When Ashima does leave the house, it is to wander around the university campus with Gogol , or to sell homemade samosas at a once-weekly bake sale with other profes- sors’ wives. When Gogol turns four, she drops him off at the nursery three mornings a week, and misses him desperately in the hours that she is alone. To pass the time, she reads or writes letters in the public library, sometimes wandering into the children’s room where a photo of Gogol is pinned to the bulletin board. Two years later, the couple have saved enough money to move out of the university apartment and buy a house in the town. They visit a number of houses occupied by Americans with plastic wading pools, where shoes are worn inside and pets roam the house. Eventually they buy a new, two-story colonial house and move their things across town in a U-Haul, surprised at how much they have accumulated since crossing the ocean with a single suitcase each. They prepare the house, taking photographs of Gogol posing in each room to send back to India. They hang a painting by Ashima’s fa- ther in the living room. Gogol has his own room, filled with American toys bought at yard sales. Many of their things are bought at yard sales, a concept that had initially struck Ashima as shameful, but which Ashoke points out that even his chairman at the
university embraces. The yard is still unfinished, and some of Gogol’s first memories are made playing on its uneven, rocky ground before grass is planted. In the evenings the family goes on exploratory drives around the small town, on rural back roads, or to the beach. The back seat of their car is still sheathed in plastic, the ashtrays still sealed. They arrive at the beach when most families have already left, and Gogol digs in the sand or watches, rapt, as his father flies a kite, or his mother laughingly steps into the ocean a few inches. The August that Gogol turns five, Ashima becomes pregnant again. Bedridden and nauseated once more, she spends much of her days watching American daytime tele- vision or reading to Gogol, educating him about his Indian heritage or teaching him to recite Bengali poetry. She is always careful to make him watch Sesame Street as well, to keep up with his English lessons at nursery. At night Ashoke cooks, a strange sight for Gogol, and the two eat together while Ashima is in her bedroom avoiding the smell. Gogol has learned by now how to eat properly with his hands, but does not want to eat without his mother. His father is firm, however, reminding him that when he was Gogol’s age “he ate tin.” That September, of 1973, Gogol is driven to kindergarten for the first time by his fa- ther. He starts a week late, having stayed home sick, not eager to leave home and be- gin life at this new school. His parents have decided that as he begins school he must begin to be called by his good name, which they have finally chosen: Nikhil, meaning “he who is entire, encompassing all.” Ashima consented when Ashoke suggested it, still secretly heartbroken by the disappearance of her grandmother’s letter. Gogol is
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