brooklyn. The problem, of course, is that Gogol doesn’t really know what he wants instead. He still believes that he loves Moushumi, and he is devoted to her and to their marriage. But he finds himself frustrated by the feeling that she is not, and will never be, entirely “his.” There is a part of her temperamental make-up that is comfortable with Donald and Astrid, with their cares and concerns. Moushumi is “in” that group, and Gogol is not.

Moushumi’s revelation, that Gogol changed his name from Gogol, is an important one for several reasons. First, she does this without consulting with her husband. It is as though Gogol’s life is another subject for conversation among those in the group. Gogol feels that Moushumi doesn’t care about him as an individual, and this episode worries him. He wonders whether Moushumi is embarrassed for having wound up with another Bengali-American man, who wanted so desperately to “fit in” with society that he changed his own name.

There is a profound irony in this scene, too. For Donald and Astrid pretend that they are open to everything, that they are culturally liberal people. But the group of Moushumi’s friends does not understand the motivation for Gogol changing his name. And they make subtle fun of his original name, Gogol, asking what possible connection the writer could have had to Gogol’s Bengali upbringing. Like Gerald and Lydia, who are perhaps more well-meaning than Donald and Astrid, the group of young Brooklyn cosmopolites has trouble accepting a culture that is not their own—even as they profess to be worldly. Lahiri thus uses this chapter to bring up one of the novel’s primary themes: “open” and “closed” mind-sets. Moushumi’s friends might think Gogol comes from a “closed” background, but their inability to understand the nature of his upbringing is itself an example of their closed-mindedness.


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