Thursday, February 3, 2011

Throughout Vikram Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay the reader is exposed to a variety of characters searching for a sense of belonging – whether it be acceptance within a certain social circle or comfort in a relationship deemed sordid by some. Although the characters found within Subramaniam’s stories lead completely different lives, they all look towards the city of Bombay (present day Mumbai) as their home. In particular, the final story – entitled “Shanti” – provides the audience with an invaluable lesson of hope and determination for overcoming the most spiritual of struggles. “Shanti” proves that no matter how isolated one may feel, there is always someone else experiencing something similar. We are never alone – especially within today’s world – and all we have to do in order to realize this fact is to peacefully share our stories with one another. As the two main characters, Shiv and Shanti, exchange mysterious tales, tips to avoid this universal sense of suffering begin to seep out. Although the story is set in the year 1945, the messages of Shiv and Shanti’s words remain incredibly pertinent today. As protesters continue to rage atop the streets of Cairo at this very moment, one could only wish that the Egyptian population quickly becomes enlightened by similar words of wisdom.

In time Shiv and Shanti form a connection, and aid each other in healing the heartbreak of losing a loved one – Shiv’s identical twin brother and Shanti’s Air Force husband. At first they only see each other when Shanti repeatedly passes through the town of Leharia on the train; yet she takes this time to relay stories to Shiv that she recently gathered from other strangers. Her first tale is of a soldier who had met “the most evil man in the world.” It turns out that the evil presence was the man himself, dealing with the guilt of having no choice but to run over a German soldier who may still have been alive. The eyes of the German soldier pierced his soul, and stay with him after he returns home from battle. Although World War II and the current unrest in Cairo differ greatly, Shanti’s story could prevent any Egyptian willing to resort to murder in order to obtain their demands. Everyone will fight for what they think is right, yet when you take the life of someone who opposes you, the act will haunt you for the remainder of your own existence. Her second tale, of a man named Zingu who defies the authorities by standing up to for his beliefs, may also send caution of the dangers of revolt to ardent protestors. Not only is Zingu killed, but his young son is as well. Chandra is not saying that one should back down from what they believe is right; however, he is saying that they must be aware of the possible consequences. Zingu’s wife begins to walk backwards, and like most people in a state of grievance, dwells entirely on the past. This unhealthy method plagues both Shiv and Shanti, and it is not until they fall in love that they are able to escape such despair. Zingu felt that all men were equal, yet his murderers refer to his abnormally large (and disconnected) foot to solidify our differences. It would be great for Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak to recognize the absurdity of such ignorance. We are all shaped differently, yet that doesn’t mean certain people should be denied rights, nor representation. If he began to acknowledge human equality there would be no need for these riots and all the ensuing damage done to people and property.

For their final exchange, Chandra switches things up and has Shiv tell a story to Shanti. His tale of an respected woman named Amita highlights the importance of appreciating the little things in life, as well as being thankful for what we have. More importantly; however, Amita teaches the reader that it is unhealthy to dwell upon the evils of human existence. Evil is everywhere, yet so is good. If all we focus on is our pain and confusion, then things will inevitably fall apart. Shiv and Shanti marry and save each other by allowing love back into their lives. Finally there is a restoration of tranquility (or “Shanti” is Sanskrit) and the two are again able to be at rest within their own minds and bodies, the most innate and necessary sense of “home.”

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