Hey it’s me Adam. I read chapters 1 through 4 of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri for the past two weeks (more like read the last 60% of it two days before the deadline), and Gogol’s visit to Calcutta, India reminded me of my month-long trip to China with my sister and parents. I could relate to many of Gogol’s feelings and experiences during his time with his family in Calcutta.
For example, Gogol finds it boring because “[a]part from visiting relatives there was nothing to do in Calcutta” (Lahiri 80). During my time in China, majority of it was spent on my parents meeting and talking with their relatives. Like Gogol, I felt quite bored at times because all I would be doing was sitting awkwardly and listening to them talk or trying to find something to do on my phone. I could not even go on Facebook and talk to my friends because it’s blocked in China in addition to any Google services, including YouTube! It was horrible.
Similar to how Gogol and his family “spend eight months with their various relatives, shuttling from home to home,” we stayed in our relatives’ homes instead of staying at a hotel (83). The houses I visited were located in rural areas which poverty seemed to be evident in, so they didn’t look as finished and clean as the homes we have in Barrhaven. They looked old, a bit worn down, and had plain exteriors, but inside was not so bad. My dad’s family’s, who seemed well-off, place had a pretty nice flat screen TV and everything looked normal on the inside for the most part. However, there were some things that surprised me.
One of them was seeing a very small lizard just chilling on the wall inside the house, minding its own business. Another was the washroom. In North America, we have a dedicated section of the washroom for the shower like a shower head over a tub. The shower in that house was just the shower head over the floor with a drain. It felt weird having to shower right next to the sink and the toilet, but it wasn’t as extreme as Gogol and his family having to bathe “by pouring tin cups of water over their heads” (82). It was not that bad honestly but it took a bit of time to cope with my new temporary home. Other than the problems I had with adjusting to this new routine, I had to deal with the problem of a language barrier.
Unfortunately my sister and I can’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin. She was the only one who spoke a language that I understood well besides my parents. This is very similar to how “Sonia is [Gogol’s] only ally, the only person to speak and sit and see as he does” in the novel (84). I also did not know the customs in Chinese culture, so I often felt clueless, helpless, and was unable to communicate which is how I imagined Gogol feels during his time in Calcutta. Both Gogol and I were born and raised in a country that is different from our parents. Consequently, we were more accustomed to American culture and felt out of place the countries our parents were from.
When it was time for Gogol to leave, “relief quickly replaces any lingering sadness” he had (87). This implies he wanted to leave India quite badly and could finally escape the boredom which was what I also felt when I finally boarded the plane back to Canada.
Those were my thoughts during this section of The Namesake. I thought I would not be able to relate to Gogol because I do not think about my name that much, but I guess I do share similarities with him. Hopefully he doesn’t become completely annoying later in the book according to my friends.
Anyways, let me ask you this: Have you ever been on a trip to another place where it was quite different to American culture? Let me know your feelings and experiences as well as what you think about Gogol’s or my trip in the comment section below.