Study Guide

The Namesake Chapter 1

By Jhumpa Lahiri

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Chapter 1


  • It is August 1968. Ashima and Ashoke are in their apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Ashima tries to make her favorite Indian snack, while Ashoke studies for his electrical engineering degree in the bedroom. Pretty standard domestic fare, right?
  • Cue craziness: Ashima starts to go into labor. Yikes.
  • The couple heads to the hospital, and after checking Ashima in, Ashoke heads to work. What? He's not staying for the birth?
  • While talking with a nurse, Ashima uses an Indian English idiom, but the nurse thinks she has made an error, which reminds Ashima of how she met her husband. Here's the scoop:
  • Some years ago, back in Calcutta, Ashima was a nineteen-year-old college student working as an English tutor.
  • When Ashima's mother invited a bunch of potential suitors for Ashima over to the house, one of them turned out to be Ashoke, who came to the house with his parents in tow.
  • In a moment that reminds us of Cinderella with a twist, Ashima saw Ashoke's shoes in the hallway, and couldn't resist trying them on before she met him.
  • It's a memorable scene, that's for sure, and we guess the shoe fit, because here they are married. Ashima thinks back on that moment every Sunday, when Ashoke polishes his shoes. And apparently she's thinking of it now, while she's in labor with their first kid.
  • Meanwhile, Ashoke has returned to the hospital at 4:30 a.m., where he paces the waiting room.
  • His slight limp on his right foot reminds him of his accident. Fire up the flux capacitor, awesome readers, it's time for another trip back into the past:
  • Back in India, he was on his way to visit his beloved grandfather, who had introduced him to the great works of Russian literature. His grandfather had recently gone blind, though, so he was going to give all his books to an eager Ashoke, who was on his way to pick them up. Instant library? Yes please.
  • So, on October 20, 1961, Ashoke was on a train from Calcutta to Jamshedpur, and one of his compartment-mates was a middle-aged Bengali businessman named Ghosh, who encouraged Ashoke to travel the world.
  • As Ashoke was reading Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat" in the early morning hours, the train crashed. Half buried under the rubble, Ashoke was nearly missed by the rescuers until a page from Gogol's short story caught their attention. Gogol to the rescue.
  • After a year of recovery, Ashoke returned to college and graduated. We wonder if he ever got his hands on his grandfather's books. If not, can we have them, please?
  • Having taken Ghosh's advice, Ashoke applied for graduate school at MIT. Time for some world travel. He only told his parents his intentions when he was awarded a fellowship, and it was too late for them to convince him not to go.
  • In the midst of all these memories, a nurse walks in to the waiting room. Is he a proud papa, yet?

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