As this chapter begins, we notice that the narration seems to be taking on more of Moushumi’s perspective, referring to Gogol as Nikhil. Her parents call to wish the couple a happy first anniversary before they have even had a chance to say it to one another. They are also celebrating Moushumi’s successful oral exams, heading to a restaurant in midtown recommended by Donald and Astrid. Moushumi has also been awarded a fellowship to study in France, but she has kept that a secret from Gogol, as she is unable to leave now that she is married. She has kept a few secrets from him recently, like sometimes going out to restaurants alone when she has told him she is studying. She feels a need to remember that she can be independent, that she will not, as her mother did, become reliant on her husband.
This shift in perspective allows us to follow Moushumi as the protagonist for a time, giving us a window into her point of view. It is significant that, although every other chapter refers to Gogol as Gogol, in this chapter he is “Nikhil” – a sign that this part of his identity lives more prominently in Moushumi. The secrets she is keeping from him are yet another warning sign that their marriage is not fated to endure for decades, as Ashoke and Ashima’s did. These secrets are driven by Moushumi’s need to feel independent, and her fear of any love that creates reliance.
They’ve both dressed up for dinner, and Moushumi wears the black dress from the first night they made love in her apartment. She remembers their first date, and being surprised by the instant attraction she felt. She liked that he’d changed his name from Gogol to Nikhil—it made him somehow new. But he does not remember the dress when she asks him about it. As they walk to the restaurant, stopping to look in store windows, she reflects on Gogol’s familiarity, his kindness, and their easy courtship with her parents’ approval. The things that had drawn her to him initially are now beginning to make her feel distant, and she cannot help but associate Gogol with a sense of resignation, of giving in to a life she had always hoped to avoid.
While in a way, Moushumi’s choice to date Gogol had felt rebellious at the beginning of her relationship – since she was disobeying the pact she had made with herself never to date a Bengali man – now the wider context of their relationship, as a resignation to her parents wishes, is beginning to haunt Moushumi’s feelings for him. The excitement of their early love is wearing off, as evidenced by Gogol’s forgetting the origins of the black dress she is wearing tonight.
When they finally find the hidden restaurant, it is not what Moushumi had hoped for, and she is distressed by the Bangladeshi bus boys who serve the bread. She wishes they could leave, but it is too late. The food is unsatisfying, and she feels too sober, her discomfort growing. She tries to hide this from Gogol (whom she thinks of as Nikhil), but he begins to lose patience. As they leave, she is struck by an urge to go somewhere else and eat a pizza.
With the added benefit of Moushumi’s perspective in the narration, her unhappiness and bitterness now come into the foreground. Gogol is mystified by her moodiness, but even small reminders of her past, like the Bangladeshi waiters, aggravate Moushumi significantly, along with the disappointing meal.
A new semester at NYU begins, but Moushumi is officially finished with classes. She is teaching a section of beginning French, and looks forward to the shocked looks on her students’ faces when she reveals that she is not French herself, but is from New Jersey. Moushumi rises early for her 8 a.m. section, enjoying the new routine, and ponders what life will be like when she has to leave the city for her first real job, only flying back on weekends. The prospect is an attractive one, as it seems to offer a new beginning.
Moushumi has found comfort in this third identity as a French teacher. This is a reflection of the way that her time in Paris was a rebellious quest to forge her own path – a path she has now abandoned in some ways. The fact that she is looking forward to the independence of a long-distance relationship reveals her dissatisfaction with married life.
When Moushumi arrives at the department there is an ambulance there, and she is shocked to find that an administrative assistant named Alice, a thirty-year-old woman, has died of an aneurysm. As Moushumi readies herself for class, she finds comfort in sorting the mail, a job that Alice will never do again. Suddenly she sees a name that surprises her, and takes the letter into her office. She opens the envelope, staring at the name at the top of the resumé: Dimitri Desjardins. She remembers being enthralled just by the name when they first met, years before. From the resumé she learns what he’s been doing for the last decade—earning his Ph.D. in German literature from the University of Heidelberg.
Once again, an unexpected death or accident creates a pivot point in a main character’s life. The death of Alice, who is not far from Moushumi’s age, is a reminder to her that life is short. This, in combination with her rediscovery of the seductively-named Dimitri Desjardins, creates the perfect conditions for the beginning of an affair. Dimitri is very different from Gogol—he is a member of the academic circles where Moushumi feels most at home, and where Gogol will always be an outsider.
Moushumi had met Dimitri years before, at the end of high school, on a chartered bus from Princeton to D.C. for an anti-apartheid rally. He was 27 at the time, and had traveled extensively after college. He gave her a nickname to replace Moushumi, calling her “Mouse.” As everyone fell asleep, he very slowly unbuttoned her skirt, but as she turned to him for the kiss that would be her first, he stopped, whispering that she will break a lot of hearts, and then turned away, ignoring her for the rest of the trip.
This intense first experience with sex – although nothing really happens physically – sparks a curiosity in the young Moushumi that has not yet been satisfied. At the time, Dimitri represented a complete rebellion from the cloistered life Moushumi had lived at home, his cultured intelligence a strong draw for the young bookworm. The nickname he gave her is also a sign of their continuing connection, and almost a gesture of ownership – he offers her a new identity, which she craves desperately.
Moushumi returned to Princeton every day afterward, finally finding Dimitri and going on her very first date, to a Godard film. When she asked him to her senior prom, though, he condescendingly declined, treating her like a child. Afterward she saw him with another date sometimes at the movies. Once, when his date wasn’t listening, he told Moushumi she looked great. At Brown, she received occasional postcards written from Europe, books he thought she would enjoy, or late night phone calls, but these eventually tapered off.
Their relationship doesn’t come to any sort of conclusion or yield any particular romance – but it leaves open the possibility of a future connection, a possibility encouraged by Dimitri’s sporadic communication from abroad. We know that young Moushumi will end up moving to Paris, and wonder how much Dimitri’s European adventures influence this choice, as Moushumi (like Gogol) pursues her new identity through love.
Now, sitting in her office, Moushumi reads his cover letter and inserts a missing period. She photocopies the résumé and returns it to the correct mailbox. She debates whether to record his phone number, and ends up writing just the numbers under the letter “D”—without the name, it doesn’t feel like a betrayal. At home, she searches out a book Dimitri had inscribed to her by Stendhal, unable at first to find it in the mess of books shared by her and Gogol. She finally finds it, and begins to reread it at every opportunity, reading in bed until Gogol comes to join her.
If Dimitri is nameless in Moushumi’s address book, then somehow he feels less real – another sign of the power that names have in this novel. Nevertheless, Moushumi returns home in search of Dimitri’s name in a book, which offers her a chance to explore her feelings for him without acting on them yet. This secret rebellion is hidden from Gogol, who is oblivious to her discovery of the résumé and the existence of Dimitri.
The next week Moushumi calls him. She has reread all of Dimitri’s postcards, telling herself she is reconnecting with an old friend, but keeping it a secret from Gogol. They begin to see each other twice a week in his apartment, eating elaborately cooked meals, drinking wine, and smoking before having sex. Dimitri is aging and slightly gray-haired, but she is undeniably attracted to him and his European sophistication. Being with him twice a week feels like being in Paris—anonymous, independent. With Dimitri she refers to Gogol only as “my husband.”
Now it is Gogol’s name that Moushumi avoids, as she falls quickly into this affair with Dimitri. It represents everything that Gogol does not offer her—a window into her rebellious past in Europe and a continuation of this rebellion into the present. Gogol has now become associated with the familial side of her identity, a complacency she seeks to escape in her relationship with the sophisticated Dimitri.
At home, Gogol suspects nothing. Moushumi is worried at first, but their nighttime routine of dinner, television, and then sleep does not change. She has trouble sleeping, though, and one night, as the construction below keeps her awake, she feels intense anger at Gogol for sleeping through it. When rain begins to pour, pelting the windows, she rouses him to see it. She weeps the next morning at the sight of the leaks in the ceiling, but Gogol is mystified by her sadness, remembering nothing from the night before.
The division between the couple grows, as Gogol’s failure to notice the small changes in Moushumi only confirms her sense that they are not really meant to be together, and that he can never understand her. While this realization saddens her, she makes no attempt to make him understand, continuing to hide her affair and true feelings from the oblivious Gogol.
After a month of Mondays and Wednesdays, Moushumi begins to escape to Dimitri’s on Fridays as well. She wonders whether she is the first woman in her family to ever be unfaithful, and is amazed by how easy it feels. Left alone in Dimitri’s apartment one day, she scans his bookshelves, recognizing many titles. She takes out a book of photographs of Paris by Atget, looking over the landmarks from that city of her past. She is interrupted by the key turning in the door as Dimitri returns.
Moushumi’s commitment to this other identity deepens. She sinks all too easily into the world of Dimitri, the world of Paris – as contained within the book by Atget – that he knows as she does. By now, rebellion – and rebellion through love – is second nature to Moushumi, an instinctual drive she has felt since childhood, when she used books to escape her commandeering family.