Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Homelands in Love and Longing

Throughout the first narrative we examined for class, home was described as one specific place from the perspective of the protagonist. Vikram Chandra, however, uses a new form to detail home, and gives fresh meaning to the term homeland. The first thing that struck me about this work is the titles of the short stories. Without even reading a page, we are alerted to the fact that this writer is giving the audience a taste of India. For example, the first story, entitled Dharma, is the story of a Major General dealing with two phantoms that manifest themselves physically. The meaning of dharma is debated, depending on the context and religion in which it is used. Here, however, the meaning is used ironically. Once I looked up dharma, I found that one definition had to do with the cosmic laws and duties that make up the world. It also refers to characteristics and inclinations that are considered good or morally sound. The story both utilizes and flouts these defintions. On the one hand, the Major General possesses a very strong idea of duty and responsibility. He never fails his men, and even after becoming injured, still maintains his role and identity as a general. On the other hand, the story deals with the supernatural, and the idea of phantoms, both physical and imagined. Obviously, ghosts are usually considered to be outside the typical cosmic scope of laws. The next story, called Shakti, details romance and paints a picture of home different from the previous tale. For instance, the term basically refers to the numerous dynamic forces present in the universe, specifically, feminine creative power. This makes sense because the story elaborates on several different events that all collide from the female perspective: "Sheila heard a footstep and lifted a hand to her face. It was wet with tears. She wiped it with her sleeve and when she looked up she saw that the sea, far below, was gold. She stood up and felt the light hot on her face" (Chandra 72). The sea is a constant character in all of these stories, and it is admirable how Chandra weaves its presence throughout each story. But, again, we see shakti at work in this story in the reflections of Sheila. Basically, I very much enjoyed this collection of short stories, but I especially respected Chandra's use of Hindu terms to add another layer and dimension to the stories. Without the titles, the stories still would have been effective. But, the incorporation of various Hindu terms alerted the reader to the fact that these stories, like the homeland from which the religion emerged, is multi-faceted and extremely dynamic.

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