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Contrasting Regions: India, United States, Europe
Ashima regrets that they can't go earlier, in time for Durga pujo, but it will be years before Ashoke is eligible for a sabbatical, and three weeks in December is all they can manage. "It is like going home a few months after your Christmas," Ashima explains to Judy one day over the clothesline. (2.72)
Not only is India geographically distant, but it also has a different sense of time, with different holidays. It's hard to live on an Indian calendar in America, where people have never even heard of things like Durga pujo.
He is old enough to know that he himself will be burned, not buried, that his body will occupy no plot of earth, that no stone in this country will bear his name beyond life. In Calcutta, from taxis and once from the roof of his grandparents' house, he has seen the dead bodies of strangers carried on people's shoulders through streets, decked with flowers, wrapped in sheets. (3.67)
Each culture has its own relationship to the dead, and the Bengali tradition of cremation just might freak out Gogol. It means that he will literally disappear from the face of the earth. There will be no tombstone to prove he ever existed.
No other building he's seen has affected him so powerfully. Their second day at the Taj he attempts to sketch the dome and a portion of the façade, but the building's grace eludes him and he throws the sketch away. (4.37)
Gogol gets a sense of how rich and diverse India is when the Gangulis take a visit to Agra and see the Taj Mahal. It's a first glimpse into what will later become a part of his identity – his love of architecture.
Apart from visiting relatives there was nothing to do in Calcutta. He's already been to the planetarium and the Zoo Garden and the Victoria Memorial a dozen times. They have never been to Disneyland or the Grand Canyon. (4.30)
The tourist hotspots of Calcutta are compared to the tourist hotspots of the United States. It seems like Gogol resents being carted around to the sites of Calcutta when he's never even seen the sites back in America.
He goes shopping with her on Madison Avenue at stores they must be buzzed into, for cashmere cardigans and outrageously expensive English colognes that Maxine buys without deliberation or guilt. (6.48)
Maxine's world is very different from Gogol's. Growing up with a wealthy and privileged background, her New York City is the luxurious one, as this shopping trip down Madison Avenue demonstrates. Compare this experience of New York City to the drive Gogol takes with his parents' friends: they skip all the cultural sites and buy Indian goods. It's almost as if they visit two completely different cities.
He grows to appreciate being utterly disconnected from the world […] The Ratliffs own the moon that floats over the lake, and the sun and the clouds. (6.127)
Even the Ratliffs' vacations are different from the Gangulis'. While the Gangulis head to Calcutta, a busy, crowded city filled with relatives, the Ratliffs go off to their relatively isolated cabin in New Hampshire, where they literally own the wilderness. Talk about rich.
All of it he finds beautiful beyond description, and yet at the same time it depresses him that none of it is new to Moushumi, that she has seen it all hundreds of times […] He admires her, even resents her a little, for having moved to another country and made a separate life. He realizes that this is what their parents had done in America. What he, in all likelihood, will never do. (9.28)
Moving to another country is a chance to remake yourself. Only it's hard to do that when your wife has already lived in Paris, and formed a Parisian identity. Gogol has to confront the fact that the Moushumi who lived in Paris is very different from the Moushumi he knows.
Part of him know this is a privilege, to be here with a person who knows the city so well, but the other part of him wants simply to be a tourist, fumbling with a phrase book, looking at all the buildings on his list, getting lost. (9.26)
The difference between Moushumi's and Gogol's attitudes toward Paris doesn't bode well for their relationship. Moushumi feels at home in Paris, which is neither India nor America; Gogol wants to be a tourist and see everything with new, fresh eyes.
In the spring he went to Venice alone for a week, the trip he'd planned for the two of them, saturating himself in its ancient, melancholy beauty. (12.14)
After his divorce from Moushumi, Gogol seeks out a foreign city to get lost in, perhaps to remake himself after a devastating breakup.
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