Chapter One The story begins with a pregnant Ashima in the kitchen trying to recreate an Indian dish with American foods. During the process which she is unsuccessful with, she feels a contraction and calls on her husband who is a doctoral candidate for electrical engi- neering at MIT from his bedroom. Together they take a taxi to the hospital, where the nurses replace Ashima’s traditional sari with a hospital gown that she feels is too short. Her doctor informs them that the labor will take some time, and Ashoke leaves Ashima alone with the other women in the room. She hears one of the other women’s husbands saying that he loves his wife, and Ashima reflects that this kind of affection will never appear in her relationship to Ashoke. She wonders if she is the only Indian present in this hospital filled with American strangers, until a twitch from the baby in- side her reminds her that she is not alone after all. The watch on Ashima ’s wrist, a wedding gift from her family, fills her with thoughts of home as she calculates on her fingers what time it is in India right now. If she were there, this baby would be born in the home, not a hospital. She pictures what each member of her family is doing at this hour, immersing herself in the memory of her house until a view of the Charles River outside jolts her back to her reality in America. Throughout the day in the hospital, Ashima is reassured by Dr. Ashley and her nurse, Patty , that everything is expected to be normal. But to Ashima, nothing feels normal about raising a child in a strange country, without her family. She rereads a Bengali magazine containing an illustration by her father, and then drifts into her memories of him. She is then interrupted by Patty, who accompanies her on a brief walk. Ashima makes a grammatical mistake in telling Patty that she hopes her baby will have only “ten finger and ten toe,” and is embarrassed by Patty’s smiling re- action, especially since Ashima had been a student of English back in Calcutta. Drifting back, again, to her memories of Calcutta, Ashima recalls the first time she met her husband Ashoke . The meeting had been arranged by their families, and as she stood outside the room listening to her parents sing her praises, Ashima gave in to a strange urge to slip her feet into the shoes that the visiting Ashoke had removed in the entryway, as per Bengali tradition—exotic, leather specimens from the U.S.A. Later, in the room with Ashoke and their two families, she is asked whether she can imagine living in snowy Boston, alone. “Won’t he be there?” she responds, pointing to Ashoke. They become betrothed. Ashima continues to reminisce, recalling her elabo- rate wedding preparations with joy and describing her new life in America with Ashoke . She has learned about his special fondness for potatoes, his careful approach to clothing, and his loyalty to his family back in India, to whom he sends a portion of his paycheck. In the evenings, when he returns from work, Ashima tells him about her daily adventures in the strange world of Cambridge, Massachusetts, with its unblem- ished rice and pistachio ice cream.
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