Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Namesake

A year ago I read Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies. These nine stories revolved around Indian-American families whose lives changed upon emigrating from India and settling into America. Lahiri's first novel, The Namesake, was adapted into a film of the same name. I have not read the book version but have recently watched the movie starring Kal Penn, Tabu, Irfan Khan and Jacinda Barrett.

Before finally watching this movie on Monday, I had heard so many rave reviews from friends, mostly generic "It's just such a good movie," type-comments. Since I had already read and enjoyed Lahiri 's writing, I knew it was worthwhile. So I figured maybe I'd watch the movie before I read the book (I like to read the book first) simply because there is just no time for me to read it now.

About ten minutes into the movie, Ashima recites William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud," to Ashoke and his family at a rather informal arranged marriage meeting. And I think it was the way she recited it, the hesitating yet certain way the words came out of her mouth just moved me. You believe in her sentiment, she does not recite the poem to impress the family, you know that she too was moved the first time she read it and that comes off quite clearly in the way she shares the poem. Fast-forward: they get married and move to America and have two children, Gogol (Kal Penn), and Sonia (Sahira Nair).

I could write you an essay on Wordsworth, but I won't. "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud," is in short, a poem that praises the power of memory whose significance still carries affective power in the present day.

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars
that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The first three stanzas set up the experience Wordsworth had while walking with his sister, Dorothy, as they came upon a long row of daffodils at the edge of a lake. (Although, if you want to be technical, Wordsworth added the second stanza eight years after it was originally published.) But in the fourth and final stanza of the poem, we learn that Wordsworth is still stuck in the original moment of the first experience. And it doesn't hold him back, "And then my heart with pleasure fills, / And dances with the daffodils" (23-24), it instead gives him solace. Wordsworth constantly invokes these "spots of time" throughout his poetry, and they can especially be found in one of his most famous poems, "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey."

What I love about The Namesake, the movie version at least, is that you don't know whose story is being told. The movie is composed of sections that focus on different members of the Ganguli family. We feel the alienation, resentment, and the misunderstanding between all of them. Like Wordsworth, Gogol's parents, Ashoke and Ashima adjust to America but still remember and yearn for their life in India. Their own reflective spots of time help them through the difficulty of leaving behind family and old traditions to forge an entirely new kind of life for their children. The movie constantly flashes back to various segments of their lives back home. And it's through this method of superimposing their memories to their present day lives that ultimately provides them with their own sense of solace.

The very last scene of the movie almost killed me. It's another flashback of Ashima, Ashoke and young Gogol at the waters edge. The scene was shown earlier in the movie but only from Ashima's perspective.

Ashoke and Gogol walk to the edge of the rocks, surrounded by splashing waves. Ashoke is holding on to Gogol's hand as they come to the end of the path. He mentions to Gogol that they had come all this way only to forget to bring the camera and take a picture. He asks Gogol if he'll remember this moment, remember that they came to a place where they could no longer go on, and Gogol naively replies, "How long do I have to remember it for?" Oh my, there's just so much at work in this scene! It's beautiful and I think if the filmmaker can capture and invoke Wordsworth as Lahiri has so stunningly well, then I may need to pick up that book sooner than I had realized.

This movie possesses an abundance of themes and I cannot touch on all of them, but I do honestly recommend you watch it. And I want someone to talk about it with, so do yourself and myself a favor!

1 comment:

  1. Yeah Natasha,

    The book is even more engrossing. I have only recently completed it, not a voluminous one, just 291 pages in a paperback. The author has gracefully supported the plot with rich and soul-stirring narratives.

    I've tried to recapitulate my impression of the book on my blog.