Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Love and Longing in Bombay: What it means to be "at home"

Vikram Chandra’s novel and collection of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay, introduced a theme of self-acceptance and a character’s struggle to display his inner self and emotions. In this particular homeland, certain societal expectations are placed upon the people. As the reader, we see a struggle for India as a whole to become a more modernized and industrialized society. More specifically, we see a number of characters who hide themselves behind a veil. A common theme throughout each story is the character’s struggle to truthfully display themselves.
Displaying inner weakness is not a trait that is looked favorably upon in Chandra’s novel. Jago Antia, the infamous war hero, is portrayed as a strong, driven man who fears nothing and no one. His willingness to amputate his own leg demonstrates the tough exterior that he has accumulated over the years. Nevertheless, Jago’s homeland introduces a whole new side to this fearless warrior. At home, Jago is faced with his lost inner self, a ghost of his childhood that visits him in the night and confronts him of his insecurities. Through this encounter, Jago is able to come to terms with his inner self and put his past to rest. I believe that Jago’s encounter with his childhood ghost demonstrates that Jago’s career as a military leader was only a device useful in masking his innermost weaknesses and fears.
In Chandra’s short story, “Shakti”, we are introduced to Sheila, a confident and driven young woman who is obsessed with her wealth and the wealth of others. It seems that Sheila’s only motivation in life is money but we soon see a sentimental side of her through her love for her son. Despite Sheila’s wealth and material-driven world, she possesses a deep love for her only son. She works hard at obtaining happiness for her son despite the costs and through this perseverance we see Sheila’s inner self and her nurturing, maternal instincts. Sheila’s ultimate happiness comes not from her material gain but rather from her son’s contentment. Hiding within each story is a character struggling to convey who they really are. Similarly, these characters often find themselves lost in a society where they are unsure of how they fit in. The “longing” in Chandra’s book title may point towards the longing of the characters to feel content in their surroundings and at home with themselves. In “Artha”, Iqbal is introduced as a young Indian man struggling with being a homosexual in a scornful society. His partner and best friend, Rajesh, faces the same struggles and is unfortunately lost amongst the demands of society because he is unable to live a truthful life. Chandra’s novel is a well-rounded portrayal of a transforming society. Further, it accurately conveys the differences between the upper and lower class and the similarities each side maintains in regards to inner struggles. Each character’s story is a message of discovering oneself and their role in society. I believe that a person’s homeland should be a place where they literally feel “at home”. In order to feel “at home” one must know who they are and what makes them an important contribution to their society. When we hear the word “home” we are usually flooded with emotions of joy and love. However, for many people, home is not a word associated with happiness and safety. I believe that a home does not have to be a particular location but rather contentment within oneself. These characters live in a society where demands and expectations are exceedingly high. In order to fully be “at home” they must accept who they are and discover who they want to become.

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