Within the year they are married, at a hotel in New Jersey close to her parents’ home. They might both have preferred a smaller American wedding, one outdoors and with jazz, but their parents invite close to 300 people, taking control of the planning of the wedding themselves. Gogol and Moushumi largely acquiesce as just punishment for having listened to their mothers and having gotten together in the first place. They drive to the hotel together and then separate into their families for the last time. Gogol wears an old Punjabi of Ashoke’s, and Ashima is dressed up for the first time since her husband’s death. Sonia gives Gogol a birthday gift, a red flask with the initials “NG” on it, and Gogol remembers her refusal to accept his decision to change his name when she was thirteen.
Though both Moushumi and Gogol are accustomed to rebellion, at this point both have become obedient to the wishes of their families and are eager to be married. Although they are already essentially living together, they maintain the illusion of separation once they arrive at the wedding venue. The trappings of his past, and of his father, follow Gogol throughout this ceremony. The gift from Sonia is a thoughtful acknowledgement – from an ally who understands the struggle of growing up as a child of immigrants – of the care that Gogol has taken in forging his own identity.
During the watered-down Hindu ceremony, as rice is poured into a fire that the hotel’s management will not allow to be lit, Gogol reflects upon the courage of his parents, who never spoke until after they were married in a ceremony like this one. Gogol and Moushumi follow the instructions of their Bengali relatives, barely looking at each other through the evening’s rituals, and sneaking one quick kiss later on. The food at the banquet, on tables that are too gaudy for Moushumi’s taste, is labeled for the American guests. As photos are taken, Gogol is aware that they are fulfilling a collective fantasy for these Bengali immigrants by marrying one another. He is also aware that most of the preparations are left over from Moushumi’s last wedding.
Here again is a watered-down, makeshift version of the ceremonies that both families and the many Bengali guests know from home – but which are foreign to Gogol and Moushumi, who need instructions on how to follow the ritual. That the hotel management will not allow them to light the traditional flame is a perfect example of the small but significant ways that their heritage is stifled by this foreign environment. Still, the wedding represents a triumph for this tight-knit community of immigrants, a sign of hope for the future.
As they both unwind in their hotel room afterward, Gogol remembers his engagement proposal. It was on Moushumi’s birthday, at an inn in the country, and he had presented the ring along with the hat he had bought her months before. In the end the hat was more of a surprise than the ring, as from the beginning, marriage was expected. After Moushumi has showered, they make love, even though both are exhausted, and afterward Gogol feels he can relax for the first time. They open the champagne, going through the cards and checks from their guests. Moushumi had wanted to avoid registering for gifts again, after the disaster of her first wedding. The checks are addressed to them both, some referring to him as Nikhil and some as Gogol. Although the cards say Moushumi Ganguli, she has chosen to keep her own last name, to Gogol’s slight regret.
This reflection on the inevitability of their marriage, which was expected from the moment they started dating, is paired with the in-the-moment experience of an expected action – sex on their wedding night – that is for both, at this point, just another part of the ritual they have been taking part in almost automatically all day. Unlike their parents, the young couple drinks champagne, and so are fully American in that way. The confusion of names on their wedding gifts is a sign that even with this move, Gogol has not escaped the problem of a divided identity. Their marriage will never be quite like that of his parents, as Moushumi’s choice to keep her name suggests.
With the money from their guests, they put down a security deposit on a beautiful one-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side that is slightly above their price range. They cook with produce from a farmers’ market, occasionally beating the too-sensitive fire alarm with the handle of a broom. They merge bank accounts, host dinner parties—small, classy affairs different from those of their childhood—and when they are craving Indian food they trek out to Jackson Diner in Queens. Sometimes in the apartment Gogol finds remnants of Graham, like an inscription in a book of poetry, or a postcard. Gogol has a nagging worry that he represents some sort of defeat for Moushumi. The most pressing reminder of Graham is her white wedding dress, never worn, which is stuffed into a bag in their closet.
Moushumi and Gogol now form a life together, and with our omniscient perspective as readers, we can compare it to the early days of Ashima’s marriage to Ashoke. Gogol and Moushumi’s is a firmly American relationship, but relics of their past remain, in the occasional craving for Indian food or in small ornaments in their apartment. The white wedding dress is an ominous sign of Moushumi’s continuing attachment to the rebellious past she gave up to marry Gogol. Graham’s name haunts their relationship in the inscriptions Gogol finds, foreshadowing future trouble.
In March they visit Paris together, where Moushumi is presenting an academic paper. The weather is gray, and Gogol feels acutely the eyes of passing men watching his wife. It is his first time in Europe, and they visit monuments together, but he has the feeling that Moushumi would rather be at the conference or visiting friends. He is mute at dinner with her French companions, feeling useless and out of place. Finally he decides to set off on his own to see the city, while she works on her paper. Everything he sees is beautiful beyond description, but he is depressed that none of it is new to Moushumi. He is jealous of her life here, so separate and independent. At their final dinner she seems sad to be leaving, and is slightly distant but beautiful. Gogol takes out his camera for a picture, but she refuses. She doesn’t want to be mistaken for a tourist.
This visit to Paris is another hint that the seemingly perfect beginnings of Moushumi and Gogol’s relationship might be starting to wear off. This is a part of Moushumi’s identity to which Gogol has no access, in the same way that Maxine had no access to Gogol’s Indian heritage. Here in France, Gogol is entirely a foreigner – and Moushumi’s slight embarrassment over his attempts to take photos is reminiscent of their past embarrassment when their parents, foreigners in America, would make their foreignness too apparent by tripping over an English phrase or committing a social faux pas.
It is May, and Gogol and Moushumi are at a dinner party in Brooklyn, at the home of Moushumi’s hip friends Astrid and Donald, which is under renovation. Gogol resents them slightly, feeling that they represent the type of couple Moushumi wishes to be—coolly confident hosts, invested in artisanal meats and breads that Gogol finds pretentious. The guests are scholars or artists, all married, which still surprises him. The academic talk, discussions of a Brecht play performed in the nude, of the benefits of a gluten free diet—all of this annoys an already hungry Gogol. He sees Moushumi lighting a cigarette and he grimaces. This habit of hers has begun to distress him.
Jumping forward again slightly, we see that the friction between Gogol and Moushumi has now increased—as earlier episodes might have foretold. This world of academics is foreign to Gogol, and he finds it off-putting, but it is a core part of Moushumi’s identity. His annoyance at her smoking habits is a world away from the descriptions of Moushumi smoking in the early days of their relationship, when it was something sensual and endearing.
For some reason that Gogol cannot understand, the approval of these people is important to Moushumi, and he has noticed that after these parties she is always slightly depressed when they return home, and often starts an argument. Gogol blames this on her upcoming exams. Most annoyingly for him, though, is the fact that it is through Donald and Astrid that Moushumi met Graham. The four of them even used to go away on vacation together. Once, Gogol hears Astrid slip up and call him Graham.
The couple’s connection to Graham is a further hint that Donald and Astrid’s presence will be toxic for Moushumi’s marriage. They represent a part of her identity that she is unwilling to give up, and which she often finds more compelling than her life with Gogol. That Astrid uses Graham’s name to refer to Gogol is a clear warning sign, especially in a novel where the link between naming and identity is so important.
At the moment the conversation has turned to baby names—the names of Popes, nonsense names—and baby name books are passed around the table. Gogol feels his bond with Moushumi return for a moment, because neither of them will be in these books. He is disconcerted, however, to realize that he does not know what her name means. He wanders upstairs, through the renovations, and into the kitchen where Donald is finally starting to cook. Gogol offers to help, and the two of them talk. Donald reveals that it was here that Moushumi came after her break-up with Graham. This only increases Gogol’s hatred for the place.
The theme of naming takes center stage here, and with it a sense of the bond between Moushumi and Gogol, whose “unique” names separate them from their companions – they are united in their isolation. Gogol’s realization that he does not know what Moushumi’s name means suggests that their relationship is shallower than he had imagined. With this, along with the memory of Graham that haunts this place, Lahiri is creating a very strong sense that something is not quite right in their marriage.
Returning downstairs, Gogol finds the name conversation still continuing, and sees that Moushumi is somewhat drunk. Suddenly she announces to the room that Gogol, whom they know as Nikhil, changed his name. Everyone is silent, confused, and Gogol is furious, but she is oblivious to this. He tells them he was born as Gogol, and the group absorbs this information, asking him why his parents chose that name. He thinks of the train accident, regrets telling Moushumi about this part of his life, and ends up mumbling that his father was a fan of the author. Then he announces that there is no such thing as the perfect name, that children should have the right to name themselves when they turn 18, and before that, simple pronouns should suffice. Gogol then remembers a book of Moushumi’s, an unhappy love story translated from the French, in which the main characters were referred to only as He and She, and he wishes his life were so simple.
Moushumi’s revelation to the group, which to Gogol is a stinging, deep betrayal, is offered in a casual, offhand way that suggests that she does not understand the intense frustration that surrounded his attempts to break free from his pet name, or the work he has done to form his own identity as Nikhil. Those assembled here can never understand that side of him, and he feels put on display even trying to explain. His pronouncement that the perfect name does not exist – not an observation that the group welcomes – is an expression of his own experience. He feels it is unjust that such a fundamental part of one’s identity should be completely outside of one’s control.