Somerville Reads is a project that promotes literacy and community by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss books on the same theme. For our third annual program, the subject is food—local, sustainable, delicious!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Love of Strangers

One of my favorite passages in The Namesake poignantly illustrates the isolation of the members of the Ganguli family. They love each other, the parents want the children around as much as possible, but in so many ways they don't know each other. One November night Gogol takes the train back home from Yale to spend Thanksgiving with his father, Ashoke (his mother and sister have gone to India for three weeks). Gogol's train is late. He can't reach his father. He arrives at the station two hours late. His father is waiting for him.

"I hope you haven't been standing out in the cold all this time," Gogol says and from his father's lack of response he knows that this is exactly what he has done.

Then Gogol asks himself what's actually going on with his father, but admits that he won't find out.

Gogol wonders what it is like for his father to be without his mother and Sonia. He wonders if he is lonely. But his father is not the type to admit such things, to speak openly of his moods, his desires, his needs.

But when they reach home, Gogol's father does open up to him, possibly for the first time. Ashoke tells him why he's named Gogol. Interestingly, he doesn't wait for them to go inside. They sit in the car in the driveway, as if once they stepped into that house they would be drawn back into their old routines, their customary silences. Somehow, in the car, with just the two of them, Ashoke is free to talk. He tells Gogol about the train wreck, about the book of Nikolai Gogol's stories that saved his life, about the following year in bed, while his shattered bones healed.

Gogol listens, stunned, his eyes on his father's profile. Though there are only inches between them, for an instant his father is a stranger, a man who has kept a secret, has survived a tragedy, a man whose past he does not fully know. A man who is vulnerable, who has suffered in an inconceivable way.

"Why don't I know this about you?" Gogol says. His voice sounds harsh, accusing, but his eyes well with tears. "Why haven't you told me this until now?"

He doesn't understand why his father hasn't told him. And he doesn't know how to handle this knowledge, he's not quite sure what it means, for either of them.

"Is that what you think of when you think of me," Gogol asks him. Do I remind you of that night?"

"Not at all," his father says eventually, one hand going to his ribs, a habitual gesture that has baffled Gogol until now. "You remind me of everything that followed."

For that moment at least, father and son connect.