Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Return to Childhood

My family and I move around a lot. I haven’t really felt a binding attachment to any of the houses I’ve lived in over the past several years. It’s not that I disliked these places or felt distanced from them in any way, I have positive memories from each of them, but I was never truly upset to leave any one house that I’ve shared with my family. But about a year ago I was visiting some relatives in Maryland with my sister and I decided to visit my childhood home in Harford County where I lived until I was about twelve. I was leaving my grandparent’s house and I came across a road that sounded familiar so I decided to take it. I eventually recognized where I was and was able to find the house that I grew up, a house that I hadn’t seen in seven years, just from my memories of the town. It was exhilarating and disconcerting to return to a place that was once so familiar and see how much it had changed. Every street sign and building called up latent childhood memories of people, pets, songs, games, events (both pleasant and upsetting) that had become foreign to us since we had left that house. Parts of us that we had left behind suddenly returned, but what struck me most about the experience was the memory of the sadness we had felt at having to leave that house seven years earlier. Reminiscing, revitalized the strong ties I had felt with the place as a child. I felt a combination of mythical respect and intimacy with the place where so much of my character and personality had developed. It was so comforting and liberating to be there and I realized that it felt like home to me even after so much time had passed.
My sister and I were very reluctant to drive away; it literally felt like leaving home without any expectations of returning. After telling my parents and some of my relatives about the experience they told me that they felt the same kind of bond to their childhood homes even as adults, many of them up until the time that they started their own families.
Childhood homes and nostalgia play an important role in Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay. The experience that Sanjeev had upon returning home from school in the short story “Shakti” is very different from my personal experience with my home in Maryland. Sanjeev was disappointed in his expectation that “seeing the playing fields of his childhood, the streets and the corners, would fill the gap in his heart” (58). But he discovered that he had become a stranger in his home town and he was overwhelmed by loneliness. Chandra suggests that these feelings of isolations from the home of his childhood are a driving force behind Sanjeev’s decision to marry Dolly’s son –a decision that creates a tension in Sheila’s life and her idea of home. Conversely it is Sheila’s childhood memories of her father on the bank of the “sacred river” that give the resolve to take definitive action in her family’s acquisition of the Boatwalla business, which leads to the creation of the Bijlani –Boatswalla Bombay International Trading Group. After reminiscing about her father she becomes affectionate with her husband again and her “fingers moved so quickly over the keys of the telephone that the beepings came out as a kind of music” (73). In this story, a positive reunion with childhood provides a resolution to the conflict that arises from Sanjeev’s unsuccessful return home.
In the story “Dharma,” emotional and even physical injuries arise from Jago Antia’s distancing himself from his childhood home. When he first returns to his parent’s home in Bombay (I believe) Jago is still repressing his childhood memories and the sad history of his home. He views it as a piece of property that is completely dispensable now that his parents have died. “Now it was over, and he wanted not to think about the house anymore” (11). It is in this state of isolation with his past that the ghost haunts Jago. After the exorcist tells him that he must confront the ghost alone and naked to “help him,” Jago is forced confront the horrible memories of his brother’s death and funeral. His final confrontation with his past brings him to realize that it is literally himself that has been haunting him and in response to the apparition’s constant question -“Where shall I go?” –Jago says, “Jehangir, Jehangir, you’re already home” (31). After calming the restless spirit Jago finds feelings of peace for the first time in the story. “He knew he was still and forever Jago Antia, that for him it was too late for anything but a kind of solitude…And yet he felt free” (31). Recalling his painful past reunites him with his childhood home and frees him from the tension that surrounds his character throughout the story.

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