Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"...open the universe a little more!"

Salman Rushdie’s essay, Imaginary Homelands, ties in nicely with the Vikram Chandra novel, Love and Longing in Bombay. Rushdie says, “…that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind” (10). As Rushdie rightly points out later, memory is often distorted in the mind. “Indias of the mind” is a lovely image to conceptualize when one realizes that it is an imaginative activity. Being away from the homeland, one’s memory is all he or she has to work with when writing about that very homeland. Memory is not something whole; rather, it exists in fragments. He mentions the loss an individual suffers when he or she leaves his or her homeland. This begs the question, does a homeland constitute as an identity, or is it a piece, a fragment of one? The manner in which Rushdie regards the past resonates with Chandra’s novel as well. The latter offers a number of stories that, of course, occurred in the past. There is a nostalgic tone that incorporates, as the novel suggests, emotions of love and longing in addition to many others. The past and the ghosts of the past, as Rushdie seems to suggest, are what make up one’s identity. He goes on to find this loss of one’s past (the inability to keep a firm hold on the past) is a common thread which links humanity together: “It may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity. Which seems to me self-evidently true; but I suggest that the writer who is out-of-country and even out-of-language may experience this loss in an intensified form” (12). If the past is what truly makes up one’s identity, what may be said of it if it is also viewed as something lost? The likeness of a literal loss of a country to the figurative concept of a lost country which represents one’s past works together quite nicely. These are major questions that are always present within the canon of Post-Colonial literature.

To be an outsider to one’s own culture presents a strange kind of freedom. The circumstance of being outside of one’s homeland and/or culture presents a double perspective that may have been absent otherwise. Rushdie, who uses himself as an example more than once throughout the article, sees himself in a position where he may “straddle two cultures” as well as “fall between two stools” (15). This double identity provides for an inclusive as well as exclusive point of view. He views himself and other Indian writers who reside outside of the country, the homeland, to be both “insiders and outsiders” (19). This gives an individual the ability to see more than one side of an issue or a culture. He also talks about language and the English language in particularly. This is an issue taken up in Chandra’s novel. Personally, as a native English-speaker, I found it a bit strange at times to read a line that basically states that the last part of something a character just uttered was said in English. It stands out to me every time because I am and have been reading the novel in English the entire time, but the intention of the author is that the characters are not English-speakers. Of course, I would have to miss out on the reading experience had it not been in English. Language is, of course, a key component of culture. Rushdie articulates an intriguing idea that I found compelling and relevant to the Chandra novel as well. “Those of us who do use English do so in spite of our ambiguity towards it, or perhaps because of that, perhaps because we can find in that linguistic struggle a reflection of other struggles taking place in the real world, struggles between the cultures within ourselves and the influences at work upon our societies. To conquer English may be to complete the process of making ourselves free” (17). If you are truly a part of more than one culture, then you may acquire double or multiple perspectives that allow for one to be free. The struggle between different cultures is very much present in Love and Longing in Bombay. The relations and intermingling of the Hindu and Muslim cultures is very much a part of the real world (i.e. the story of Iabal and Rajesh). This may cause conflicts at times, but it will also ultimately allow for “cross-pollination” (20) as well. Diversity, elasticity creates a more complex environment which leads to a more open-minded and multifaceted view of humanity all around. The example and imagery of the dog in the final paragraph is both vivid and effective. More freedom of imagination and a more open universe may be achieved by making the world smaller through opening ourselves to many different ways of thinking, to many different cultures.

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