Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When Family Is Home

The overarching topic that I couldn't help but notice in Rushdie's opening stories is the topic of family. Each of them, in their own way, touched upon familial relations and the issues that arise from them. Overall, the concept of family has a strong tie where one's home is, and the stories show that when the familial bonds are true, so too is the homeland.

"Good Advice Is Rarer Than Rubies," the first story, is the perfect place to start. In it, Rehana wishes to gain a visa to go to England to be with her fiancee. Although at the beginning of the story she seems quite determined to succeed, we later learn that her engagement is an arranged one, and she doesn't even know (or therefore, love), the man she will be marrying. When she is denied by the Consulate to travel to England, she does not seem to be upset. She says, "Now I will go back to Lahore and my job. I work in a great house, as ayah to three good boys. They would have been sad to see me leave" (15). The reader must also remember that Rehana went to the Consulate on her own, while all the other women went with relatives, because she herself is an orphan. One might think, therefore, that she would be distraught not to join her fiancee in England and remain alone in Lahore, but England and her financee are not her true homes. We may gather that her attachment to her job and the three boys there is her own unconventional type of family.

In "The Free Radio," we are made to cringe with the narrator as Ramani marries the thief's widow and takes in her five children. Although our opinion of the widow is tainted by the narrator's, we do view her in distaste, especially when she convinces Ramani to get a vestectomy because *she* does not want any more children. Ramani, while once very much in love, slowly has to "make a phenomenal effort, which was much more tiring than driving a rickshaw, more tiring even than pulling a rickshaw containing a thief's widow and her five living children and the ghosts of two dead ones" (28). When he moves away with his family to Bombay, the narrator explains that his letters are obviously not true, but are strong and necessary dreams like the radio once was. What is most tragic is Ramani's inability to find a home. He leaves his hometown with his family hoping to become a movie star and forget his sorrow, but even in Bombay he is unsuccessful in finding what he wants. Since his is with his wife and step-children in both places, we can assume that they are not "enough" for him. Ramani is younger than her, yoked with five children not his own, and forever incapable of having any of his own. Sounds to me like no matter where he goes, he will never be able to be at home with them and the things they remind him of.

As for myself, I can relate completely to this concept. If I am in a situation where the people around me do not feel like family, it is very difficult to feel at home. For example, when I was younger and would go to summer camp, I would always cry when I got there because I didn't know anyone and just wanted my family to be there. By the end of the week, once I had bonded with the other girls in my cabin through late night campfires and the like, I felt quite at home despite being hours from my house. On the other side, I can be physically inside my house but if no one else is home, I won't feel comfortable. Granted, sometimes it is nice to have the house to myself and have some peace and quiet, but if I am alone in my house for long periods of time it starts to take on an eerie quiet and I don't feel at home at all. I think it's definitely true that who you are with (or not with) totally affects your perception. If we are with the ones who truly understand us, then we can be truly at home anywhere. Further, we need them around, otherwise what we think of as home might not be home at all but simply a place where we reside.

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