An open letter to Gogol
Updated: Jul 2, 2021
from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Or should I call you Nikhil? Does Mr. Ganguli sound better? Or should we do away with the name altogether? You would know better. After all, it was you who spent half his life hating a name that you spent another half learning to love. It is not easy to love. It never is. It is a process - much like the waves you saw with Ashoke at Cape Cod. They lash out against the boulders of our lives until finally, they decide to give up, rest and die. Perhaps death too is a kind of living after all. Ashok shall truly live through you, now that he is no longer busy researching optics in some isolated laboratory. And you too will learn to love.
My instincts say you have already made much progress from when we last met you.
You see, we think loving ourselves comes easy. But it never is. We spend so much of ourselves loving others around us that by the time everyone leaves, we realize how little love we are left with to spend on our own self. Ashima and Ashok never really fell in love. They grew to love. It lacked the passion of your retreats with Max and perhaps even the exhilaration of your nights with Moushumi. But it was lasting. Its roots making its own, a soil that was as alien to them as its surrounding culture.
Children have dreams beyond their parents' expectations. They wish on shooting stars or fallen eyelashes, but sometimes wishes come true unexpectedly to crown a life – when you least expect them to. When Jhumpa composed an entire novel about your sojourn to comprehend the true pangs of belonging, she hardly realized the millions of stories she was channeling through her words. Yours, mine, ours – perhaps that of an entire generation. You were right Gogol. We do not really belong anywhere, except for our own self. That is where our true roots lie. Our true culture. At the end of the day, we are what we make of our lives. And no annual visits to our home country can change that ever.
Tell me Gogol, what did you name your children? Did they ask the meaning of their name? Were they satisfied with their replies? On days when I get too tired of watching people clicking selfies with their mobiles, I wonder if you too lived moments with your children that you insisted on remembering forever. Not through a polaroid. But a DSLR. On days when memories engulf me in all their blue and I reach out, screaming for help, I wish our world too thought like Ashok. That in this world of little cruelties and whispered pleasures, photographs - material proofs of our jubilance and melancholia - were a luxury we could hardly afford.
I hope you healed your broken heart. I hope you have a house of your own today. With a family of your choosing. Does Ashima talk about her initial days in Cambridge? Does she miss Ashok? How are Sonia and Ben? Hope you have taken good care of Nikolai's book. Be careful. The older the book gets, the frailer its pages will become.