Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The Gangulis are always on the move, but trains, planes, and automobiles aren't just modes of transportation. In fact, traveling always marks a transition between cultures, or stages of life. So time spent on a train is pivotal. The first and probably most significant example of this is the fact that Ashoke's train accident inspires him to name his son "Gogol." But no matter what, things keep happening to the Gangulis on trains. Here are a few more examples:
Ashima leaves her shopping bags on a subway train. When they are returned to her, she is pleasantly surprised and feels better about life in the states.
In India, Sonia has a horrible allergic reaction to jackfruit while on the train. Plus, another passenger is robbed and murdered on the train as well. These both serve as harrowing reminders to the Gangulis that life in India is not quite as safe as it is in America.
Gogol meets the first of his white American girlfriends on the train – the lovely, bookish Ruth.
On his way home to Thanksgiving, Gogol's train is delayed because of a suicide on the tracks. This prompts Ashoke to tell Gogol the story of his own brush with death on a train, which helps Gogol to better understand his name.
After Ashoke dies, Gogol rides the train back to New York and fondly remembers a trip the Gangulis took to Cape Cod, where he had a special moment with his dad. He breaks up with Maxine soon after.
Gogol finds out about his wife's affair with Dimitri on a train, and their divorce soon follows.
That's a whole lot of pivotal life events that happen on the rails. But hey, what good is a train for if not a journey, right? As Gogol rides trains, he journeys to find himself. Could it be as simple as that?