Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Love and Longing in Bombay

The take on homelands that Vikram Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay portrays is fascinating in that it tells the stories of five very different people who are connected only by the home that they share and the feelings they experience. The characters in these stories are vastly different – Jago Antia is a retired military commander with one leg, Sheila is a wealthy, confident, and capable woman, Sartaj is a divorced Sikh detective, Iqbal is a young Muslim computer programmer in a same-sex relationship, and Shiv is a young man from 1945, a time of violence in Bombay. These people are completely different, and yet they are all relatable to the reader, because the stories connect them through emotions that are common to all people: love and loss. We see each of these characters struggling with the loss of loved ones in different ways. Jago must finally come to terms with the death of his brother by confronting the ghost of his lost childhood. He looks at the apparition of his younger self and sees “his whole misshapen and magnificent life,” which has been shaped by his brother’s death, but then he dismisses it and moves on (31). Sheila Bijlani, in “Shakti,” loses her beloved son to her rival’s daughter, but this she adjusts to easily enough. Because of her son’s relationship, however, she also loses the joy she takes from her profession. As she tries to take over the Boatwallas’ company so that her son can marry Roxanne, she discovers that “all the pleasure [is] gone” from her work, and she feels lost (63). Sartaj struggles to accept his divorce, and he sleeps with his ex-wife, who is engaged to be remarried, to recover their relationship. Finally, however, he recognizes the futility of clinging to that relationship, and he delivers the completed divorce papers in the end. Iqbal loses his boyfriend, Rajesh, in the most literal sense – Rajesh simply disappears, and leaves Iqbal to cope with his sudden loneliness. Iqbal feels both betrayed and heartbroken, and in the end he becomes aware of “the absence in [his] heart” where Rajesh once was (228). Rajesh’s disappearance is never resolved, and Iqbal is left with the pain of his lost love. Finally, in “Shanti,” Shiv’s twin brother is killed in a riot, and Shiv falls into a depression in which “life itself stretched on forever like a bleak plain of yellow grass” (231). However, he meets Shanti and is finally revived – his new love heals the pain of his old loss. The varied characters of Love and Longing in Bombay bring life to the city by populating it with a refreshing diversity, but still remain united in their shared feelings and experiences, as well as their shared home. No matter how different people may be, everyone understands the love and longing that is an intrinsic part of the human experience.

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