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)