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Love and Longing in Bombay: Stories by…
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Love and Longing in Bombay: Stories

by Vikram Chandra

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I was intrigued about this book because I came across a story titled 'Shakti' in an anthology on Indian Writing. And I loved it. I had not read anything by him previously so I got excited after spotting this book and his first novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain in a bookstore in Bombay, err, Mumbai. These are a collection of five stories, each different in milieu and characterisation. I still loved Shakti best from all the others. Something about the upper class war between two socialites who probably do not exist or they do in real life, caught my attention. It's funny that my rare fiction reading should involve society gossip but yes, so much so, for escaping the boring realities of our middle class lives. ( )
  Sharayu_Gangurde | Jan 19, 2017 |
Lovely prose, for sure. Very detailed - the kind a movie director would love - because there is so little left to do really - the imagery the prose evokes hands it all on a platter for the filming. That said, the blurbs promised some kind of connection in between the stories, and maybe I am too dumb, or I didn't concentrate enough, but I couldn't see it. Maybe you must read the book all at one go to understand. Maybe I shouldn't have put the book down so often. And the last story tried my patience with its story-within-story asides. In my opinion, those tales themselves were too bizzare, if not surreal. Maybe it is some kinda literary trope that the author has employed, or I missed the metaphors or the allegories or what have you. But I couldn't see why they were there and I am not going to bother now. I have been at this for some time. Maybe I will pick it up again, maybe I won't. But because there are gaps that still need filling - it could be me, it could be the author - but, then again, communication is a two way street innit? - this book was less than satisfying - but it wasn't a total waste of time. 3 for the prose alone. I can always google up the reviews and the analysis. Or maybe somebody on this comments thread has something to say about the "connections". ( )
  maximnoronha | Apr 18, 2015 |
I bought Chandra's immense novel Sacred Games a little while ago. While it looks to be wonderful, I've been a bit intimidated by the sheer size of the thing. So this collection of five stories -- one short novel plus four in the novelette/novella range -- seemed a reasonable means of warming myself up to Chandra's work, as it were.

The five pieces are called "Dharma", "Shakti", "Kama", "Artha" and "Shanti". Shamefully I had to look up the meanings of these terms; I'll give shorthand versions, which are not intended as formal definitions, as I discuss the tales. Each has a frame, of greater or lesser perfunctoriness, in which it's claimed the tale is one recounted to the author by a retired civil servant called Subramaniam; in one instance ("Artha") there's a further layer, in that the tale is one told to Subramaniam that he's now in turn recounting; and in the final story, "Shanti", the master storyteller proves himself to be the central character, who is a teller of and listener to tales . . .

Do you get the impression this collection is all about Story? Yes, and it's quite a lot about Bombay as well, seemingly an attempt to give this city -- which is an omnipresent, often broodingly dangerous backdrop and sometimes almost an active participant -- the same sort of mythopoeic status as a New York or a Paris. I'm not competent to judge whether Chakra's attempt (if indeed this was his intention) is successful. I do know that I'm a lot more interested in Bombay than I used to be.

The centrepiece of the collection is the short novel, "Kama" (sensual pleasure). On the surface it's a mystery story, as a cop tries to track down the killer of what seems at first to be a traditional middle-class family's ultra-respectable father. Of course, the truth proves to be very much other than this, as the seedy revelations come tumbling out in typical police-procedural style. But, as they do so, the tale morphs subtly into one about central cop Sartaj's own need to reevaluate himself and what he stands for: Does he really want to be the all-too-easily-bribable, occasionally torturing cop he's somehow become over the years? Is his sense of alienation from those around him really to do with his adherence to a minority religion or is that just an excuse? Is his reluctance to let his estranged wife finally go by signing the divorce papers born from love or just from possessiveness? And so on. In the end, the solution that's offered to the murder mystery is actually the solution to Satraj's own existential maze. This may offend the occasional mystery-reading purist, but the volte face -- the pulling of the rug from under our preconceptions -- is actually pretty delicious. (Besides, the straightforward solution is actually there as well, if you think about it for a moment.)

Incidentally, this tale does contain one of the longest Truly Hot passages I've read in a while: for fear of corrupting y'all and sending Donald Wildmon into apoplexy, wild horses wouldn't induce me to divulge such information as: pp118-25 of the 1998 Back Bay paperback edition.

"Artha" (the urge to seek material wealth) is the longest of the remaining stories, and is another significant piece of work. On the one hand it recounts how the principals of a startup software company try to work out why the accounting system that's their first major business installation keeps losing the trifling sum of 20 rupees and 20 paise (about halfway through the tale I glanced again at the meaning of the term artha and began chuckling). On the other, it's a very moving and involving love story, as the narrator is drawn into a world of thugs and gangsters in search of the boyfriend who seemingly abruptly dumped him.

"Dharma" (righteous duty) is a good ghost story, in which a stiff military officer is forced to dredge up memories of his childhood. "Shakti" (divine female creative power) is a highly entertaining satire, if perhaps a bit slight, of Bombay high society, with two social divas duking it out in a publicly undeclared war; the irony here is that one of them is actually a significant real-world achiever and clearly of very considerable intelligence, but that this is ignored as irrelevant by all and sundry, herself included. "Shanti" (inner peace), in which Subramaniam discovers his soulmate and as an envoi our narrator discovers Bombay, is a complex little ants' nest of stories that I hugely enjoyed reading and unpicking at the time yet discovered afterwards was the least affecting of the five pieces.

All in all: Golly! As Pam will tell you, for the couple of days when my leisure time was obsessively devoted to reading this book, I was good for very little else. Sacred Games's 900 big pages no longer look nearly so intimidating. In fact, when I finish the anthology I'm currently reading there's every chance that . . . ( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
A while back, I read Vikram Chandra’s debut novel Red Earth and Pouring Rain, and loved it – it was everything Magical Realism always promises to be but so rarely really is – it combines a rich, sensual writing that lets the reader soak in the sights, sound and smells of a vivdly evoked reality with a fertile, proliferating imagination that transforms that reality into something even richer and stranger but which still gives us a perspective on our world as it is – distorts it into clarity, to appropriate a famous phrase from Bertolt Brecht.

Love and Longing in Bombay is a collection of five stories, and it is quite different in tone from the novel, in so far as for the most part it sticks with traditional realism… or at least appears to. To me at least, there seemed to be a certain amount of litary pastiche involved, in so far as each of the stories is framed, placed in a setting where it is told verbally by a narrator to an audience, in a manner that I found very reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s Marlow (or possibly the short fiction of Rudyard Kipling, who was also rather fond of that narrative device).

Each of the stories is named after a concept taken from Hinduistic philosophy - of which I have to confess that I do not have the first clue. I had to look the terms up in Wikipedia, but even at such a superficial level, having some idea what the concepts mean does shed some additional light on the individual stories. Both the narrative frame and the titles offer a perspective on the stories from the outside looking in, some rudimentary explanation or interpretetation, and both seem to presuppose that the stories are an illustration of some larger concept, or an example for a truth about life. Rather interestingly though, they never are the same, whilte the narrator Mr. Subramaniam always offers the stories to illustrate some point, that point never seems to stand in any correlation to the title the author gave the stories - the perspectives intersect, but are not identical.

The final story in the collection, though, is markedly different from the others: its title refers not just to a concept, but also to a name, and it is only one in which the narrator himself, Mr. Subramaniam, plays an active part. As if that was not enough to raise it to a meta-lavel, its plot also mainly consists of its two protagonists telling each other stories (which are given inside the story, but never as told by their original narrator, always passed on through an intermediary). This story strays quite far from the realism of the others, and I very much doubt it is coincidence that it is also the only one that (for the most part) does not take place in Bombay – making it appear as if Bombay was the gravitational centre of realism – or even reality – in India, with things becoming increasingly more fantastic the farther one moves away from it.
  Larou | Jul 3, 2012 |
I read Sacred Games last year, so was pleased to see this one arrive in a bookbox.
The book is made up of 5 stories, each one very different.
The first story, Dharma, I think was my favourite. The battle-scarred general returns home where there is a ghostly presence. Shakti also grabbed my attention, with the main character, Sheila, trying to break into society, despite the best efforts of Dolly, the local queen bee. The final story, Shanti, didn't grab me as much, a wee bit strange.
Chandra's writing style is very elegant and descriptive, really capturing the mysterious city of Bombay and making you want to read on. Having read Sacred Games, rather a tome of a book, I was sad there wasn't more to read, I wanted to know what would happen next. ( )
  soffitta1 | Jan 4, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316136778, Paperback)

Welcome to the Fisherman's Rest, a little bar off the Sasoon Dock in Bombay where Mr. Subramaniam spins his tales for a select audience. This is the setting for Vikram Chandra's collection of seven short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay, and Subramaniam is Chandra's Scheherezade. In these stories, Chandra has covered the gamut of genres: there is a ghost story, a love story, a murder mystery, and a crime story, each tale joined to the others by the voice of the elusive narrator. In "Shakti," a discussion about real estate leads to the story of a soldier who must exorcise a ghostly child from his family home. In the final story, "Shanti," a young woman's despair about the state of the country becomes a springboard for a tale of love and hope.

Love and Longing in Bombay is a mesmerizing collection, filled with fully rounded characters and stories that resonate long after the book is back on the shelf. Chandra's prose is luminous, his tales satisfying. Scheherezade would be impressed.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:20 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The stories in Love and Longing in Bombay are linked by a single narrator, an elusive civil servant, who recounts an extraordinary sequence of tales to those seated around him in a smoky Bombay bar. Each of these stories belongs to a distinct genre: in "Shakti," a love story, two feuding families are united by forbidden passion; in "Dharma," a ghost story, a soldier forced to save his life by amputating his own leg returns home to find that his house is haunted by the spirit of a small child; and in "Kama," a mystery, a detective takes on a murder case and finds himself traveling deep into the farthest reaches of carnality and deceit.… (more)

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