My two texts are “The Namesake” and “Bend it like Beckham”. Our prescribed text, Jhumpa Lahiris “The Namesake” explores the link to belonging in detail. The emphasis is on Gogol Ganguli. Gogol struggles with a sense of belonging to his family and his Bengali culture and heritage throughout his life in the course of the novel. Born and raised in the U.S., while his parents spent their entire life in India following Bengali culture and practices and moved on to America as young adults. Gogol must try to find a sense of belonging as he deals with trying to belong in American society, while following his Bengali traditions. This shares many similarities with Jesmindar Bhamra, the main character in my related text, “Bend it Like Beckham”.
The film was released in 2002 and directed by Gurinder Chadha. The film portrays a stereotypical Sikh- Indian family living in England. The youngest, Jesminder dreams of being a footballer, but due to the religious expectations set by her mother and father wanting to raise her with traditional Indian-Sikh beliefs and customs, she is alienated and left to feel as an outcast to her English friends. In both the Namesake and ‘Bend it like Beckham’, the two main characters of Gogol and Jess are brought into this life of divided cultures and strive to find a sense of belonging between their cultural heritage and newly adopted culture they’ve been brought into. The texts show that a person’s sense of belonging is a concept that evolves through time and experiences.
The “Namesake” follows Gogol Ganguli, an Indian origin, born in America. Gogols parents Ashima and Ashoke, faced the more harrowing task of leaving their home and family in India and relocating to America. Throughout the novel, the composer of the namesake illustrates an aspect of belonging through the technique symbolism. Lahiri uses the motif of naming, to create the sense of belonging and not belonging. Gogol’s name becomes a symbol for the difficulty he faces in accepting himself and feeling a sense of belonging. Throughout his life Gogol greatly suffers from the uniqueness of his name. He is bewildered as to why his father named him Gogol as it not Bengali nor a normal American name which leads him to struggle to understand himself and his identity.
In Bengali families, “individual names are sacred, inviolable. They are not meant to be inherited or shared” (28). However, Gogol grows up living in America, where children are often ashamed of their differences from others. As a teenager, Gogol desires to blend in and to live unnoticed. This presents a struggle between two cultures. Ashima and Ashoke want to raise Gogol and his younger sister with Bengali culture and values. On the other hand Gogol grew wanting to belong by relating mostly to peers and the surrounding culture in America. It is only much later in their lives that they begin to truly value their Bengali heritage and that Gogol finds the importance in his name. During high school Gogol struggles to accept his name as he sees it has no real significance not him. When Gogol heads for college he rejects his identity completely and legally changes his name to Nikhil which allows him to somewhat feel a sense of belonging as this name relates to his Bengali roots, even though he had been ashamed of those exact roots in schooling. Gogol dreads having to go visit home and return to a life where he is “Gogol”. To him, Gogol is not only his name; it bears all his discomfort and struggles to fit into two different cultures as he grew up. His life at college makes it easy for Gogol to live as Nikhil in an American culture.
Gogol’s relationship with Maxine Ratliff is a prime example of Gogol’s long awaited complete seclusion from his family and Bengali connection. Gogol moves in with Maxine where he adopts her families’ American way of life. It’s here that he seems to find a sense of peace and feels as though as belongs. “At times, as the laughter at Gerald and Lydia’s table swells, and another bottle of wine is opened, and Gogol raises his glass to be filled yet again, he is conscious of the fact that his immersion in Maxine’s family is a betrayal of his own.(155) The more time he spends with people like Maxine and her family, the Ratliffs, the farther away Gogol becomes from his own culture and family. The world of the Ratliffs is appealing, although it’s not his world. It’s a white, rich, American world, and Gogol is none of those things. “He is conscious of the fact that his immersion in Maxine’s family is a betrayal of his own”(138). It’s at this point that Gogol has adopted Maxine’s American family as his own and feels as though he has finally found something he can value and belong to.
“She (Maxine) is surprised to hear certain things about his life that all his parents’ friends are Bengali, that they had had an arranged marriages, that his mother cooks Indian food every day, that she wears saris and a bindis. “Really?” she says, not fully believing him. “But you’re so different. I would never have thought that.”(180). This is how distant Gogol has become to his old self. Gogols experiences with Maxine pulls his sense of belonging towards his American culture and further away from his Bengali roots, in doing so he becomes disconnected from his family. And it’s only after his father’s death and after his divorce from Moushumi that Gogol realizes something really important that “Without people in the world to call him Gogol, no matter how long he himself lives, Gogol Ganguli will, once and for all, vanish from the lips of loved ones, and so, cease to exist. Yet the thought of this eventual demise provides no sense of victory, no solace. It provides no solace at all. (289) Gogol finds peace in his name after his father’s death and comes to accept it as part of himself. The film “Bend it like Beckham” shares many similarities with “The Namesake”. These include Jess’s struggle to fit in a society and culture other than her own. The film focuses on Jess’s desire to play football and the conflict she faces due to her expectations she has to her traditional Sikh family.
Jess is faced with making the decision to pursue football or give in to her parent’s wishes and complete school and marry and Indian man. Throughout the film Jess is experiencing integration with British culture and although she does not want to give in completely to her Indian culture, she does not want to completely neglect her cultural identity either. Though Jess’s parents have chosen to remain separated from the British community, rather than integrate. As Jess faces the daunting task of finding her own identity without losing her family, she befriends a British footballer Jules. During this time Jess as a young British women is influenced by contemporary British culture and dresses and acts more towards the British norm, in an attempt to belong.
This is similar to Gogols attempts to distance himself from his Bengali culture. Besides the cultural issues faced, racial, gender and sexual discrimination are also seen by the characters in this film. As football is a male dominated sport, Jess is pressured not only by her family but by society to give up football. A significant link to “The Namesake” is Jess’s relationship with her coach, Joe. This relates to “The Namesake” as the main character Gogol falls in love with an American girl Maxine, whom he has a long relationship with, but the main similarity lies with the parents resentment to this. The Bhamra parents forbid this union between their daughter and her British coach, mostly out of fear that it will bring shame to the family within the Sikh community. While Gogols parents vow a preference to him marrying a Bengali woman. When Jess openly admits her attraction to Joe to her older sister, Pinky frankly asks her younger sister if she really wants “to be the one that everyone stares at, at every family do, “cause you married the English bloke?”.
Thus bringing up the point of most people’s desire to “fit in” The filmmaker uses close up shots frequently to convey the emotions of the characters and to understand the emotion the characters are experiencing. The close up shot is used to communicate expressions to the audience. Costuming is utilized by the director to signify mood and emotion as Jess’ soccer jersey is red which signifies her passion for soccer. Whenever Jess is wearing her soccer jersey she is always joyful and happy, whereas when she wore her traditional sari she is sad and miserable. However after winning the final and she changes back into her traditional sari, she is happy. This conveys that soccer was a way to accept her culture and to live a fulfilling life.
These helped to evolve her sense of belonging and made the transition to accept her cultural identity easier. In the conclusion of the movie, Jess’ parents allow her to go to the United States to play soccer. As Jess has come to find a way to feel a sense of purpose and belonging through her passion for football, she has also done so with the acceptance of her family and thus her experiences not only aided her path to belonging but so too did it while keeping both her cultures. Gogol also finds a sense of peace when he comes to accept that his identity is embellished by both cultures. He does not have to belong to one or the other; there is no need for him to choose. He is made up of both. It was the eventual death of his father that causes him to embrace his given name and accept himself; he is no longer ashamed of himself or the way he has lived. Through the experiences that Gogol lived through; his sense of belonging evolved in that he came to accept his position in society and the world relative to him.