Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ascending and Descending

As a class, we’ve spent almost an entire semester traveling through worlds both foreign and familiar; gathering a glance into the various places people may call “home.” Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine definitely provides one of the more unstable images of home, as the title character embarks on a non-stop journey through multiple countries, relationships, and even identities. The ending of the novel fittingly leaves the reader in uncertainty, wondering whether Jyoti (or in this case, “Jase”) will settle once and for all in California with the family she has amassed over the course of her travels. Mukherjee intentionally leaves us in the dark, presenting an appropriate conclusion to a novel saturated in instability. Jasmine has re-iterated the fact that our lives are led by the unknown, and has taught me that that which we consider home one day may be completely foreign the next. We change by the minute, allowing our identities to be molded by the ever-evolving world around us. Opportunities arise out of thin air, customs are thrown back and forth from nation to nation, and we are presented with two choices. We can either settle into the convenient and the comfortable, assuring ourselves we have the whole world, as well as our individual role all figured out. Or we can live like Jasmine and barrel headfirst into the unknown until we discover all that which the world has to offer, in hopes of attaining that which we feel we deserve. The most important sense of home is within the self, and in order to maintain it, one must find home within the now.

The story of Jyoti (or Jasmine, Jase, or Jane depending on the juncture in her voyage) is a tumultuous one, and it only makes sense that Mukherjee decided to present her tale out of order. Just as Jyoti does, the reader must focus solely on the moment at hand in order to proceed. While we learn of Jyoti’s past, we are taught the invaluable lesson to always keep our heads facing forward in hope, “Let the past make you wary, by all means. But do not let it deform you” (131). The order (or lack thereof) also exposes just how rapidly our identities may change. It is important to note here that we are not all born with a moderate case of split personality disorder; there is a major difference between identity and personality. Your personality is the version of the self that others can plainly see, while the identity is the portion of self that demands some excavation. The identity is deeply personal, and is formed through relations with the fundamental and the familiar. Jyoti is successful in finding suitors who make her feel as if she belongs, yet she struggles herself to gauge whether she truly fits or not. Who is to say how one fits in anyway? Her surroundings, her duties, her loved ones…her sense of home is constantly shifting, and therefore so is her identity. She loved Prakash, Taylor, and Bud each in their own way, and played a respective role for each of her suitors. When Jane ran away to become Jase again I was furious, especially because she was pregnant with Bud’s baby. Yet after giving it some thought, however; I realized she was doing all she could do to keep her identity alive. She was living strictly for herself, and more importantly, she was living in the moment.

Unfortunately, our time together is quickly approaching its end, yet the time we have had thus far has been great. I’ve heard new stories, observed new personalities, and tried my hardest to understand a classroom of fresh identities. The most surprising thing I’ve taken out of this class pops up in Jasmine, yet is the most prominent in my second favorite book of the semester, Potiki (after Sons for the Return Home). I’ve realized that the ones with the most knowledge of home are the ones who don’t even realize it. Potiki, Du, Duff…it is the young that obliviously expose us to the deepest parts of our identity. They teach us without even attempting to do so, and remain unaware of their impact until they reach that age where their own terribly beautiful journey to understand life will begin. My nephew is almost four months old, and I’ve already gathered an encyclopedia of knowledge from being around him. I cannot wait to see what is in store for my identity as an uncle.

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