He heard the tube well at the corner being pumped into urns. Every evening at dusk he heard a conch shell being blown in the house next door to signal the hour for prayer.
He could smell but not see the shimmering green sludge that collected in the open sewer. Life within the house continued. His father came and went from work, his brothers and sisters from school. His mother worked in the kitchen, checking in on him periodically, her lap stained with turmeric.
Twice daily the maid twisted rags into buckets of water and wiped the floors. During the day he was groggy from painkillers. At night he dreamed either that he was still trapped inside the train or, worse, that the accident had never happened, that he was walking down a street, taking a bath, sitting cross-legged on the floor and eating a plate of food.
And then he would wake up, coated in sweat, tears streaming down his face, convinced that he would never live to do such things again. Eventually, in an attempt to avoid his nightmares, he began to read, late at night, which was when his motionless body felt most restless, his mind agile and clear. Yet he refused to read the Russians his grandfather had brought to his bedside, or any novels, for that matter. Those books, set in countries he had never seen, reminded him only of his confinement.
Instead he read his engineering books, trying his best to keep up with his courses, solving equations by flashlight. In those silent hours, he thought often of Ghosh. He remembered the address Ghosh had written on a page of his diary, somewhere behind the tram depot in Tollygunge. Now it was the home of a widow, a fatherless son.
Each day, to bolster his spirits, his family reminded him of the future, the day he would stand unassisted, walk across the room. It was for this, each day, that his father and mother prayed. For this that his mother gave up meat on Wednesdays. He imagined not only walking, but walking away, as far as he could from the place in which he was born and in which he had nearly died.
The following year, with the aid of a cane, he returned to college and graduated, and without telling his parents he applied to continue his engineering studies abroad.
Only after he'd been accepted with a full fellowship, a newly issued passport in hand, did he inform them of his plans. His siblings had pleaded and wept. His mother, speechless, had refused food for three days. In spite of all that, he'd gone. Seven years later, there are still certain images that wipe him flat. They lurk around a corner as he rushes through the engineering department at MIT, checks his campus mail.
They hover by his shoulder as he leans over a plate of rice at dinnertime or nestles against Ashima's limbs at night.
At every turning point in his life—at his wedding when he stood behind Ashima, encircling her waist and peering over her shoulder as they poured puffed rice into a fire, or during his first hours in America, seeing a small gray city caked with snow—he has tried but failed to push these images away: the twisted, battered, capsized bogies of the train, his body twisted below it, the terrible crunching sound he had heard but not comprehended, his bones crushed as fine as flour. It is not the memory of pain that haunts him; he has no memory of that.
It is the memory of waiting before he was rescued, and the persistent fear, rising up in his throat, that he might not have been rescued at all. To this day he is claustrophobic, holding his breath in elevators, feels pent-up in cars unless the windows are open on both sides.
On planes he requests the bulkhead seat. At times the wailing of children fills him with deepest dread. At times he still presses his ribs to make sure they are solid. He presses them now, in the hospital, shaking his head in relief, disbelief. Although it is Ashima who carries the child, he, too, feels heavy, with the thought of life, of his life and the life about to come from it.
He was raised without running water, nearly killed at twenty-two. Again he tastes the dust on his tongue, sees the twisted train, the giant overturned iron wheels. None of this was supposed to happen. But no, he had survived it. He was born twice in India, and then a third time, in America. Three lives by thirty. For this he thanks his parents, and their parents, and the parents of their parents. He does not thank God; he openly reveres Marx and quietly refuses religion. But there is one more dead soul he has to thank.
He cannot thank the book; the book has perished, as he nearly did, in scattered pieces, in the earliest hours of an October day, in a field kilometers from Calcutta. Instead of thanking God he thanks Gogol, the Russian writer who had saved his life, when Patty enters the waiting room.
He measures twenty inches long, weighs seven pounds nine ounces. Ashima's initial glimpse, before the cord is clipped and they carry him away, is of a creature coated with a thick white paste, and streaks of blood, her blood, on the shoulders, feet, and head.
A needle placed in the small of her back has removed all sensation from her waist to her knees, and given her a blistering headache in the final stages of the delivery. When it is all over she begins to shiver profoundly, as if beset with an acute fever.
For half an hour she trembles, in a daze, covered by a blanket, her insides empty, her outside still misshapen. She is unable to speak, to allow the nurses to help exchange her blood-soaked gown for a fresh one. In spite of endless glasses of water, her throat is parched. She is told to sit on a toilet, to squirt warm water from a bottle between her legs. Eventually she is sponged clean, put into a new gown, wheeled into yet another room.
The lights are soothingly dim, and there is only one other bed next to hers, empty for the time being. When Ashoke arrives, Patty is taking Ashima's blood pressure, and Ashima is reclining against a pile of pillows, the child wrapped like an oblong white parcel in her arms.
Her skin is faintly yellow, the color missing from her lips. She has circles beneath her eyes, and her hair, spilling from its braid, looks as though it has not been combed for days. Her voice is hoarse, as if she'd caught a cold. He pulls up a chair by the side of the bed and Patty helps to transfer the child from mother's to father's arms.
In the process, the child pierces the silence in the room with a short-lived cry. His parents react with mutual alarm, but Patty laughs approvingly. He's stronger than you think. The skin is paler than either Ashima's or his own, translucent enough to show slim green veins at the temples. The scalp is covered by a mass of wispy black hair. He attempts to count the eyelashes. He feels gently through the flannel for the hands and feet. Why won't he open them?
Has he opened them? Can he see us? But not very clearly. And not in full color. Not yet. Was it all right? But there is no answer, and when Ashoke lifts his gaze from his son's face he sees that she, too, is sleeping.
When he looks back to the child, the eyes are open, staring up at him, unblinking, as dark as the hair on its head. The face is transformed; Ashoke has never seen a more perfect thing.
He imagines himself as a dark, grainy, blurry presence. As a father to his son. Again he thinks of the night he was nearly killed, the memory of those hours that have forever marked him flickering and fading in his mind. Being rescued from that shattered train had been the first miracle of his life. But here, now, reposing in his arms, weighing next to nothing but changing everything, is the second.
Apart from his father, the baby has three visitors, all Bengali—Maya and Dilip Nandi, a young married couple in Cambridge whom Ashima and Ashoke met a few months ago in the Purity Supreme, and Dr. Gupta, a mathematics postdoc from Dehradun, a bachelor in his fifties, whom Ashoke has befriended in the corridors of MIT. At feeding times the gentlemen, including Ashoke, step out into the hall.
Maya and Dilip give the boy a rattle and a baby book, with places for his parents to commemorate every possible aspect of his infancy. There is even a circle in which to paste a few strands from his first haircut. Gupta gives the boy a handsome illustrated copy of Mother Goose rhymes.
Ashima thinks the same, though for different reasons. For as grateful as she feels for the company of the Nandis and Dr. Gupta, these acquaintances are only substitutes for the people who really ought to be surrounding them. Without a single grandparent or parent or uncle or aunt at her Album), the baby's birth, like most everything else in America, feels somehow haphazard, only half true.
As she strokes and suckles and studies her son, she can't help but pity him. She has never known of a person entering the world so alone, so deprived. Because neither set of grandparents has a working telephone, their only link to home is by telegram, which Ashoke has sent to both sides in Calcutta: "With your blessings, boy and mother fine.
When her grandmother learned of Ashima's pregnancy, she was particularly thrilled at the prospect of naming the family's first sahib. And so Ashima and Ashoke have agreed to put off the decision of what to name the baby until a letter comes, ignoring the forms from the hospital about filing for a birth certificate. Ashima's grandmother has mailed the letter herself, walking with her cane to the post office, her first trip out of the house in a decade. The letter contains one name for a girl, one for a boy.
Ashima's grandmother has revealed them to no one. Though the letter was sent a month ago, in July, it has yet to arrive. Ashima and Ashoke are not terribly concerned. After all, they both know, an infant doesn't really need a name. He needs to be fed and blessed, to be given some gold and silver, to be patted on the back after feedings and held carefully behind the neck.
Names can wait. In India parents take their time. It wasn't unusual for years to pass before the right name, the best possible name, was determined. Ashima and Ashoke can both cite examples of cousins who were not officially named until they were registered, at six or seven, in school.
The Nandis and Dr. Gupta understand perfectly. Of course you must wait, they agree, wait for the name in his great-grandmother's letter. Besides, there are always pet names to tide one over: a practice of Bengali nomenclature grants, to every single person, two names. In Bengali the word for pet name is daknam, mean ing, literally, the name by which one is called, by friends, family, and other intimates, at home and in other private, unguarded moments. Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated.
They are a reminder, too, that one is not all things to all people. They all have pet names. Ashima's pet name is Monu, Ashoke's is Mithu, and even as adults, these are the names by which they are known in their respective families, the names by which they are adored and scolded and missed and loved.
Every pet name is paired with a good name, a bhalonam, for identification in the outside world. Consequently, good names appear on envelopes, on diplomas, in telephone directories, and in all other public places. For this reason, letters from Ashima's mother say "Ashima" on the outside, "Monu" on the inside.
Good names tend to represent dignified and enlightened qualities. Ashima means "she who is limitless, without borders. Unlike good names, pet names are frequently meaningless, deliberately silly, ironic, even onomatopoetic. Often in one's infancy, one answers unwittingly to dozens of pet names, until one eventually sticks.
And so at one point, when the baby screws up his rosy, wrinkled face and regards his small circle of admirers, Mr. Nandi leans over and calls the baby "Buro," the Bengali word for "old man.
Ashoke lifts the lid and polishes off the chicken; Ashima is now officially referred to by the maternity nurses as the Jell-O-and-Ice-Cream Lady. My grandmother is choosing.
The thought of her grandmother, born in the previous century, a shrunken woman in widow's white and with tawny skin that refuses to wrinkle, boarding a plane and flying to Cambridge, is inconceivable to her, a thought Absent Silence - Dawn Of A New Mourning (Cassette, no matter how welcome, how desirable, feels entirely impossible, absurd.
But a letter will. Three days come and go. Ashima is shown by the nursing staff how to change diapers and how to clean the umbilical stub. She is given hot saltwater baths to soothe her bruises and stitches. She is given a list of pediatricians, and countless brochures on breast-feeding, and bonding, and immunizing, and samples of baby shampoos and Q-Tips and creams. The fourth day there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Ashima and the baby are to be discharged the following morning.
The bad news is that they are told by Mr. Wilcox, compiler of hospital birth certificates, that they must choose a name for their son. For they learn that in America, a baby cannot be released from the hospital without a birth certificate. And that a birth certificate needs a name. Wilcox, slight, bald, unamused, glances at the couple, both visibly distressed, then glances at the nameless child.
Wilcox says again. I'm afraid your only alternative is to have the certificate read 'Baby Boy Ganguli. Wilcox says. The red tape is endless. Wilcox nods, and silence ensues. Ashima frowns. It has never occurred to either of them to question Ashima's grandmother's selection, to disregard an elder's wishes in such a way. The kings of France and England did it," he adds. But this isn't possible, Ashima and Ashoke think to themselves.
This tradition doesn't exist for Bengalis, naming a son after father or grandfather, a daughter after mother or grandmother. This sign of respect in America and Europe, this symbol of heritage and lineage, would be ridiculed in India. Within Bengali families, individual names are sacred, inviolable.
They are not meant to be inherited or shared. Someone you greatly admire? Wilcox says, his eyebrows raised hopefully. He sighs. The door shuts, which is when, with a slight quiver of recognition, as if he'd known it all along, the perfect pet name for his son occurs to Ashoke. He remembers the page crumpled tightly in his fingers, the sudden shock of the lantern's glare in his eyes.
But for the first time he thinks of that moment not with terror, but with gratitude. The baby turns his head with an expression of extreme consternation and yawns. Ashima approves, aware that the name stands not only for her son's life, but her husband's. She knows the story of the ac cident, a story she first heard with polite newlywed sympathy, but the thought of which now, now especially, makes her blood go cold.
There are nights when she has been woken by her husband's muffled screams, times they have ridden the subway together and the rhythm of the wheels on the tracks makes him suddenly pensive, aloof. She has never read any Gogol herself, but she is willing to place him on a shelf in her mind, along with Tennyson and Wordsworth. Besides, it's only a pet name, not to be taken seriously, simply something to put on the certificate for now to release them from the hospital.
When Mr. Wilcox returns with his typewriter, Ashoke spells out the name. Thus Gogol Ganguli is registered in the hospital's files.
Gupta that broiling hot, late summer's day: Gogol, an indistinct blanketed mass, reposing in his weary mother's arms. She stands on the steps of the hospital, staring at the camera, her eyes squinting into the sun. Her husband looks on from one side, his wife's suitcase in his hand, smiling with his head lowered.
Gogol's first home is a fully furnished apartment ten minutes by foot to Harvard, twenty to MIT. The apartment is on the first floor of a three-story house, covered with salmon- colored shingles, surrounded by a waist-high chain-link fence. The gray of the roof, the gray of cigarette ashes, matches the pavement of the sidewalk and the street. A row of cars parked at meters perpetually lines one side of the curb.
At the corner of the block there is a small used bookstore, which one enters by going down three steps from the sidewalk, and across from it a musty shop that sells the newspaper and cigarettes and eggs, and where, to Ashima's mild disgust, a furry black cat is permitted to sit as it pleases on the shelves.
Other than these small businesses, there are more shingled houses, the same shape and size and in the same state of mild decrepitude, painted mint, or lilac, or powder blue.
This is the house Ashoke had brought Ashima to eighteen months ago, late one February night after her arrival at Logan Airport. In the dark, through the windows of the taxi, wide awake from jet lag, she could barely make out a thing, apart from heaps of broken snow glowing like shattered, bluish white bricks on the ground.
It wasn't until morning, stepping briefly outside wearing a pair of Ashoke's socks under her thin-soled slippers, the frigid New England chill piercing her inner ears and jaw, that she'd had Album) first real glimpse of America: Leafless trees with ice-covered branches.
Dog urine and excrement embedded in the snowbanks. Not a soul on the street. The apartment consists of three rooms all in a row without a corridor. There is a living room at the front with a three-sided window overlooking the street, a pass-through bedroom in the middle, a kitchen at the back. It is not at all what she had expected. The apartment is drafty during winter, and in summer, intolerably hot. The thick glass windowpanes are covered by dreary dark brown curtains.
There are even roaches in the bathroom, emerging at night from the cracks in the tiles. But she has complained of none of this. She has kept her disappointment to herself, not wanting to offend Ashoke, or worry her parents.
Instead she writes, in her letters home, of the powerful cooking gas that flares up at any time of day or night from four burners on the stove, and the hot tap water fierce enough to scald her skin, and the cold water safe enough to drink. The top two floors of the house are occupied by their landlords, the Montgomerys, a Harvard sociology professor and his wife.
The Montgomerys have two children, both girls, Amber and Clover, aged seven and nine, whose waist-length hair is never braided, and who play on warm days for hours on a tire swing rigged to the only tree in the backyard. The professor, who has told Ashima and Ashoke to call him Alan, not Professor Montgomery as they had at first addressed him, has a wiry rust-colored beard that makes him look much older than he actually is.
They see him walking to Harvard Yard in a pair of threadbare trousers, a fringed suede jacket, and rubber flip-flops. Rickshaw drivers dress better than professors here, Ashoke, who still attends meetings with his adviser in a jacket and tie, thinks frequently to himself. They have a washing machine in the basement which Ashoke and Ashima are permitted to share, a television in their living room which Ashoke and Ashima can hear clearly through the ceiling. It had been through the ceiling one night in April, when Ashoke and Ashima were eating their dinner, that they'd heard about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sometimes Ashima and Alan's wife, Judy, stand side by side in the yard, clipping clothes to the line. Judy always wears blue jeans, torn up into shorts once summer comes, and a necklace of small seashells around her throat. A red cotton scarf over her stringy yellow hair, the same texture and shade as her daughters', is always tied at the back of her neck.
She works for a women's health collective in Somerville a few days a week. When she learned of Ashima's pregnancy she approved of Ashima's decision to breast-feed but had been disappointed to learn that Ashima was going to put herself in the hands of the medical establishment for her child's delivery; Judy's daughters were born at home, with the help of midwives at the collective.
Some nights Judy and Alan go out, leaving Amber and Clover unsupervised at home. Only once, when Clover had a cold, did they ask Ashima if she could check in on them. Ashima remembers their apartment with abiding horror—just beyond the ceiling yet so different from her own, piles everywhere, piles of books and papers, piles of dirty plates on the kitchen counter, ashtrays the size of serving platters heaped with crushed-out cigarettes.
The girls slept together on a bed piled with clothes. Sitting momentarily on the edge of Alan and Judy's mattress, she had cried out, falling clumsily backward, startled to discover that it was filled with water. Instead of cereal and tea bags, there were whiskey and wine bottles on top of the refrigerator, most of them nearly empty. Just standing there had made Ashima feel drunk. They arrive home from the hospital courtesy of Dr. Gupta, who owns a car, and sit in the sweltering living room, in front of their only box fan, suddenly a family.
Instead of a couch they have six chairs, all of them three-legged, with oval wooden backs and black triangular cushions. To her surprise, finding herself once again in the gloomy three-room apartment, Ashima misses the hustle-bustle of the hospital, and Patty, and the Jell-O and ice cream brought at regular intervals to her side.
As she walks slowly through the rooms it irks her that there are dirty dishes stacked in the kitchen, that the bed has not been made. Until now Ashima has accepted that there is no one to sweep the floor, or do the dishes, or wash clothes, or shop for groceries, or prepare a meal on the days she is tired or homesick or cross.
She has accepted that the very lack of such amenities is the American way. But now, with a baby crying in her arms, her breasts swollen with milk, her body coated with sweat, her groin still so sore she can scarcely sit, it is all suddenly unbearable.
He sets the cup beside her on the flaking windowsill. She pulls back a bit of the curtain, then lets it fall. Not like this. It's not right. I want to go back. On more than one occasion he has come home from the university to find her morose, in bed, rereading her parents' letters. Early mornings, when he senses that she is quietly crying, he puts an arm around her but can think of nothing to say, feeling that it is his fault, for marrying her, for bringing her here.
He remembers suddenly about Ghosh, his companion on the train, who had returned from England for his wife's sake.
A soft knock on the door interrupts them: Alan and Judy and Amber and Clover, all there to see the baby. Judy holds a dish covered with a checkered cloth in her hands, says she's made a broccoli quiche. Alan sets down a garbage bag full of Amber and Clover's old baby clothes, uncorks a bottle of cold champagne. The foaming liquid splashes onto the floor, is poured into mugs. They raise their mugs to Gogol, Ashima and Ashoke only pretending to take sips. Amber and Clover flank Ashima at either side, both delighted when Gogol wraps a hand around each of their fingers.
Judy scoops the baby out of Ashima's lap. Ashoke goes out to the corner store, and a box of disposable diapers replaces the framed black-and-white pictures of Ashima's family on the dressing table. Judy is at work at the collective as usual, and Ashima, on her own with Gogol for the first time in the silent house, suffering from a sleep deprivation far worse than the worst of her jet lag, sits by the three-sided window in the living room on one of the triangular chairs and cries the whole day.
She cries as she feeds him, and as she pats him to sleep, and as he cries between sleeping and feeding. She cries after the mailman's visit because there are no letters from Calcutta. She cries when she calls Ashoke at his department and he does not answer. One day she cries when she goes to the kitchen to make dinner and discovers that they've run out of rice.
She goes upstairs and knocks on Alan and Judy's door. To be polite, Ashima takes a cup, but downstairs she throws it away. She calls Ashoke at his department to ask him to pick up the rice on his way home.
This time, when there is no answer, she gets up, washes her face and combs her hair. She changes and dresses Gogol and puts him into the navy blue, white-wheeled pram inherited from Alan and Judy. For the first time, she pushes him through the balmy streets of Cambridge, to Purity Supreme, to buy a bag of white long-grain rice. The errand takes longer than usual; for now she is repeatedly stopped on the street, and in the aisles of the supermarket, by perfect strangers, all Americans, suddenly taking notice of her, smiling, congratulating her for what she's done.
They look curiously, appreciatively, into the pram. Before Gogol's birth, her days had followed no visible pattern. She would spend hours in the apartment, napping, sulking, rereading her same five Bengali novels on the bed. But now the days that had once dragged rush all too quickly toward evening—those same hours are consumed with Gogol, pacing the three rooms of the apartment with him in her arms. Now she wakes at six, pulling Gogol out of the crib for his first feeding, and then for half an hour she and Ashoke lie with the baby in bed between them, admiring the tiny person they've produced.
Between eleven and one, while Gogol sleeps, she gets dinner out of the way, a habit she will maintain for decades to come. Every afternoon she takes him out, wandering up and down the streets, to pick up this or that, or to sit in Harvard Yard, sometimes meeting up with Ashoke on a bench on the MIT campus, bringing him some homemade samosas and a fresh thermos of tea. At times, staring at the baby, she sees pieces of her family in his face—her mother's glossy eyes, her father's slim lips, her brother's lopsided smile.
She discovers a yarn store and begins to knit for the coming winter, making Gogol sweaters, blankets, mittens, and caps. Every few days she gives Gogol a bath in the porcelain sink in the kitchen. Every week she carefully clips the nails of his ten fingers and toes. When she takes him in his pram for his immunizations at the pediatrician's, she stands outside the room and plugs up her ears.
One day Ashoke arrives home with an Instamatic camera to take pictures of the baby, and when Gogol is napping she pastes the square, white- bordered prints behind plastic sheets in an album, captions written on pieces of masking tape. To put him to sleep, she sings him the Bengali songs her mother had sung to her. She drinks in the sweet, milky fragrance of his skin, the buttery scent of his breath.
One day she lifts him high over her head, smiling at him with her mouth open, and a quick stream of undigested milk from his last feeding rises from his throat and pours into her own. For the rest of her life she will recall the shock of that warm, sour liquid, a taste that leaves her unable to swallow another thing for the rest of the day.
Letters arrive from her parents, from her husband's parents, from aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, from everyone, it seems, but Ashima's grandmother. The letters are filled with every possible blessing and good wish, composed in an alphabet they have seen all around them for most of their lives, on billboards and newspapers and awnings, but which they see now only in these precious, pale blue missives. Sometimes two letters arrive in a single week.
One week there are three. As always Ashima keeps her ear trained, between the hours of twelve and two, Album) the sound of the postman's footsteps on the porch, followed by the soft click of the mail slot in the door. The margins of her parents' letters, always a block of her mother's hasty penmanship followed by her father's flourishing, elegant hand, are frequently decorated with drawings of animals done by Ashima's father, and Ashima tapes these on the wall over Gogol's crib.
Every hour there is a change. Remember it. She writes that they are saving money for a trip home the following December, after Gogol turns one. She does not mention the pediatrician's concern about tropical diseases. A trip to India will require a whole new set of immunizations, he has warned. In November, Gogol develops a mild ear infection. When Ashima and Ashoke see their son's pet name typed on the label of a prescription for antibiotics, when they see it at the top of his immunization record, it doesn't look right; pet names aren't meant to be made public in this way.
But there is still no letter from Ashima's grandmother. They are forced to conclude that it is lost in the mail. Ashima decides to write to her grand mother, explaining the situation, asking her to send a second letter with the names. The very next day a letter arrives in Cambridge. Though it is from Ashima's father, no drawings for Gogol adorn the margins, no elephants or parrots or tigers.
The letter is dated three weeks ago, and from it they learn that Ashima's grandmother has had a stroke, that her right side is permanently paralyzed, her mind dim. She can no longer chew, barely swallows, remembers and recognizes little of her eighty-odd years. Perhaps you may not see her again. Ashoke barely knows Ashima's grandmother, only vaguely recalls touching her feet at his wedding, but Ashima is inconsolable for days. She sits at home with Gogol as the leaves turn brown and drop from the trees, as the days begin to grow quickly, mercilessly dark, thinking of the last time she saw her grandmother, her dida, a few days before flying to Boston.
Ashima had gone to visit her; for the occasion her grandmother had entered the kitchen after over a decade's retirement, to cook Ashima a light goat and potato stew.
She had fed her sweets with her own hand. Unlike her parents, and her other relatives, her grandmother had not admonished Ashima not to eat beef or wear skirts or cut off her hair or forget her family the moment she landed in Boston. Her grandmother had not been fearful of such signs of betrayal; she was the only person to predict, rightly, that Ashima would never change. Before leaving, Ashima had stood, her head lowered, under her late grandfather's portrait, asking him to bless her journey.
Then she bent down to touch the dust of her dida's feet to her head. For this was the phrase Bengalis always used in place of good-bye. With trembling hands, her grandmother had pressed her thumbs to the tears streaming down Ashima's face, wiping them away. It will all be for the best. Remember that. Now go. Through the Nandis, now expecting a child of their own, Ashoke and Ashima meet the Mitras, and through the Mitras, the Banerjees. More than once, pushing Gogol in his stroller, Ashima has been approached on the streets of Cambridge by young Bengali bachelors, shyly inquiring after her origins.
Like Ashoke, the bachelors fly back to Calcutta one by one, returning with wives. Every weekend, it seems, there is a new home to go to, a new couple or young family to meet. They all come from Calcutta, and for this reason alone they are friends.
Most of them live within walking distance of one another in Cambridge. The husbands are teachers, researchers, doctors, engineers.
The wives, homesick and bewildered, turn to Ashima for recipes and advice, and she tells them about the carp that's sold in Chinatown, that it's possible to make halwa from Cream of Wheat.
The families drop by one another's homes on Sunday afternoons. They drink tea with sugar and evaporated milk and eat shrimp cutlets fried in saucepans.
They sit in circles on the floor, singing songs by Nazrul and Tagore, passing a thick yellow clothbound book of lyrics among them as Dilip Nandi plays the harmonium. They argue riotously over the films of Ritwik Ghatak versus those of Satyajit Ray. North Calcutta versus South. For hours Absent Silence - Dawn Of A New Mourning (Cassette argue about the politics of America, a country in which none of them is eligible to vote.
By February, when Gogol is six months old, Ashima and Ashoke know enough people to entertain on a proper scale. The occasion: Gogol's annaprasan, his rice ceremony.
There is no baptism for Bengali babies, no ritualistic naming in the eyes of God. Instead, the first formal ceremony of their lives centers around the consumption of solid food.
They ask Dilip Nandi to play the part of Ashima's brother, to hold the child and feed him rice, the Bengali staff of life, for the very first time. Gogol is dressed as an infant Bengali groom, in a pale yellow pajamapunjabi from his grandmother in Calcutta. The fragrance of cumin seeds, sent in the package along with the pajamas, lingers in the weave.
A headpiece that Ashima cut out of paper, decorated with pieces of aluminum foil, is tied around Gogol's head with string. He wears a thin fourteen-karat gold chain around his neck. His tiny forehead has been decorated with considerable struggle with sandalwood paste to form six miniature beige moons floating above his brows. His eyes have been darkened with a touch of kohl.
He fidgets in the lap of his honorary uncle, who sits on a bedcover on the floor, surrounded by guests in front and behind and beside him. The food is arranged in ten separate bowls. The final bowl contains payesh, a warm rice pudding Ashima will prepare for him to eat on each of his birthdays as a child, as an adult even, alongside a slice of bakery cake.
He is photographed by his father and friends, frowning, as he searches for his mother's face in the crowd. She is busy setting up the buffet. She wears a silvery sari, a wedding gift worn for the first time, the sleeves of her blouse reaching the crook of her elbow. Readers record themselves reading a section of a book, edit the recording, and upload it to the LibriVox Management Tool. For an outline of the Librivox audiobook production process, please see The LibriVox recording process.
We require new readers to submit a sample recording so that we can make sure that your set up works and that you understand how to export files meeting our technical standards. We do not want you to waste previous hours reading whole chapters only to discover that your recording is unusable due to a preventable technical glitch.
A book coordinator commonly abbreviated BC in the forum is a volunteer who manages all the other volunteers who will record chapters for a LibriVox recording. Metadata coordinators MCshelp and advise Book Coordinators, and take over the files with the completed recordings soloists are also Book Coordinators in this sense, as they prepare their own files for the Meta coordinators.
The files are then prepared and uploaded to the LibriVox catalogue, in a lengthy and cumbersome process. NOTE: Anyone may read this Wiki, but if you wish to edit the pages, please log in, as this Wiki has been locked to avoid spam.
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