Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Vikram Chandra's short story Dharma, is a story that is told by an old man in a bar, while the unnamed narrator listens. The tale is about a military general named Jago Antia, who goes back to his childhood home on medical leave and communes with the ghost of his past life. The story takes on the characteristics of a ghost story, which adds a mystical and somewhat terrifying quality to it. Jago Antia is described as a stern general who is an expert in his field and has had great success fighting the Pakistani insurgency . He lost his leg in the war, but appears to have overcome this disability. However, he begins to have phantom pains in his missing leg which keep him up late into the night and affect his ability to effectively lead his army. At first, he is too proud to ask for aid with his ailment. However, after medicine does not work, Jago realizes that he will be putting his men in danger if he continues to work on the little rest that he is getting, so he decides to take a medical leave and return to his childhood home. Jago also recollects on the fact that he was never close to his parents, and his past remains mysterious. He also reveals that he plans on selling his childhood home. When he gets there, the house's caretaker tells him that he must sleep in the study because the upstairs portion of the house has been sealed off. He agrees and decides to sleep in the study.
That night, Jago hears a distant voice resonating from upstairs. As fearless as he is, he climbs the stairs and searches for the location of the voice. He is gripped by fear, and believes he sees an empty pair of shoes walking towards him. He retreats down the stairs, and is ashamed of his own fear. After several more attempts to advance up the stairs, he is found in the morning sitting on the bottom stair in a trance. The narrator reveals that Jago lost his leg during the invasion of a city that was being held by the insurgents. After his leg was badly wounded by a land mine, he decided to cut it off, because he didn't want to put his men in danger by being out of control of his army. This offers more evidence to the character of Jago. He appears to be a stern man who has completely distanced himself from his old life, although the reader is not sure why. Jago, and his right hand man Thapa attempt to climb the stairs again the following night, but on the balcony on which the voice is believed to be coming from, Jago falls unconscious and is slightly injured.
After this episode, the care-taker of the house decides to call in a "ghost-whisperer" of sorts, who decides that the only way to remove the phantom was for someone who knew the origin of it to meet with the ghost naked and alone, and ask it what it wants. Jago decides to do so, and he walks through the haunted upstairs hallway that night. In each room, he remembers memories of his childhood. He sees his brother Soli's funeral, a room where the two boys used a radio, and finally, the balcony where his brother used to fly his kite. He recalls, then, the death of his brother. He describes how Soli fell to his death from the balcony after he gave Jago the kite for the first time. However, it soon becmomes clear that Jago attacked his brother, who was jokingly withholding the kite from him. He accidently tackles his brother off the ledge, and falls with him to the brick street below. The final memory he experiences is the memory of his first birthday after his brothers death. It seems as though this is when the transformation in Jago's life occure, because when his parents ask what he wants for his birthday, he responds, "I want a uniform." (30) Jago awakens at dawn on the balcony after presumably falling asleep during his encounter with the ghostly images. He sees a faint figure looking out at the ocean, and asks the phantom what it wants, it repeats, "where shall I go?" As the ghost comes closer, he sees that it is the childhood version of himself, wearing the uniform he was given for his birthday. He responds, "Jehangir, Jehangir, you're already home."(31) With that the phantom disappears, and it seems as though Jago has had a weight lifted off of his shoulders.
I saw many parallels between this story and American folklore. The tradition of the ghost story, and the framing technique used by Chandra made this story seem like it could have been told around a camp fire. Also, Jago's inner conflict between his childhood and adulthood, which hinges on the tragedy of his brother's death, is a topic which most people can relate to. People from all over have experienced moments in their lives that have changed them completely, and Jago is no different. What is unique about this story is that Jago, who completely shut his old life from memory, gets to re-experience his childhood, during which time he realizes that to truly come to grips with his brother's death, he has to accept his role in it, and instead of focusing on the bad parts, he must remember how important his childhood was in forming him into the great general that he became. As a college student, this story resonates with me because it displays a person who is attempting to come to a balance between the memory of his childhood, and what he is going to or has already become. Chandra stresses the importance of both facets of life, and creatively assembles them within the framework of a ghost story.

No comments:

Post a Comment