Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chandra's broken mirror

In “Imaginary Homelands,” Salman Rushdie admits—and even embraces—the bias and fragmentation that pervades an expatriate author’s portrayal of his homeland. He acknowledges that, “the past is home, albeit a lost home in a lost city in the midst of lost time” (9). Therefore an author who writes about his motherland from memory depicts a world that does not exist. The views these writers provide are furthermore inaccurate because they stem from one person’s experience with an entire culture. Rushdie describes these writings as broken mirrors, which provide valuable insights not because of their precision but because of their clarity. An author in exile can draw off of scattered recollections, piece them together, and imbue them with significance because “the past is a country from which we have all emigrated,” and writers in this particular position experience “loss in an intensified form” (12).
Vikram Chandra, one such Indian author, uses his unique perspective on life in Bombay to weave his observations of modern India into Love and Longing in Bombay. Because he has lived outside of his homeland for many years, Chandra has the detached, fragmented viewpoint described by Rushdie. Chandra draws upon this awareness in his novel by telling a series of stories that give glimpses into different peoples’ views of modern Bombay. Each of the narrators, in turn, provides a picture of India. Chandra seems to imply that each individual viewpoint is one piece of the “broken mirror”; numerous perspectives contribute to a fuller sense of Bombay’s intricacies.
Chandra also manifests Rushdie’s ideas in his work by exploring the theme of tradition’s integration with modernity. The past proves ubiquitous in Subramaniam’s tales, which provide an intricate picture of modern India. In “Artha,” for example, the reader sees how religious prejudices inevitably affect Iqbal, even though he works in a technological industry, lives an alternative lifestyle, and has personal relationships with Hindus. India may look very modern, but it still labors under the lingering influences of the past. As old meets and intermingles with new, Chandra shows that the past is a home from which everyone has departed, but which leaves its mark on each person.
Chandra embraces Rushdie’s vision of the exile author’s contribution by creating “fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind” (10). Love and Longing in Bombay does not claim to encompass of all modern Indian society or to have the accuracy of a journalistic piece; instead, it contributes to the self-awareness of modern India by providing personal glimpses. Warped or fragmented though they may be, these views represent an expatriate’s view of a society from the distance of time and space.

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