Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chandra and the Universal Relationship Between Heart and Home

Home is where the heart is. What an exhausted cliché. It has firmly cemented itself in American culture by inking its way into hallmark cards and decorative wall hangings from coast to coast. Like all other clichés, it became stretched and overused for a reason; because it is fundamentally resonates with all people. And like all other clichés it fails to receive the full recognition it warrants. This overwrought phrase is at the very center of Vikram Chandra’s novel Love and Longing in Bombay, specifically the section entitled Artha.

On a very basic level this phrase equates home with the people, things and places that you love. What is important to note is that place is including in the definition of home, but home is not bound by a physical space. This phrase expands the meaning of home into a feeling or state of mind. On a deeper level this phrase equates home with love, creating a dependent relationship between the two.

Personally I find this cliché to be both extremely poignant and inherently true. Although overlooked due to its cheesiness, the principles outlined in this phrase resonate, on some level or another, with all people. Chandra does an excellent job of reminding the reader of the power in this statement.

Artha is set solely and completely in Bombay. Iqbah’s quest for love and home throughout the story expands drastically from the beginning to the end. Iqbah’s home is with his lover Rajesh, and vice versa. Both men feel constricted by the social obligations of their “homeland”. Neither of them feels free to express their love in their own physical homes.

Iqbah’s search for home is ratcheted up a few notches after the disappearance of Rajesh. During his time away from Rajesh, Iqbah begins to act exceedingly strange. He begins to dangerously stretch and overreach further than he ever has before. Much like a man defending his homeland from invaders, Iqbah courageously fights to preserve his home. Examples of this include his indifference to take shelter during the riot, his repeated trips to Rajesh’s gym, which is known to harbor nefarious characters, and subsequently his hazardous journey to an Indian Mob boss’s home.

Chandra does an excellent job of indicating to the reader the connection between Rajesh and Iqbah’s sense of home. In the very beginning of the section Chandra denotes that the story is about “art and beauty”, and the most beautiful and emotionally wrought scenes (save for the end) are intimate embraces between Rajesh and Iqbah. Chandra employs his most refined and powerful writing in these scenes, and it is here that he truly conveys Iqbah’s sense of home. An example of this occurs early in the story when Iqbah says, “I couldn’t stand anymore the look on his face and reached forward and crushed him as hard as I could into my arms, and found his stubbled kiss for a moment amidst the sudden jostle of the passengers on and off. He shook his head at me, but with a tiny bit of a smile. Then the bus pulled away and I was alone,” (169). Iqbah’s love for Rajesh is made clear in this excerpt, but what is important to note is the feeling of loneliness that overcomes him after Rajesh’s departure. Almost like homesickness, Iqbah feels alone without Rajesh.

The end of the story presents the reader with an interesting scenario. Chronologically ahead of the majority of the narrative, the reader is introduced to Iqbah’s house for the first time. With Rajesh’s disappearance never solved, we are presented with a homeless Iqbah. The only remnant of his home is a painting of Rajesh that hangs in front of his bed. The final passage reads, “I’ll know that Rajesh is not in the lines, that the body is not in the colour. But there is that colour that moves through the body, rang ek sharir ka. There is that glow. I know what it is. It is the absence in my heart,” (228). Rajesh’s absence leaves a void in Iqbah’s heart, and although that void is never fully explained, one possibility is that it’s Iqbah’s sense of home.

Correlating with the expression, I read the final lines as Iqbah’s home being with Rajesh, and the only remnant of the man, and subsequently Iqbah’s home, is the “glow” in the painting. The ironic setting of the final scene in Iqbah’s physical home is not accidental, and further points to Rajesh as Iqbah’s home.

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