Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Home is where the heart is

I can’t relate to country clubs. After all, when I think about home –a little two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx – country/social clubs are usually the last things that cross my mind. But, there is an actual neighborhood called Country Club in the Bronx: its waterfront properties, private docks, and beach and golf clubs line a corridor of the (North) East Bronx, and the area even has its own stretch of road (aptly named “Country Club Road”). I even came across an article which covers anything I omitted, (if you’re interested: Country Club ) in which one woman describes the neighborhood as “upscale, prestigious, and immaculately maintained.” And it is.

My family doesn’t come from “upscale, prestigious, and immaculately maintained”; there are only three of us, and have been for more than a decade now. Sure, we’ve moved around before settling at our current home, but we’ve only “moved” in the technical sense: in my childhood, we lived in the apartment on the ground floor, and a few years after that we lived on the fourth floor, before moving into where we are today. I’m not even sure how to “define” that literal sense of home– is it three homes, a three-in-one, or just plain old one home? And, As far as upscale, I would say that leftovers and my mom’s ’93 accord are far from it – but my mother did and does the her best to keep our family going– my brother and I worked hard to get scholarships to afford our continuing education, and my mother even switched to take the day shift as a nurse just so she could see her children when they came home from school.

“Shakti”, the second story from Chandra’s “Love and Longing in Bombay” definitely hit home (pun not intended). While I cannot related to the exclusive Malabar Gym, Sheila’s Shanghai Club, or even Ganga’s dealings with her property in Dharavi, I can relate to the extent that these mothers are involved in their children’s lives. I was immediately moved by Chandra’s words (through Shelia’s emotions), as he writes: “She felt the gears grinding inside her. She told herself to remember whom she was doing it for, after all; she looked at her son’s face and remembered the way he had learned to walk by clinging precariously to her sari and his jerky little steps, but still every morning she lay awake in bed…for the great effort to get up and war with the day” (63). As a reader, I was lead through Bombay and introduced to Sheila, Dolly, and Ganga –three women, and mothers, with amazingly interconnected lives. In a nutshell, Dolly and Sheila are at a kind of ‘social’ war – they each have their own “exclusive” club, akin to our modern day country and golf clubs. When we find out that Sanjeev, Sheila’s son, is in love with, and plans to marry Roxanne (who, gasp, is Dolly’s daughter), we find that Sheila ultimately compromise that she and Dolly must come together to make her son happy: “We thought then that Sheila was invincible, but we had forgotten that even the strongest will win the world is easily defeated by its own progeny” (57) (I also believe that it is not coincidence that Sanjeev finds love in Bombay despite having “broke[n] many hearts (while at Yale) with a dark curl of hair…”). For Sanjeev, home is literally where his heart is.

It is fitting that the “memorable” moment at the end of the book occurs as Roxanne’s cousin chases Sheila’s niece, and “the moment was broken and everyone was talking” (94). Despite where you come from or what country club you belong to, or how you think some things in this world are just about “politics”, I’m not sure you could argue against Subramaniam’s saying that “the beginning and end of everything is a marriage”. Marriages spawn families, mothers spawn (well), spawn, and children fall in love and get married. All the while, the Bijlani-Boatwalla Bombay Intl. Trading Group prospers, governments rise and fall, and so it goes.

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