Perhaps it’s founded in some deep and incoherent sense of envy or an extreme lapse in good taste on the part of yours truly but I found myself genuinely disappointed and unimpressed by Vikram Chandra’s work Love and Longing in Bombay. I choked down the first two stories thinking that I would warm to it because I had to. I just had to given all the critical acclaim that he’s been met with throughout his career and certainly with this work. However, while perusing “Kama” I could no longer stomach the simplistic, story driven narrative that created characters to which I was entirely unsympathetic towards, language that wasn’t at all compelling and an overall tone that was insipid. The work first struck me as unbearable with the scene in which Megha comes over to Sartaj Singh’s home and the two fell back into their strange union of lust and memory and bitter bitter pain. However there is a certain irony in my first impression because further analysis has revealed some virtue and interesting fodder for meditation for the scene prompted the only existential struggle had by that brute and bully Sartaj. He questions “But who is the cuckold, which is the husband, and he felt despair in his throat, like black and bitter iron” (Chandra 121) and an appreciation welled up inside my throat for Megha for moving the action to something that was remotely interesting. For the first time in the story, Sartaj is forced to confront himself by confronting his past. He must reevaluate his bloated perception of self in order to reconcile his current state with the reservoirs of emotion that bubble inside him for somebody who is past him. It’s a crisis of identity and it’s akin to what Jago Anita goes through in “Dharma”. The two are made more similar by the conclusions that each character comes to, namely, that they are who they are. In “Dharma” it’s explicitly stated when the narrator states “He knew he was still and forever Jago Antia, that for him it was too late for anything but a kind of solitude,” (31). “Kama” is a little more discrete but the note on which it ends is a virile one, “Sartaj laughed...he could feel the size of the city, its millions upon millions, its huge life and all its unsolved dead...the sidewalk vendors and their customers smiled at him. He smiled also, waiting his moment. The he plunged in.” (161). Just as Jago went through the process of coming to terms with the death of his brother, so too did Sartaj come to terms with his relationship with Megha. They do though, for all of their fury and raging, emerge fundamentally unchanged and, should one look at any commentary provided by this stasis within the context of this course, Chandra seems to be putting forth the idea that home is essentially unchangeable. When the lack of context is taken into consideration for both characters that submission can be simplified further: Home essentially is. It exists simply and implacably though perception of it may waver a return to its fundamental state. For Jago Antia home is solitude, wrapped up within himself and his thoughts, purged of all the demons that he was repressing for so long and no longer could ( 31). For Sartaj Singh, home is the beat and pulse of Bombay where he solves murders and beats suspects to a pulp and relishes the attentions of three school girls in a bus while it passes by. (161)
I don’t necessarily have a problem with the lechery and callous thuggishness of Sartaj, I resent that I was basically indifferent to him as a character. I should have cared about what he did and what happened to him either out of horror or some unabashedly guilty pleasure but I just didn’t and that’s why my lips curl in distaste toward him (more so than any other character).