Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Loss of Innocence?

During class on Monday, I learned that “home” does not mean the same for different individuals. It is not necessarily a building, or place, but incorporates an entire culture. To some students, the idea of “home” is centered upon cooking and specific food. Others inadvertently link their home to friends and family. Personally, I have found that my home, although a stagnant ideal remains in my mind, is continuously adapting. As a senior in college, I made the decision that I was going to leave town and attend a college that was a considerable distance from my own concept of home and community. I wanted to experience another culture and immerse myself in a different community—a community far more diverse than my own. I departed from my small rural environment to live in a diverse city, a plan ride away, where I had no personal connections. While away from home, I developed as an individual in a way that would forever influence my life. When I returned home for the first time, I found that it wasn’t as I had remembered it. Sure, the same people still resided there and nothing had physically changed; yet, I couldn’t help feel that it felt distinctly different. Over time, I learned that it wasn’t my small quaint town that had changed—it was me. In the short story, “Shakti,” in Vikram Chandra’s novel, Love and Longing in Bombay—The protagonist’s son, Sanjeev, has a very similar experience.

Sheila’s son, Sanjeev, returns to his home in Bombay with disapointment, after attending his first year at Yale. Sanjeev, like most college students, can’t help but feel that his childhood home is unmistakably different than when he left it. Chandra writes,
So he wandered off the hill and down to the Pastry Palace, and as he crossed the flyover
bridge he was trying to recall the excitement that once had really made that place a palace,
that teenage feeling of seeing a cluster of friends and knowing that everything was possible.
But now it just looked ordinary. It was a disappointment that made him trudge on into that
palace, a bitter determination to see it all through (58).
In this passage, Sanjeev is wandering aimlessly through the familiar streets that once felt like home to him; however, the wonderful places he remembered as a child have lost their “excitement.” Sanjeev recalls how such places where “clusters of friends” loitered would make him feel that “everything was possible.” His disappointed and depressed state causes me to reflect on my own emotions upon returning home from college. Is this carefree and optimistic attitude of “infinite possibilities” lost through the experiences of adulthood? As college students, do we simply become more realistic in our views—less naive—or are we inexplicably loosing a sense of our childhood? Do we change so much that there are portions of our childhood selves, or sense of home, that are lost forever? Although he has physically separated himself from Bombay through his attendance to Yale, he appears to still carry elements of his home with him.

I found Sanjeev’s infatuation with Dolly’s daughter, Roxanne, to be extremely fitting. Their family forbidden romance resembled a Baliwood version of Romeo and Juliet with a Hollywood happy ending. Through their marriage, not only do they end their family’s feud, but they also connect Sanjeev back to his home and culture. Throughout the story, there is evidence with economic struggle between characters, due to an increasingly western influence. It becomes clear to families, like Sheila’s, that trade with Americans is necessary for a business’ success. Sanjeev, although changed from his experiences in America, is able to connect back to his homeland through his marriage to Roxanne. Their union seems to further symbolize the successful intermeshing of both cultures, seen through the emergence of the Bijalini-Botwalla Bombay International Trading Group (74). The narrator notes that Sheila “wanted to tell him [Sanjeev] that the past was responsible for him, for his beauty, but of course there was nothing to say, no possible way to explain” (59). I wonder, how much does our past really influence our future? Do Sanjeev’s ideal memories of Bombay have any influence over his later love for Roxanne? Although we may physically separate ourselves from our homeland, do we ever truly escape our past? Sanjeev’s past seems without a doubt to interact with his future.

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