The trip to Paris, during which Moushumi presents a paper, is also a difficult time. Gogol feels out of place in this part of his wife’s life. He does not know Europe, he has never been there before, and he can be only a tourist—just as he was long ago, as a teenager, with his family in Delhi. Moushumi, as Gogol fears, feels at home in Paris, and some part of her longs to be there still, in its beautiful streets, speaking French and spending time at cafes. An important indicator of Gogol’s slow rupture from Moushumi is her smoking. At first, he finds it appealing, mysterious, cosmopolitan. But as time goes on, he notices that her smoking continues—that she is unwilling to abandon it. Gogol comes to view the habit as one of Moushumi’s affectations.
Indeed, affectation becomes an important issue in this chapter. Gogol feels he must “pretend” around Moushumi’s friends. He is not interested in the same things as they are. Gogol, for one, doesn’t real care about baby names, and he doesn’t want to live in Brooklyn. The problem, of course, is that Gogol doesn’t really know what he wants instead. He still believes that he loves Moushumi, and he is devoted to her and to their marriage. But he finds himself frustrated by the feeling that she is not, and will never be, entirely “his.” There is a part of her temperamental make-up that is comfortable with Donald and Astrid, with their cares and concerns. Moushumi is “in” that group, and Gogol is not.
Moushumi’s revelation, that Gogol changed his name from Gogol, is an important one for several reasons. First, she does this without consulting with her husband. It is as though Gogol’s life is another subject for conversation among those in the group. Gogol feels that Moushumi doesn’t care about him as an individual, and this episode worries him. He wonders whether Moushumi is embarrassed for having wound up with another Bengali-American man, who wanted so desperately to “fit in” with society that he changed his own name.
There is a profound irony in this scene, too. For Donald and Astrid pretend that they are open to everything, that they are culturally liberal people. But the group of Moushumi’s friends does not understand the motivation for Gogol changing his name. And they make subtle fun of his original name, Gogol, asking what possible connection the writer could have had to Gogol’s Bengali upbringing. Like Gerald and Lydia, who are perhaps more well-meaning than Donald and Astrid, the group of young Brooklyn cosmopolites has trouble accepting a culture that is not their own—even as they profess to be worldly. Lahiri thus uses this chapter to bring up one of the novel’s primary themes: “open” and “closed” mind-sets. Moushumi’s friends might think Gogol comes from a “closed” background, but their inability to understand the nature of his upbringing is itself an example of their closed-mindedness.