As a southeast Asian expatriate living in North America, I felt particularly touched by
Vikram Chandras book of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay. The
stories were able to evoke something of the cultural complexity, the contradictions and
vitality of life in postcolonial Asia. The stories echoed my own sense of experience,
coming of age in metropolitan Singapore.
I think I would be grossly misrepresenting Mr. Chandras work if I simply
described each of the stories as a tale from a well-established genre, i.e., "the
ghost story," "the love story," or "the murder mystery." The
stories use the device of "the ghost story," "the romance," etc. as a
vehicle to explore deeper questions of self-knowledge, romantic love, postcolonial culture
and the like. Each story explores the inner lives of the characters in question. It delves
into their emotional experiences, their ambitions, passions and fears. The characters
carry a kind of realistic weight to them; they are not simply symbols or archetypes
constructed to communicate the authors ideas.
The characters themselves are nested within the rich cultural and social tapestry of
modern, cosmopolitan Bombay. There is little or nothing of the "exotic" or the
mythological in Mr. Chandras portrayal of the city and its inhabitants; it is very
much a set of stories told from the perspective of an inhabitant, familiar with the ways
of the city. In that respect, Love and Longing in Bombay is quite unlike the
writing of south Asian expatriates, such as V.S. Naipaul, or colonial writers such as E.M.
Forster. The writing is not obsessed with notions of difference, nor does the writing
focus on perceptions of "Otherness." The stories convey a sense of authenticity
of experience to the reader, without a hint of the expatriate and/or neo-colonial filters
that so often appear in "books about India."
Id highly recommend this book to those interested in modern south Asian
literature. Love and Longing in Bombay is available in paperback from Amazon.com