I think that one important aspect of a homeland is memory, and being “at home” or learning to accept and live with our memories is an important part of life. The phrase “being at home” seems, to me, to immediately connote a sense of peace and stability, and so to be at home with ourselves, we need to be able to accept all parts of ourselves, including our past. The past is inevitably a part of the present and can shape a person in many ways. However, a person need not be defined by his past, especially if he can accept in some way and learn to be at home with his memories. This certainly isn’t always easy to do. I know that I, personally, can tend to hold on to anger or resentment and may tend to relive the moments in my past that I regret or have brought me pain or sorrow. I think this is a natural human tendency. I’ve just started doing zen meditation on campus weekly, and am just discovering how difficult it is to still the mind and keep it from wandering to various thoughts and memories. We will always have our memories; they are a part of ourselves: our most basic home. And we cannot forget them, or stop our mind from wandering to them from time to time. I’m sure most of us have experienced the loss of a loved one or perhaps felt heartbreak or maybe had a fight that ended a friendship. However, I firmly believe that it is very important to find some sort of way to accept them for whatever they are, good or bad. They have, in fact, helped to make you the person you are today, but they alone are not who you are today.
The self and the mind, are really, in a way, the most basic or fundamental homeland any person has. Memories, and thoughts and dreams and fears amongst other things, might be likened to the rooms of our inner homes. We need the freedom to wander from room to room without dwelling in any one place for too long. I think it’s also important that our rooms are defined, just as they are in a house: the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom, etc. We have to see our memories for what they are and live with them. In a way, the homeland of ourselves is a postcolonial sort of space, where the indigenous past confronts the newly arrived present. These forces interact with one another and each may be altered, for our past can affect our present actions and our present can shape how we perceive our past. One may try to dominate the other, and they may even seem incommensurable at times. However, they interact often, and so it is important that they can do so in a peaceful way for us to feel tranquil in our “inner homeland.” Just as Achebe feels that one can be both Christian and Igbo, both a part of European and a part of Igbo culture, so I feel that it is important that I myself am a unified whole made up of a past I accept and a present that is influence but not defined by that past.
This view of homeland and the importance of memory certainly comes into play in Chandra’s novel. Memory is a factor throughout the novel in virtually all of the stories, whether it plays an important or minor role. For Jago Antia, for example, memory is first a “poisonous seep” (24), a potent and harmful force that has very drastically affected his present and determined many of the decisions in his life. He eventually must confront the ghost of his past, memory itself, within his childhood home, but within himself as well. It is not his physical meeting with the ghost that ends the haunting and the pain in his lost leg, but the encounter and struggle within his personal homeland or self that results in him crying out “Jehangir, Jehangir, you’re already at home” (31).
In Shakti, Sheila’s memory seems to have melded well with her present circumstances, so that she is a unified whole influenced by the past but living very much in the present. I believe that it is her peace within her homeland that allows her to truly see Ganga and her daughter when others, like Dolly, cannot. At the sight of Ganga’s daughter, Asha, Sheila is reminded of her own “eagerness” as a young airline hostess and remembers “driving in a bus with the other hostesses in the early morning” (65). Unlike Jago, she is not grappling with a past that has completely defined her or that she has not accepted. Her memories are just as much an accepted part of her homeland as is her present situation. She is informed by both in a positive way, it would seem, since her past allows her to relate to Asha and Ganga while her present allows her to help Ganga finance her home.
There are various examples of memory throughout the rest of the stories. In Kama, Sartaj is extremely affected by his past and the memory of his ex-wife. He has not accepted the divorce, and it is this that prevents him from being at home with himself. He “had never known anyone who had been divorced” (100) and so he cannot accept this part of his past, and cannot deal with the memories of Megha while he is now alone. In the end, he finds the strength to accept his memories and, therefore, can move forward in a positive direction in the present. Finally, in the story Shanti, it is clear that the past is an important force in both Shiv’s and Shanti’s lives. Shanti has been physically searching for her lost husband, and Shiv has been mourning his lost brother. It seems to me that the exchanging of the photographs at the end of the story is the ultimate creation of a united homeland made not only by two people together, but by the fusion of memory and present. Each photograph shows the past of each person, and these are exchanged, while both people acknowledge that they are changed individuals. The past and the present are together peacefully in each person’s homeland, and when the narrator returns to the present of the novel, the reader sees that these two people have, in fact, grown to resemble one another, representing their union that creates one united homeland in which they dwell together.