Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Homelands in Bombay

Love and Longing in Bombay by Vikram Chandra presents a most unique take on the concept of homeland, in that his single story is actually several. These five stories all take place in the same homeland, Bombay (Mumbai) India, but each story takes on different characters and different stories in general. Now one might tend to think this may cause sporadic storytelling, but it actually takes quite the opposite direction. With these different characters come different viewpoints, different ways of life: different aspects of the same homeland. What this does is paint a picture not in one but multiple colors and depth. As opposed to showing one character’s story to represent their individual aspect of home, Love and Longing in Bombay explores several aspects of Bombay through the lives and experiences of many characters.

Although these are different stories, they still contain the crucial fact that they are still individual stories. Among them is the story of Sheila Bijlani, one of the wealthier women of Bombay, and her in-house fighting with rival, Dolly Boatwalla. Her story illustrates a life of wealth and prestige; we see she is a clever businesswoman vying for the approval of other high status women. It is in this context the author gives a glimpse of a more financially prosperous community of Bombay, and that even though they are wealthy they always find some dispute. It would seem Bombay’s rich tend to be a more modern sect that does not show a lot of the more traditional aspects of the culture as much as some of the other characters in the book. It offers the question of whether tradition is accepted in a more modern context, and who exhibits a more traditional lifestyle in society. Shifting gears, the story shifts from a setting of wealth to a character that travels in all the various corners of the city. Among the other stories and characters in the book, I believe it is Sartaj Singh that best presents the most exciting and diverse aspects of Bombay.

Sartaj Singh is a Bombay detective, working the case of a recent murder in the gutters of the city. It in his line of work that Sartaj himself is open to various aspects that make up his city and define its culture. Through his investigation(s) Sartaj sees all walks of life from rich to poor, to in between. On one instance he is recalling the arrest of one of the city’s desperate men in a criminal case, and in another the text reflects on an instant of his own resentment to the upper class: “Sartaj felt, suddenly, a rush of hatred for the rich. He hated them for their confidence, their calm, how they thought everything could be managed.” (111) However Sartaj’s story, as well as the entire book, does not only question the role of wealth in a post-colonial world ( Bombay), but of the culture itself. Again in this story we see a combination of both modern age and cultural tradition. Among his fellow Indians Sartaj shares a common culture; one such example being on occasion where Sartaj is wearing traditional clothes , even at the jest of a friend. This shows that Sartaj is still connected with India’s culture, he embraces it, and yet at the same time he is different. Sartaj himself is a religious minority in his homeland.

While the majority of the people in India/Bombay are Hindu, Sartaj is a Sikh. In the book we previously read (Things Fall Apart) we see colonists coming into the indigenous world and bringing their own religion to replace the old tradition. In India, most of the country did not convert to the ‘new religion’ of Christianity, they retained Hinduism. This story asks what then is the reaction to Indians that do practice a religion other than the traditional faith of the land? Although they follow in a different faith are they still Indians or do the rest of the population consider them outsiders. According to the text, Sartaj, because of his different religion might have suffered from religious suspicion and maybe direct persecution just because he was of a religious minority: “What he meant was that for an outsider, a Sikh, to push a little was to push a lot.” (110) Such a passage leads one to ask if in some circumstances would colonialism harden the native people to accept others different among them even if they are their own. Reading this passage myself it made me wonder how religious and cultural minorities are seen even in our own diverse American culture. The truth is that a society can be diverse, wealthy and poor, traditional and modern, and still be at odds with one another. In one sense a nation can have a unified culture, yet as individual lines are drawn, people still find themselves different. Even to the point of outcast, even to the point of bitterness, but taking another stance, it is this diversity which makes a country great. Whether this be the case however, people still coexist side by side in the world, this in itself makes a homeland home, what makes it unique and yet unified. The beauty of Love and Longing in Bombay is that it provides a spectrum that shows these sides of a culture, the good with the bad just as it shows the different cultural aspects of India / Bombay in general. It completes the big picture that is Bombay.

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