NEA Big Read
The Namesake

The Namesake

by Jhumpa Lahiri

That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.

  1. Indian cuisine: Students should research the varied regional cooking styles of the Indian subcontinent, and create a map reflecting each region's signature dishes. Using the food references within The Namesake as a starting point, students might build a glossary of basic Indian ingredients, including ghee, dal, garam masala, and various curries and rice dishes. Students should also investigate the influence of the British Empire on Indian cuisine.
  2. Indian dress: Have students research various styles of Indian dress—the sari, the turban, the shalwar kameez, etc.—and prepare an exhibit of photos, fabric, and other materials showing how these items are worn, and the religious and/or cultural significance behind the various styles. Ideally students would have wearable samples of these items, and would model the clothes as they explained the exhibit at school assemblies, libraries, and other locations throughout the community.
  3. Film screening: Arrange for a screening of the film adaptation of The Namesake. Ask students to write about how the film follows, or differs from, the novel, and to speculate about why the filmmaker made the choices that she did. Students may also research the music that accompanies the film to learn about traditional Indian instruments and singing styles.
  4. Language arts: Ask students to create detailed etymological dictionaries of common English words (bandanna, shampoo, shawl) that have Hindi, Urdu, or Sanskrit roots. The dictionaries should include complete discussions of each word's origins, its evolution, earliest examples of English usage, and its gradual acceptance into the English language. The dictionaries should be the basis for a discussion of the intersections of language and culture, and how each shapes the other.
  5. Architecture: Have students locate architectural plans and maps of the Taj Mahal and its surrounding grounds, and compare those plans to contemporary photographs of the site. A "pictorial timeline" that followed the gradual degradation and subsequent restoration of the gardens, or particular buildings, would be of interest. Students should note the various religious traditions expressed through specific architectural elements. Students might also research the Taj Mahal's influence on Indian architecture in the century following its construction.
  6. Religion and art: Invite one or more experts on India's faith traditions to give a presentation that compares and contrasts the four religions that originated in the Indian subcontinent: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. In preparation for the lecture, students or participants from the community might research and collect photographs of important religious buildings, statues, rituals or key events, and find samples of religious texts and art for display.
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