When I was twenty years old and still in college my friend Tanya and I would often conduct discourses and events centered on the current trends in English Literature for the English department of our college. It was on one such cold November afternoon that our English department professor gave us the VCD of the movie ‘The Namesake,’ directed by Mira Nair, to be shown in our audio visual rooms for the members of the English department and some junior college students.
I hadn’t read the novel on which this movie by Mira Nair was based. The movie was shown, college students were chewing gum, and I at that time felt that the main actress Tabu was definitely one of the best actresses I have ever seen. It would take me nine more years and a book penned by Jhumpa Lahiri titled The Clothing of Books to make me read The Namesake which I did this year just after my 28th birthday. The Namesake was unputdownable, and so rich in its prose that I lived the book, and not just read the book. The plot is original and the book so perfectly written, this will make you fall in love with the writer. After finishing the book, I realized that the movie which I saw nine years ago was not even the tip of the whole gigantic iceberg of a story that The Namesake is. The characters were real and though there are very few dialogues in the story, one tends to know the characters so minutely better than most of the prose fiction one reads today which is so dependent on dialogues. All the senses are used to create the story in our minds as we turn each page of The Namesake. The mundane lives of Gogal Ganguli, Ashoke Ganguli, Ashima Ganguli, Moushima, Maxine, Sonia Ganguli, etc., become our own as we go through the prose– the perfect, meticulous and artistic prose of Jhumpa Lahiri.
The main theme of the story is partly fiction and partly related to the reality of Jhumpa Lahiri’s life as an Indian living in the USA and not belonging to either world. On the flipside, this book also tries to bring out the idea of home, love, and acceptance which is partly given, and partly denied to the characters of this amazing story. (Ironically, Jhumpa Lahiri’s book does not even find a real home even as book category—I’ve seen The Namesake being kept in bookstores or libraries in different sections, all the time, every time—like Indian fiction, American fiction, literary fiction, bestsellers, etc.) Thus, Jhumpa Lahiri has managed to bring out the fact that most of our lives, we belong to no one and yet everyone. Her book can be read by anyone and yet create an impact.
The day I finished reading The Namesake, I sat in my easy chair and wondered how I’ve changed as a person since that movie by Mira Nair which I watched nine years ago. I, unlike Gogal Ganguli and the other characters, am not an NRI, but yet I’m not the same person I once was and I am not going to be the same person few years hence. Thus the tags and names we carry with ourselves throughout our lives keep on changing or being exchanged for something else. In that sense we all are very different people throughout our lives and thus our names, tags, personalities, habits, feelings, are all ‘namesakes’ through this journey called life. If you’ve ever felt or feel the way I do, then this is the book meant for you. Wonderful story telling, and thought provoking prose, that is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan