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.          

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