Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Solving the Idea of Home in "Love and Longing in Bombay"

Kama,” the third of five short stories in Vikram Chandra’s novel, Love and Longing in Bombay, reveals an interesting take on our connection to home in bodily form. While reading, I noticed this story’s emphasis on the human body and the variety of pains and pleasures it can experience all in a single lifetime. Sartaj, an inspector accustomed to identifying dead bodies, faces the greatest challenge in confronting his own physical form. Sartaj initially appears the most “detached” from his living body and the needs it requires to sustain a healthy, functioning life. In contrast to the murders he investigates, Sartaj’s ability to heed his own bodily clues and desires is less precise and unclear. He longs for his ex-wife, Megha, but is unable to control his bodily desires that he knows will later plague him.

The saying, “it’s in my blood,” is often uttered as an excuse or reason for a person’s particular devotion to or liking for something. Their commitment to this particular interest, hobby, or even food, is so strong that it can only be deemed “innate.” I have personally always found it refreshing when someone reveals his or her instinctive talents, like being able to mimic a piece of music using only their ear or whip up a perfect chocolate-soufflé from scratch. People like this always lead me to wonder where their innate abilities and born-talents derive. Did their mother and father teach them when they were young children? Did they take lessons or simply develop an irrepressible pursuance? How do you know when a desire stems from yourself or from something pressed upon you by others?

In each of our homelands, we are exposed to a variety of different customs, traditions, observances, and activities that all have the ability to peak our interest. We are introduced to a number of hobbies our own parents or relatives find “interesting” in hopes that we, too, may develop a certain desire to learn more. We are then encouraged to select two to three of these behaviors and cultivate them outside the mandatory requirements of everyday life. In my family, my sister and I chose from our father’s enthusiasm for architecture, painting, and cooking, as well our mother’s dedication to environmentalism, horses, and athleticism. Combined, these hobbies then shaped our interests and from where we continue to seek pleasure today. If someone were to identify a simple reason for why my sister and I both enjoy art they might say, “It’s in their blood.” It’s a part of our homeland that we nurture and develop in physical form. We use both our mental cognition and physical bodies to create an extension of what we find pleasurable in art or any other interest.

Sartaj appears to be unable to identify what’s “in his blood” compared to what he is able to discover in others’. Throughout his career, he has been told to investigate the accused by “going to their homes and watching their fear” (85). “You will be told everything” here, Sartaj’s friend Parulkar had taught him (85). The home to Sartaj was a place of investigation, trial, and confession. When he goes to investigate Mrs. Patel and Kshitij at their house for a second time he is suddenly overwhelmed with his own “case” in the form of numerous papers and documents from his impending divorce. Being in other people’s homes seemed conjure a fear and loneliness in Sartaj that magnified his own emptiness. The emotion occurs for a second time when he visits Mr. and Mrs. Kaimal and sees them as “a nice old pair, handsome and fine-drawn and cultured,” an older couple who may have reminded him or himself and Megha in future years (103). He is able to classify this couple easily, without much hesitation, yet he remains unsure of his place, where he finds “home.” Again, he is overcome with “a bitter little bubble of loneliness in his mouth” wondering why he was suddenly unable to “grasp the truth, to see the secret” of his own relationship “and fix it, forever” (103). He is unable to “fix” everyone else but his own pain.

“This is blood,” Sartaj declares when he examines Katekar’s car and discovers a trace of the crime scene (106). “No matter how much you clean there’s always a bit left,” he reminds Katekar (106). For Sartaj blood represents a part of his daily profession, his investigation into the world of the dead, where deceased bodies are a natural occurrence. It is not until Megha returns to Sartaj that his own body awakens from a similarly “nonliving” state. His body experiences pain just as much as it craves pleasure when Megha finally revisits their old home where they once existed in physical form with one another. This contrast leaves Sartaj’s character pulled between seeing home as a place of loneliness versus seeing it as a place of belonging where his physical body can be at peace and experience pleasure. Home suddenly became a “moment when everything was lost, but her,” the woman Sartaj had thought had vanished (125). For Sartaj, his perception of home and the feeling of something “real” in his blood come in the physical presence of Megha. For a brief moment, Sartaj’s physical being comes alive again and his sense of home is familiar, rather than mysterious. But even after the finalization of his divorce from Megha, there is a glimpse of Sartaj’s revival and attention to his own happiness and sense of home. He looks out over the moving traffic “waiting for his moment to plunge in” again (161). Rediscovering his physical body with Megha allowed him to gain control over himself as a living person and whatever is naturally “in his own blood.”

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