In the section, “Kama”, of Vikram Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay, Sartaj is experiencing “loneliness” that permeates every aspect of his life, stemming from his divorce with Megha. We are first introduced to Megha in relation to Sartaj’s “vanity”. Chandra writes,
He had wanted to be loved by all, and Megha had teased him, you’re everyone’s hero. Then yours too, he had said. No, no, no, she said, and she shook her head, and kissed him. You have a terrible Panju accent, she said laughing, and your English is lousy, but you are just beautiful, and then she kissed him again. They had married out of vanity, their own and each other’s. He had been the Casanova of the college, with a dada’s reputation that her friends had warned her about. But she has been so very sure of herself, of her very good looks like a hawk that had shine she had of money, and they were so handsome together that people stopped in the streets to look at them. After they married they liked to make love sitting facing each other, his hair open about his shoulders so they were like mirror images, hardly moving, eyes locked together in an undulating competition towards and away from pleasurable collapse. The memory rose into his throat and Sartaj shook it away… (88)
Why did they separate? His pain is so obvious, but what is missing is what happened to their relationship, to their love. He claims that he is not with any other women, so I started to assume she had left him, which was reinforced by the fact that she would be remarried until her visit to his house. In this scene I started to question why familiarity suddenly meant comfort which suddenly meant love. What makes the moment so passionate are the memories the two share. The smell of the milk and tea sends Sartaj into hysterics as he remembers “the first time they had woken together, the profound heat of her skin against him, and her confession that she did not know how to make tea.” (117) His emotional reaction surprised me as his description of their love focuses not on any particular of her character, merely her “vanity” and their “handsome” coupling that allowed for passionate “love making”. What is it about memories of life lost that cause such deep pain? Why must beauty be possessed? Is greed natural to the human condition?
The scene between Sartaj and Megha progresses as a series of comparisons to their past. Furthermore, Sartaj focuses on the physical, the superficial, the fact that Megha is something that he can never possess again. He mentions that Megha’s kiss “he always experienced as a question,” as he describes the “desperate” way he hisses her afraid of losing that feeling, that particular experience eternally. (119) He says, “Once they would have delighted in the lingering discarding of clothes, the slow fall of silk, the shifting of cotton and slow revelations, but now there wasn’t time.” (119) There lies a greed for each other in their haste, their “desperation”, their immediate reaction. Is this an expression of love or the need to experience once more something that will be lost? Megha’s “look of intent purpose” (119) that Sartaj has missed rid him of his “fear” as she expresses her want to possess him one last time. Sartaj aches for her touch, “saying take pity on it, my thing my muscle my cock, take put on its loneliness,” (120) emphasizing his physical loneliness, sexual loneliness as the most important loss of their relationship. He misses her confidence and gives into her physical temptation, only making his loneliness more intense in the aftermath of their decision; Sartaj says that “shadows of hopelessness chased the pleasure up his spine” (121) illustrating the tainted, bitter experience the two share.
Home for me is characterized by relationships. Therefore, I am always drawn to relationships that remind me of my core relationships with my family. The problem with this is that the relationships I have with the majority of my family members are profoundly unhealthy for my psychological well being. I am the third of four children, third children are peace makers; I fall five years after my older sister, giving me the drive of the achieving first child; and I am the middle of two girls, highlighting my insecurities. My brother, Mike, the first child, was taught by my father, the product of the Army in all respects, that size mattered. Mike did what Dad said because if he didn’t my Dad would make him. As he got older, and bigger, he applied the same rule to my mother and his three younger sisters. If we caused a fight, we would receive punishment from both my brother and my father, who reacted purely to keep a peaceful household. The child that screamed the loudest was heard, so I just stopped screaming. I did everything and anything that I was supposed to do and did it well. This resulted in the fact that at home, I am not allowed to experience anger, I am not allowed to decline the normalcy of the household and I am definitely not allowed to stand up for myself if it means challenging another’s actions.
I always wondered why I was drawn to people who were overly controlling of me, why I was always drawn to people who relied so heavily on me, why I was always drawn to people who were so negative until this Thanksgiving. Everyone would be home except Annie, the eldest girl. My younger sister and I are both vegetarians, but my brother decided that he would help cook and that everything except for the sweet potatoes would consist of meat. This wouldn’t really have mattered if it wasn’t an example of my entire life so far. He was going to do what he wanted even if it hurt others because he knew no one would dare argue for fear of what he would do to them. We each proved his point. No one did anything.
Home is familiar. It’s comfortable, but that doesn’t always mean it’s good or even healthy. When I read the intimate scene between Megha and Sartaj, I empathized with each of them. It seemed obvious to me that their relationship was unstable and unhealthy and furthermore that Sartaj’s loneliness would be more profound after the scene. But I understood that it was home for him. Their sex, the expression of the attraction to each other and the affirmation they received from each other, provided exactly what the other needed. Their relationship became dependence, an addiction and their greed for each other illustrates the neediness they feel for their familiar comfort.