Namesakes

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Within the database of more than entries you'll find the story about Randle Reef and how a sailor's name became attached to one of the biggest toxic messes in Canada. You'll learn about the Spectator reporter who became immortalized when a Burlington city committee ran out of names for streets in a new subdivision. And did you ever wonder about the delightful name Terryberry, as in Terryberry library?

You'll find the answer to that question online too. And Jolley Cut? It sounds like a bit of whimsy but there was indeed a Jolley who built a cut down the Mountain. Namesakes Online is also where you can check if you're unsure about a name. Is it St. Lawrence Park or Sam Lawrence Park? As someone once noted many years ago when an error was made in The Spectator, " Former Hamilton Mayor Sam Lawrence was a lot of things.

But a saint wasn't one of them. Twenty years ago, the city realized its wonderful new waterfront park had a confusing name. So people in the community — through The Spectator — were asked to mail in suggestions for a better name. Hundreds of ideas came in. Everything you could imagine, from Perri Park remembering Rocco Perri, the gangster , to Bob's Bathing Beach to Pud's Point, a suggestion tenaciously put forward by Spectator columnist Paul Wilson to immortalize a longtime Hamilton Harbour police officer.

A three-person committee was appointed to sort through it, and this reporter The Spec's environment writer at the time was on it. We locked ourselves in a room, and for hours went through all the suggestions.

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It was exasperating. As quick as an idea was put forward by one judge, another would knock it down. Too hard to say. Too obscure. Too hard to spell. He did not hear his brothers and sisters laughing on the rooftop, or see the tiny, dusty, cluttered room in which his grandfather read.

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It was while walking on some of the world's noisiest, busiest streets, on Chowringhee and Gariahat Road, that he had read pages of The Brothers Karamazov, and Anna Karenina, and Fathers and Sons. Once, a younger cousin who had tried to imitate him had fallen down the red clay staircase in Ashoke's house and broken an arm. Ashoke's mother was always convinced that her eldest son would be hit by a bus or a tram, his nose deep into War and Peace. That he would be reading a book the moment he died.

One day, in the earliest hours of October 20, , this nearly happened. Ashoke was twenty-two, a student at B. He was traveling on the 83 Up Howrah—Ranchi Express to visit his grandparents for the holidays; they had moved from Calcutta to Jamshedpur upon his grandfather's retirement from the university. Ashoke had never spent the holidays away from his family. But his grandfather had recently gone blind, and he had requested Ashoke's company specifically, to read him The Statesman in the morning, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy in the afternoon. Ashoke accepted the invitation eagerly.

He carried two suitcases, the first one containing clothes and gifts, the second empty. For it would be on this visit, his grandfather had said, that the books in his glass-fronted case, collected over a lifetime and preserved under lock and key, would be given to Ashoke. The books had been promised to Ashoke throughout his childhood, and for as long as he could remember he had coveted them more than anything else in the world.

He had already received a few in recent years, given to him on birthdays and other special occasions.

But now that the day had come to inherit the rest, a day his grandfather could no longer read the books himself, Ashoke was saddened, and as he placed the empty suitcase under his seat, he was disconcerted by its weightlessness, regretful of the circumstances that would cause it, upon his return, to be full. He carried a single volume for the journey, a hardbound collection of short stories by Nikolai Gogol, which his grandfather had given him when he'd graduated from class twelve.

On the title page, beneath his grandfather's signature, Ashoke had written his own. Because of Ashoke's passion for this particular book, the spine had recently split, threatening to divide the pages into two sections. His favorite story in the book was the last, "The Overcoat," and that was the one Ashoke had begun to reread as the train pulled out of Howrah Station late in the evening with a prolonged and deafening shriek, away from his parents and his six younger brothers and sisters, all of whom had come to see him off and had huddled until the last moment by the window, waving to him from the long dusky platform.

He had read "The Overcoat" too many times to count, certain sentences and phrases embedded in his memory. Each time he was captivated by the absurd, tragic, yet oddly inspiring story of Akaky Akakyevich, the impoverished main character who spends his life meekly copying documents written by others and suffering the ridicule of absolutely everyone. His heart went out to poor Akaky, a humble clerk just as Ashoke's father had been at the start of his career. Each time, reading the account of Akaky's christening, and the series of queer names his mother had rejected, Ashoke laughed aloud.

He shuddered at the description of the tailor Petrovich's big toe, "with its deformed nail as thick and hard as the shell of a tortoise. Ashoke was always devastated when Akaky was robbed in "a square that looked to him like a dreadful desert," leaving him cold and vulnerable, and Akaky's death, some pages later, never failed to bring tears to his eyes.

In some ways the story made less sense each time he read it, the scenes he pictured so vividly, and absorbed so fully, growing more elusive and profound. Just as Akaky's ghost haunted the final pages, so did it haunt a place deep in Ashoke's soul, shedding light on all that was irrational, all that was inevitable about the world.

Outside the view turned quickly black, the scattered lights of Howrah giving way to nothing at all. He had a second-class sleeper in the seventh bogie, behind the air-conditioned coach. Because of the season, the train was especially crowded, especially raucous, filled with families on holiday. Small children were wearing their best clothing, the girls with brightly colored ribbons in their hair.

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Though he had had his dinner before leaving for the station, a four-layer tiffin carrier packed by his mother sat at his feet, in the event that hunger should attack him in the night. He shared his compartment with three others. There was a middle-aged Bihari couple who, he gathered from overhearing their conversation, had just married off their eldest daughter, and a friendly, potbellied, middle-aged Bengali businessman wearing a suit and tie, by the name of Ghosh.


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Ghosh told Ashoke that he had recently returned to India after spending two years in England on a job voucher, but that he had come back home because his wife was inconsolably miserable abroad. Ghosh spoke reverently of England. The sparkling, empty streets, the polished black cars, the rows of gleaming white houses, he said, were like a dream. Trains departed and arrived according to schedule, Ghosh said.

No one spat on the sidewalks. It was in a British hospital that his son had been born. He pulled a packet of Dunhill cigarettes from his jacket pocket, offering them around the compartment before lighting one for himself. He tilted his head toward the window. America," he said, as if the nameless villages they passed had been replaced by those countries.

But I have a family," Ashoke said.

Our Namesakes : Washington and Lee University

Ghosh frowned. A mother and father and six siblings. I am the eldest. Free," he said, spreading his hands apart for emphasis.


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  4. Before it's too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late. He tipped his head politely to one side, letting the last of the cigarette drop from his fingertips. He reached into a bag by his feet and took out his diary, turning to the twentieth of October. The page was blank and on it, with a fountain pen whose cap he ceremoniously unscrewed, he wrote his name and address.

    He ripped out the page and handed it to Ashoke. I live in Tollygunge, just behind the tram depot. He pulled out a well-worn deck from his suit pocket, with Big Ben's image on the back. But Ashoke politely declined, for he knew no card games, and besides which, he preferred to read. One by one the passengers brushed their teeth in the vestibule, changed into their pajamas, fastened the curtain around their compartments, and went to sleep.

    Ghosh offered to take the upper berth, climbing barefoot up the ladder, his suit carefully folded away, so that Ashoke had the window to himself. The Bihari couple shared some sweets from a box and drank water from the same cup without either of them putting their lips to the rim, then settled into their berths as well, switching off the lights and turning their heads to the wall.

    Only Ashoke continued to read, still seated, still dressed. A single small bulb glowed dimly over his head.

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    From time to time he looked through the open window at the inky Bengal night, at the vague shapes of palm trees and the simplest of homes. Carefully he turned the soft yellow pages of his book, a few delicately tunneled by worms. The steam engine puffed reassuringly, powerfully. Deep in his chest he felt the rough jostle of the wheels. Sparks from the smokestack passed by his window. A fine layer of sticky soot dotted one side of his face, his eyelid, his arm, his neck; his grandmother would insist that he scrub himself with a cake of Margo soap as soon as he arrived.

    Immersed in the sartorial plight of Akaky Akakyevich, lost in the wide, snow-white, windy avenues of St. Petersburg, unaware that one day he was to dwell in a snowy place himself, Ashoke was still reading at two-thirty in the morning, one of the few passengers on the train who was awake, when the locomotive engine and seven bogies derailed from the broad-gauge line. The sound was like a bomb exploding.

    The first four bogies capsized into a depression alongside the track.