Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Home is wherever I'm with you"

         In their song entitled Home, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes sing, not of a physical place but of two people.  The chorus, “Ah home, let me come home, home is wherever I’m with you”, seems as though it could grace the jacket cover of Vikram Chandra’s novel Love and Longing in Bombay; a perfect summary for the contents held within.  Chandra’s use of frame narrative weaves a rich canopy of overlapping themes, allowing a kind of interplay between Ranjit, Subramaniam, the stories, and the reader.  Chandra purposefully leaves each chapter open-ended, with the particular character still seemingly discontent or unsettled.  However, the reader can see this discontentment exists not in the characters themselves but in the absence of the ones they truly love.   
Each character in Chandra’s stories must discover within themselves an aspect of home they cannot seem to grasp.  For Ranjit, it is commitment to his girlfriend, for Jago Antia it is overcoming the shadow of his dead brother, for Sheila it is allowing her son to marry the daughter of her nemesis, for Sartaj it is leaving behind the memories of his ex-wife, for Iqbal it is coming to terms with his lover even when though it’s too late, and for Subramaniam, it is facing the possibility of leaving behind his true love forever.  For each of these characters, home is not the house they live in, but the people they love.  These characters show us that home is nothing without the ones we cherish.  At the end of Artha, Iqbal returns to his family’s apartment, but the absence of Rajesh is so heartbreaking, he realizes he will never be happy again.  Sitting by himself in his room, Iqbal contemplates his solitude, “Alone, I’ll look for the painting in the dim shifting light...I’ll know that Rajesh is not in the line, that he body is not in the colour.  But there is that colour that moves through the body...There is that glow.  I know what it is.  It is the absence in my heart” (228).  Paradoxically, Iqbal is home and he is not.  He is physically in his house, but the apartment has no meaning without Rajesh there.  Nothing can ever be home to Iqbal, because the one he loves is seemingly lost forever.  
Chandra furthers his point in the final chapter, Shanti.  It is here, at the end of the novel, that Ranjit finally learns the true meanings of home; a concept Subramaniam has been trying to teach him all along.  From talking about a house that won’t sell in the first chapter, to realizing that houses are nothing but structures if they are not filled with loved ones, we watch Ranjit’s transformation from skeptic to believer.  He leaves Subramaniam, and his past life of indecisiveness with “a terrible longing” (268).  By the end of the novel, he is ready to make a commitment to his girlfriend.  He goes off in search of her, wondering about their future together, “If we search together, I think, we may find in Andheri, in Colaba, in Bhuleshwar, perhaps not heaven, or its opposite, but only life itself” (268).  Through Ranjit’s self discovery, the reader is able to make a connection to his or her own life.  No matter the house, neighborhood, town, or city, we make our homes in “life itself”, and only find happiness when we do so.   
While reading each chapter, I found myself making connections with my own “homes” and what they mean to me.  Often, I attribute my happiness to places, saying things like “I love Loyola” or “Living in Paris was the greatest experience of my life”.  But reading Chandra’s novel has made me realize that these places would mean nothing to me without the people who make them so special.  Loyola would be an awfully lonely place if Aileen wasn’t constantly by my side.  Living together for the past three years is quite possibly the defining factor of my Loyola experience.  And Paris would be just another city if I didn’t have Chelsea and Anthea to share the memories with.  Going home to New Jersey wouldn’t be exciting if my family wasn’t waiting at the front door to greet me.  And summers spent at home without Caleigh and Kerrin is unimaginable.  These are the people who have defined home; without them, without the memories, without the love and laughter, its definition would be meaningless.          

Being "At Home" With One's Past Self

Dharma is such an interesting story in that Jago Antia seems to be faced with an unconventional breech of his parents home, which certainly represents both that the home has been impeded upon and that his past “ghosts” have come to commuicate some sort of message to him.  Through this story, I was able to derive a more abstract definition of “home” as communicated by Chandra.  The sort of haunting of the ghost of his boyish self has caused Jago Antia’s home to no longer be a place of refuge, but rather a place that challenges him to become more self-aware through swallowing pills he previously chose to bypass.   I believe that Chandra challenges the reader to feel at home with herself.  If being “at home” is immutable comfort and blissful vulnerability, than being at home entails self-acceptance. 
              What I loved about Dharma was that Chandra really set up multiple dimensions of “home.”  Surrounded by Bombay, Jago Antia is cast back into the unfamiliar.  He is famished, exhausted, and has been emptied of his pride from years of exhibiting staunch virility, he has returned to the buzzing city.  While the city may hold a special importance in his past, it is his childhood home that is a microcosm of his past life.  I couldn’t help but associate with Jago Antia’s first encounter with his childhood ghost.  Of course, I have never really been haunted, per say, but I feel that in a sense, we are all “haunted” by memory of a time(s) in life, especially a time we chose to sweep under the rug for one reason or another. 
            The moment that Jago Antia realizes that the ghost is, in fact, that of his young self, he is struck by the old him, by a child who felt married by weakness.  I found it to be so profound that the man who cut off his own leg was faced with the ghost of his past—a boy who simply never felt good enough.  Jago Antia tells the ghost: “There is no need for you to go anywhere now, you are already home.  There is no need for any mask, no need to live a ghost like life.”  Interestingly enough, he ceases the haunting by choosing to incorporate his past into the man he is now. 
            I know that the way in which I’m choosing to connect this may seem a bit abstract, but I have always viewed home as something abstract.  At this point in my life, whenever I return home for a visit or a longer break, I feel a bit like Jago Antia.  No, I am not saying I’m scarred by battle and a fatal, self-invoked amputation, but I certainly feel as though I’ve journeyed through life independently and with newfound companions.  Home, is in a sense, a physical place where I am haunted by shadows of the past.  But it is by confronting those dark corners head on that I learn about myself, my family, my home.  I also love the idea of dharma, in the definitive Hindu sense of the term, as relating to how one retains the wholesome idea of “home” as encompassing past and present.  One definition of dharma is “that which holds a thing and maintains it in being.”  I interpreted this to connect to how, like Jago Antia, all of us have a duty to allow things—shadows—of the past to just be. 
            Whether I am physically home or just “at home” in mind, I feel as though I am always thinking about times in life that have made me who I am today, even if I choose not to face them.  Like Jago Antia, I must sometimes confront the past and, in a sense, tell it that it is allowed to exist.  I think that we all feel most “at home” when we are able to confront our ghosts of the past.  Especially as a college student who has gone off and had ventures, experienced positive accomplishments, and endured crushing blows and then come home, I have experienced that feeling while in my house.  I have felt that unidentifiable presence of my young self.  The physical home will do that to you—it will cause you to feel the need to push yourself, to become closer and closer to feel completely at home, completely at peace with one’s past, present, and future selves. 

Let Me Tell You My Story

“Listen,” he said.  “I want to tell you a story.”

            In Love and longing in Bombay, we are introduced into another society that depends on its oral culture to survive.  Inside one story are layers and layers of other stories/histories/pasts/presents that are so intertwined that they blossom into more than just stories, but love and longing.  Subramaniam is bursting with his stories to the point that, in “Artha,” one story even jumps into another story as soon as he begins the telling.  Within that story, you truly feel how alive India is with all of its people and activity and the underbelly of corruption and the side notes of art and beauty.  At first, I had no idea that Iqbal lived alone because he was constantly surrounded by Sandhya and her son and ex-husband, her mother, and of course—Rajesh.  In the moments where he was alone, I was more afraid for Iqbal than when he was in tasered or captive in the back of a van.  Being alone seemed like a terrible fate in a city that was so crowded and bustling that it took an hour or longer just to travel across town.
            Loyola is not overpopulated, like Bombay.  And yet, somehow, I find myself often seeking desperately for moments of solitude and silence.  I thought that quiet was part of what humans needed to survive—like food, air, and water.  However, reading these stories, I realize that there is something else that humans need and that is other humans.  This hustle and bustle is like blood through our veins.  People feed us and quench our thirst when we are desperately seeking meaning.  It is when we find these people who share in our spaces and our lives that we begin to share our stories.  Often, I tell myself to shut up because my friends at home are sick of hearing about my roommates and friends at school.  When I am at school, I tell myself to shut up because my roommates are sick of hearing stories about my friends from home.  Sometimes, I can’t help it.  These stories are my life.  Half of me is hidden from the people I am with because they have never experienced me in my other home.
            As Love and longing in Bombay shows, your stories do not need to be a self-portrait to be revealing.  The stories we remember and choose to retell are the ones that are most close to our own stories—the stories that are closest to home.  In these five stories (“Artha” in particular), the characters are all experiencing both love and longing to a certain degree.  Poor Iqbal is in love but he has lost the person whom he loves and his longing is what propels the entire story forward.  Similarly, the things and the people I love are what keep me motivated each and every day.  More importantly, it is the need to constantly create new stories that drives us all to come out of our quiet places, venturing out into the crowded streets of Bombay.

Love and Longing in Bombay: Homelands Response

In the fourth book of Chandra’s collection, Artha, Chandra tells a story about the friendship between Iqbal and Sandhya: two computer- programmers. This technological context gives life to his text as he creates a city-like, cosmopolitan setting for his character to live in. Cities are vibrant, chaotic and current—this adds a dimension of excitement for Chandra’s audience. The inclusion of computer technology is appropriate for this setting because it adds to the quality of modernity; Chandra is leaving behind the overly religious stigma that surrounds Indian culture and is shedding new light on the current way of life.
Chandra calls attention to the neem tree, associating it with feeling peace. After looking it up, I found that this tree is specific to India: it is native. Chandra writes: “…he said as we walked down the lane, “That’s a neem tree.” I nodded, silenced by desire. It’s a good place,” he said. I nodded again, fast. “A really good place,” he said. “I feel at peace here.” (204-205). I found this quotation to be particularly significant because I feel that it encompasses the underlying cultural theme while simultaneously summarizing the emotions that Iqbal experiences. Oftentimes being at peace is closely related to being in one’s comfort zone. For me, the tangible representation of that comfort zone is at home. I think that Chandra draws a parallel between the neem tree and being at peace, as a way to show that the indigenous tree is a symbol of India; for these characters it is a symbol of comfort—of home.
Shortly after this scene, Iqbal spends the day at the gym in hopes of acquiring further information about Rajesh’s absence. To his disappointment, Iqbal returns home with no sense of closure. Iqbal reveals, “I entered the house very late, fell exhausted into my bed without taking off any clothes, and dreamt of childhood”(206). In this moment, Chandra once again draws attention to the idea of the comfort of one’s home. As a child, I can remember falling asleep in my clothes on the couch, and waking up in my cozy pajamas and tucked into my bed. I believe that Chandra is touching upon a similar scenario. When children reach that point of exhaustion, they become restless and upset. They immediately surrender to the comfort of their bed, regardless of their clothing circumstance. Similarly, Iqbal reaches this level of exhaustion and hopelessness, he desires the childlike comfort that is associated with being in a childhood home and in bed. Childhood is also often linked to a life of lesser expectation; children are not burdened with immense responsibility. Iqbal finds solace in retreating to his bed and dreaming about childhood, a time when he was not required to accept or even consider reality.
I also found it interesting that within both Things Fall Apart and Love and Longing in Bombay, Achebe and Chandra respectively choose to integrate their native languages within both texts. Both authors carefully select which words are translated and which words will remain in their native languages. That being said, I believe that the words that are chosen to remain linguistically intact are purposely done so. This suggests the idea that some words or phrases, quite simply, cannot be translated. In doing this, the authors allow their audiences to have an authentic experience of their cultures. I also found it interesting that Chandra chooses to highlight the phonetic spelling of native Indian speakers who attempt to speak in English. Chandra writes,“[Guru-ji] said the word in English, as “badi-building”.”(202). This quotation allows the reader to experience the language barrier alongside the other characters in the text. This furthers the emersion into Chandra’s culture. 

People Representing "Home"

When reading Artha, I started thinking more and more about the different ways we identity what home means to us individually. It can be geographical, an object, a person. Almost everyone in this short story is defined by another person that they consider their “home.” For Sandhya, it’s Anubhav; For Anubhav, it’s himself; For Iqbal, it’s Rajesh. The only person whose home is geographic is Rajesh, who longed for an apartment and normal life. That apartment was what he considered his home. I think as we grow older, we individually realize that the concept of “home” can mean so many different things. These characters just happened to focus on their relationships more than anything else. I found this to be interesting because I feel like this doesn’t necessarily become the primary representation of one’s home unless those that are “home” are family members or spouses. I think Chandra portrays a lot of unhealthy attachments and ideas of “home” in this short story with some perspective but no easy answers.

The idea of “home” being one person is a representation that I personally find silly. I have attachments to people in my life that I would consider a part of me, or people that have shaped my identity, but people in general tend to be unpredictable and skittish. They come and go of their own free will; relying on any one person to be your everything is risky, messy, and often never turns out positively. This is often a lesson we learn as adolescents growing up all the way to adulthood, which is why I found it surprising in all of the previously mentioned scenarios. People with established careers are being dependent on their significant other in order to feel success, balance, and happiness. We see that Anu really only cares about himself and manipulates Sandhya into the woman he wants. Sandhya is so devoted to Anu that she doesn’t even see that she’s been manipulated. She has been transformed by her divorce and Anu’s artistic lifestyle and acts accordingly. The argument can also be made that Iqbal is Sandhya’s home because he’s the one that actually takes care of her, whether it’s physically, mentally, or emotionally. Iqbal is devastated over Rajesh’s disappearance, which would be normal for any significant other to experience, but it’s to a point where it consumes him.

If “home” is going to represent a person, I think it’s a natural feeling but should be one that is full of love and independency simultaneously. These people provide comfort, but there should also be a distance in order to live. Because we’re human, we’re going to form bonds to people in our lives, that’s obvious and inevitable. My reaction to Artha is that it showed the negative effects of loving and trusting too easily or for the wrong reasons. The concept of “home” is to instill peace, comfort, happiness, love, safety, openness, and balance. Chandra’s story depicts dysfunction and instability when things go wrong; life makes you struggle in order for you to know who you truly are and what your place is.

Our ideas of “home” are going to be challenged, and when you give that title to people, the more unstable life will be. In order to understand home, I firmly think that there needs to be a sturdy foundation within oneself before attributing our lives to someone else. People influence us, but in the end, we are left to rely on ourselves. We can only look back on what we’ve learned from those people and figure out how to apply it us. That’s how I understand the connection between “home” and the possibility of people representing that concept. I don’t think it’s thought of too often, which is why dysfunction and instability are a common reaction to putting individuals in that position. I think Chandra was making this point with the relationships in Artha


The concept of orality in postcolonialism is one that is constantly debated based on its importance. While there can be no denying that there’s a connection, many have disregarded the oral parts of culture because of its seemingly inferior state when compared to written aspects of culture. The opinion on orality has begun to change and build more positively, but many still think of the written word as having more impact and importance than the oral one. Focus on orality in cultures is said to represent the past, older less-civilized cultures that may not have had the means or simply preferred speaking to writing. With so much emphasis on the written word, it’s hard for orality to make a comeback and display its importance to a culture.

I think that Things Fall Apart is a perfect example of how this isn’t necessarily true. Granted, we’re reading Achebe’s writing, but Achebe’s audience is immersed into the Ibo tribe using their language and the meaning of culture found in their phrases. If Achebe had written this from a Western-world view that we’re accustomed to, with Anglo-Saxon terms and dialects, I seriously doubt a connection would be made between the audience and the Ibo culture. It’s true that the Ibo culture isn’t exactly the most updated of cultures found in the world, so I guess there is something to be said of the less-civilized comment that Ashcroft makes when talking of orality. However, because of the dialect found in Things Fall Apart, I felt as if I was part of this tribe and participating in the events that were unfolding as I read. I understood the emphasis on nature and law and status through the speeches found in the book more than the tribesmen’s actions.

The importance of orality shines through Achebe’s work because to these people, word was law. That didn’t mean they needed it written down in order to be heeded; the Ibo simply remembered what was important through respect.

Artha-scopic surgery?

Chandra or shall I say the short story craftsman, describes and details living in Bombay with a subtle and substantial brush.  He elucidates and draws attention to the nuanced life of a 21st century Indian; portraying vividly Love and Longing in Bombay.  In Artha, the fourth section of the book, several themes are exercised.  Vickram Chandra reveals the foil or writing technique, which enables such smooth and lucid framing.  The separate stories are built upon characters interrelations or interpenetrations; “I had been watching him for weeks, him in his corner, watching us and all the others, and so I filled his glass again…he laughed at me, his shoulders shaking. He picked up the glass and drank” (Chandra, 164).  The writing is succinct and transitions well, the repetition of “watching” and “glass” bridges the gap between different storylines and narrators.
The friendship of Iqbal and Rajesh is a loaded relationship because they are best friends, but more than that they are lovers.  Homosexuality, from my viewpoint, seems very counterculture in Bombay.  Iqbal’s delivery or presentation of the narrative was difficult to pick up his homosexuality.  When he describes the first night they met, on New Year’s Eve, it’s almost uncertain what went down.  Iqbal, almost taken by surprise, is overcome by Rajesh’s advances; Iqbal said, “’why do you like me?’ ‘For your beauty,’ he said, and cupped my cheek in his hand. I wanted to believe it and couldn’t. ‘It’s true,’ he said, and kissed me”(199).  I didn’t realize the intimacy of their friendship until this late in Artha.  The incredulity that Iqbal felt I believe is a product of his culture; maybe a lack of acceptance in Indian or his religion (Islam).  But that’s where their friendship defeats the odds, when the two meet they overcome so much.    Their stoic approaches towards their differences and insistence that it wont come between them is admirable. Iqbal describes the encounter: “when we told each other our full names we looked at each other for a moment and noted and dismissed the difference in our religions in one smile” (198).  I love “in one smile” because it shows the ability of human spirit; our curiosity forces us to sift through or disregard certain aspects of difference.  Iqbal’s persistence and loyalty, going to such lengths to find/rescue his best friend, give the story true substance.
I thought how Chandra depicted Bombay materialism was interesting. There were two parts in Artha that stood out: one was his depiction of the black bathroom and the other was Sandhya’s drawing room.  The bathroom scene can be a representation for the whole story, but that’s another subject, the black marbled bathroom compelled Iqbal to say, “the room was so large and cool and luxurious I would have been afraid to piss in there” (180). The bathroom’s blackness represented corruption, the white dressed man was power, and Anubhav’s reflection was his vanity.  Sandhya’s drawing room, where apparently no one can enter, epitomizes being ‘cultured’ by loosing your own culture; she had the ideal room except the egg-shell effect.  Unfortunately the room lost its functionality or “it was the perfect room, and none of us were allowed to enter it” (186)  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Finding Home Through Ourselves and Others

We come to establish, recognize and cherish what we call “home” through self discovery and a journey.  In Love and Longing in Bombay, the beauty of Chandra’s narratives can be found in the paradox of the individual story and the connectedness to the world around.  Throughout the stories, each character portrays a different situation, a unique circumstance that shapes a perception of home.  Many find they know themselves best while in the comfort of their home, while others feel lost and lonely in a place that has been labeled as “home.” The definition of home requires a journey within the self and a journey through the lives of our fellow human beings.
                The power of self discovery seems to surround many of Chandra’s characters. In Dharma, Jago Antia cannot find peace until he comes to know and accept the boy that he was.  With this self discovery comes self acceptance. Our past, present and future are the text of our existence and, as Jago comes to learn, one cannot simply erase parts of one’s life, but must welcome all parts in order to know oneself completely.  The life that was Sartaj’s home is filled with a bitter loneliness.  As his marriage begins to crumble, Sartaj’s wife remarks “I hate the world you live in” (151).  Part of Sartaj’s home has not been accepted by the woman with whom he built it.  Because of this, Sartaj “plunges” into his own new life of self discovery. 
                Mans’ ability and willingness to learn leads to the shaping of one’s own journey, as well as new perspective as he takes stock of his life and home.  Stepping outside of the inner narratives, we find our narrator in the company of Subramaniam, who implores his audience to “Listen” as he reveals the interconnectedness that gives depth to peoples’ lives and substance to the abstract.   We see this in the heartbreaking story of a man’s struggle with his past that arises from the trivial complaint of real estate re-sale and value.  In the frame narrative of Artha, Ayesha unknowingly asks a question that reveals the purpose of Subramaniam’s presence.  In response to Ayesha’s complaint about the dismal locales available for purchase, Subramaniam, with much deeper meaning, says, “People live….Somehow” (164). It is in this “Somehow” that we come to build our lives and subsequently, our homes.  We find our home in this life with all of its trials and triumphs and the recognition that our homes may not be safely within in our grasp, as Iqbal reveals when he laments the loss of Rajesh, “There is that glow. I know what it is. It is the absence in my heart” (228).
                Here, within the tiny nucleus of Loyola University, it can be challenging to put one’s life and home in perspective. How can we recognize the true beauty or sadness of our own home, if we do not reach out and step inside the life of another?  That is one of the wonders of living in an environment with such a contrasting community.  The chance to know is right on our doorstep.  Whenever I go into Baltimore, whether to do service or just enjoy the quirks and characteristics of the city and its people, I feel I have learned something about myself, my strengths and weaknesses and where I have come from.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

     T.S. Eliot -- "Little Gidding" (the last of his Four Quartets)

Chandra's Endings and the Comfort of Home

Gabby Smith
Vikram Chandra has a knack when it comes to inventing endings to his chapters.  Initially I found it odd how much he switched tenses in the last few pages.  In Artha, the second to last chapter of the novel, Iqbal tells his readers of how the story ended: Sandhya will get back together with Anubhav, Rajesh was never found, and the two men who stole money from the computer company got fired.  He reflects on the past and what has happened, but then he quickly switches to what will happen when he returns home to his family.  In the last chapter Shanti, the novel ends with Subramaniam telling his story in the past tense, but then Ranjit narrates in the present tense how he is walking around Bombay discussing what he knows he will do in the future.  Although abrupt, these tense shifts are effective in developing his characters as both of them demonstrate certainty and self-awareness when they are home.  It is evident that the comfort of home allows them to reconcile their difficult pasts with their present sense of self.  They demonstrate a sense of peace and confidence within themselves that Ranjit, Subramaniam, and Iqbal never showed throughout their stories. 
For Iqbal, his original home was an apartment where he lived by himself, portraying his characters as lonely and somewhat depressed.  By the end of the chapter, he truly returns home—a place where he comes to terms with Rajesh’s disappearance and the support of his family members.  He knows exactly what his family will be doing when he returns home and his knowledge is reflected back on himself.  When he is at home with his family, Iqbal is a much more self-aware and confident character in his honesty about how he feels.  He is definitely still grieving at the end, but he recognizes his emotions and reconciles his past with Rajesh and the present state of his life.  This acceptance of the past and present leaves him at peace with himself when he says, “I know what it is.  It is the absence in my heart.” 
Subramaniam’s home is the city of Bombay when Subramaniam’s wife says “we’ve had our life, our Bombay life.”  Similarly, Ranjit walks around the city calling it “his city.”  In his home of Bombay, Ranjit ends knowing what he is searching for.  He is searching for life with his future wife in various Indian cities.  Ranjit walks the streets confidently because he knows his city and he knows what he wants.  His pride in Bombay is something very similar to what any American experiences during the Superbowl or World Series.  We rally behind our states or cities or sports teams because there is a loyalty and familiarity to us that we feel most comfortable with. 
            As a whole I think many Loyola students still don’t get that relief and confidence at school as they get at home.  Many times I hear students, including myself, telling people they are from New York, New Jersey, or other places because that is their hometown.  Just like Ranjit and Subramaniam consider Bombay their home, there is still a strong geographic tie to a student’s hometown despite living in Baltimore for the majority of the year.  Technically, we are Baltimore residents yet rarely do we identify as Baltimore residents.  However, this is why Iqbal returns home to his family.  We all return home to relax and be with family.  Just like Iqbal, we live in apartments as students and whether we are with friends or we are alone like he was, we still may not always feel that sense of security or confidence as we do around family members.  From my own experience, I can be around loads of people at school, but no one knows me better than my family, so home grants me true comfort.  College in general is deemed “your new home” when the freshmen first arrive.  But homes cannot be dropped or remade.  Iqbal could not just buy an apartment and have a new home just as Ranjit will never consider another city his home.  The feeling of home is very interdependent on both geography, feeling a link to the land, and the people who made that land so special.  Overall, I think it is a combination of both definitions of home that forms my own homeland.