Thursday, February 3, 2011

Everyday Ordinariness

Artha, one of the four duties in Hinduism, is a part of the householder stage in which an individual acquires wealth, and ultimately meaning in life. The “Artha” story in Love and Longing in Bombay, by Vikram Chandra, presents the question of how an individual gains purpose in life and asks the question of how wealth is defined.

According to Chandra, the answer lies in the relationship between two people and not on the rupees acquired. Chandra writes “there was a comforting everyday ordinariness in the person who sat across the aisle from me, knee to knee” (165) describing the idea that home is not confined to four walls, rather it is found in the people closest to an individual—home is in the smile of a friend, the sigh of a parent, the complaint of a sibling. Home does not need excessive garnish which pleases the eye. Home should be a state of comfort, of predictability. Artha revolves around finding the place of comfort in another person. The householder stage surpasses material wealth.

In Love and Longing in Bombay, Iqbar states “I went as hopelessly as, as a man without a friend in the world” (181). An alone man, without any loved ones becomes lost without the guidance of their duty in life, they become a failed householder with no home to return to.

Chandra presents an interesting and contradictory idea to the notion of home when he writes “he turned away from me, towards the basins. I put a hand on his shoulder and he jerked it off, took another step, further, his face turned away, and it was absurd but I had the sense that he was crying. I had never seen him cry” (181). The reason Rajesh turns away from Iqbar is centered in the fact that individuals do not want to disappoint the people closest to them. Home involves great comfort but it also involves a great amount of pressure when an individual is constantly trying to achieve position in life, fulfilling their Artha, not realizing his or her duty is already filled by creating a sense of home in his or her relationships.

An essential aspect of Chandra’s definition of home revolves around the fact that a home is not confined by blood. Dilip states “how much I didn’t know about my own brother” (197), when at the same moment Iqbar lists all the intimate details he acquired about Rajesh’s family. Chandra shows that the relationship between kin does not automatically establish a place of comfort an individual can depend on. Home is not something an individual is born into, rather it is a state of being that is created with each passing experience.

An individual should be able to find traces of home wherever he or she is because home is defined as ordinariness. Iqbar knew about the relationship between Anubhav and Miss Viveka “because of the laughter in their conversations and their occasional glances back at each other, their happiness and that feeling of safety in their now-and-then glancing shoulders. I knew it because they weren’t looking at each other. It was exactly how Rajesh and I used to stand” (218). Iqbar related to the safety and casualty to the interactions, the ordinariness. Neither individual were trying to impress each other because they were already at home. Iqbar found his own experiences in the interactions of others which shows that traces of home can be found at any moment, constantly reminding an individual of his great purpose in life.

Though Chandra emphasizes the idea that home is not created by those physically related to an individual, but to those who are able to establish a level of familiarity, the two are the same for me. I am most comfortable with the people who share my DNA. Wherever I go I can find traces of the home I have created by remembering the struggles and experiences that have established a “feeling of safety” (218). Even in Love and Longing in Bombay I was able to find my home, knowing intimate details about the pain and beauty of the characters though the author didn’t provide them. Jago Antia may appear to be a fallen warrior, evoking “sympathy” (5) from his fellow service men, however I see him as greatness. He embodies strength and grace. Chandra writes “below his right knee the flesh was white and twisted away from the bone. Below the ankle was a shapeless bulk of matter” (20) and in this description Chandra details the image of my father. So when Jago brings “the blade down below his knee” (20) I see my father signing hospital papers permitting the doctors to amputate his own leg. I do not feel sympathy for Jago because I know that there is an unseen greatness in an individual who is willing to completely change his or her life around in one fell swoop. I am not shocked by Chandra’s writing because I find comfort in it, knowing the tears I have shed over the same experience and the house that it built. I laugh at Jago Antia’s “phantom pains” (5) because they are a normal occurrence in my house.

An individual’s family is not composed of the people who turn “away out of sympathy” (5). An individual should be able to find home everywhere he or she turns because home lies in the “everyday ordinariness” (165), in the memories of past experiences shaped by the people an individual is with and not by the outcome.

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